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American Psychological Association Writes the Administration and Congress Criticizing Torture: Modest Progress

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Five long years into Bush's torture regime, the American Psychological Association [APA] has finally taken some steps to respond to the abuses being perpetrated upon "enemy combatant" detainees. The APA President and CEO have together written letters to President Bush, CIA Director General Hayden, and Patrick Leahy, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee conveying the APA's position on torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. To the APA's credit they call upon the government "to establish policies and procedures to ensure the judicial review of these detentions, which in some instances have gone on for years without any determination of their legality." At long last the APA has stated concern about the regime of illegality reigning in Guantanamo and the CIA's "black sites." Also to the APA's credit they clearly come out in these letters against the most egregious of the CIA's enhanced techniques: They ask the Administration
"to clarify that "enhanced" interrogation techniques, such as forced nudity, waterboarding, and mock executions, which are defined as torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment by the Geneva Conventions and the United Nations Convention Against Torture, shall not be used or condoned by the U.S. government."
This statement represents great progress from the last five years of deafening silence. The letters "also urged the government to disallow any testimony resulting from the use of these techniques." Additionally, to the APA's credit, they state in each letter:
"There are no exceptional circumstances whatsoever to these prohibitions, whether induced by a state of war, threat of war, or any other public emergency, or in the face of laws, regulations, or orders. APA will support psychologists who refuse to work in settings in which the human rights of detainees are not protected."
They state further that:
"psychologists with knowledge of the use of any prohibited interrogation technique have an ethical responsibility to inform their superiors and the relevant office of inspectors general, as appropriate, and to cooperate fully with all government oversight activities to ensure that no individual is subjected to this type of treatment."
So far, so good. Unfortunately, these letters also have severe weaknesses. First, they ignore the core of the CIA's torture program, which, despite all the media attention now, is not waterboarding, but is, rather, prolonged isolation and sensory deprivation, that mind-numbing emptiness that removes all sense of humanity. While the APA's 2007 Resolution took an ambiguous and carefully nuanced and parsed position on isolation and sensory deprivation and many other techniques, the APA unfortunately chose to raise in these letters only techniques that are likely not in current use, despite the controversy about their legality. Evidently, the APA leadership couldn't rouse themselves to criticize any techniques likely in use by the US government at this time. Rather than taking a leadership position against torture and abuse, the APA has chosen yet again to trail the numerous critics in the press and the Democrats in Congress, who also condemn waterboarding but fail to mention the techniques believed currently in use at the CIA's black sites. The ambiguous approach to isolation and related techniques can be seen in the 2007 Resolution:
"This unequivocal condemnation includes, but is by no means limited to... the following used for the purposes of eliciting information in an interrogation process: hooding, forced nakedness, stress positions, the use of dogs to threaten or intimidate, physical assault including slapping or shaking, exposure to extreme heat or cold, threats of harm or death; and isolation, sensory deprivation and over-stimulation and/or sleep deprivation used in a manner that represents significant pain or suffering or in a manner that a reasonable person would judge to cause lasting harm." [emphasis added]
The Council of Europe's report earlier this year on the CIA's secret prisons in Eastern Europe conveys the true horror of this soul-destroying isolation in its reconstruction of detainee "life" inside the hell-holes:
"Detainees were taken to their cells by strong people who wore black outfits, masks that covered their whole faces, and dark visors over their eyes. Clothes were cut up and torn off; many detainees were then kept naked for several weeks. Detainees were only a bucket to urinate into, a bowl from which to eat breakfast and dinner (delivered at intervals, in silence) and a blanket. Detainees went through months of solitary confinement and extreme sensory deprivation in cramped cells, shackled and handcuffed at all times. Detainees were given old, black blankets that were too small to lie upon at the same time as attempting to cover oneself.... Food was raw, tasteless and was often tipped out carelessly on a shallow dish so part of it would waste. Apart from a thin foam mattress to lie on or rest against, many cells had a bare floor and blank walls. At one point in 2004, eight persons were being kept together in one CIA facility in Europe, but were administered according to a strict regime of isolation. Contact between them through sight or sound was forbidden... and prevented unless it was expressly decided to create limited conditions where they could see or come into contact with one another because it would serve [the CIA's] intelligence-gathering objectives to allow it. A common feature for many detainees was the four-month isolation regime. During this period of over 120 days, absolutely no human contact was granted with anyone but masked, silent guards. There's not meant to be anything to hold onto. No familiarity, no comfort, nobody to talk to, no way out. It's a long time to be all alone with your thoughts." [emphasis added.]
It is well documented by Katherine Eban and Jane Mayer that this regime was designed by psychologists consulting to the CIA. Similarly, many reporters, and the Defense Department's Office of the Inspector General [see our summary] have documented the central role of SERE and BSCT [Behavioral Science Consultation Team] psychologists in bringing similar techniques to Guantanamo, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The APA still refuses to confront the fact that psychologists, and psychological expertise, have been central to the design and implementation of the regime of abuse. Instead, the APA instead still promulgate the carefully-constructed myth that [p]sychologists consulting to the military and intelligence communities, like their colleagues in domestic forensic settings, use their expertise to promote the use of ethical, effective, and rapport-building interrogations, while safeguarding the welfare of interrogators and detainees." That is, the APA pretends that psychologists are the solution to abuse, while systematically ignoring that they were a major factor in creating the problem. Further, the letters, while implicitly criticizing the legality of the detention centers, expresses a rather odd approach to the role of psychologists serving there in abetting the human rights violations at the core of these facility's existence. The APA refuses to state that aiding these illegal institutions is unethical. Rather, it leaves tht decision up to each individual psychologist: "APA supports psychologists who refuse to work in settings in which the human rights of detainees are not protected." If so, why not stop this participation cold by declaring it unethical, as association critics have been advocating for years. APA does call upon psychologists witnessing abuse to take action: "[P]sychologists with knowledge of the use of any prohibited interrogation technique have an ethical responsibility to inform their superiors and the relevant office of inspectors general, as appropriate, and to cooperate fully with all government oversight activities to ensure that no individual is subjected to this type of treatment." Of course, they here ignore that these very "superiors" are, in most cases, part of the chain of command ordering the abuse. By this wording they help perpetuate the myth that abuses are the actions of bad actors, rather than expressions of an organized system of abuse ordered by the very top, the ultimate "superiors," in our government. The call to report abuses to offices on inspectors generals may be a little more meaningful. There is some evidence that some inspectors generals, in some instances, may be interested in investigating interrogation abuse. The letter to Senator Leahy begins with a mention of the current confirmation controversy aroused by Attorney General nominee Mukasey's refusal to state whether waterboarding is illegal:
"We are writing on behalf of the American Psychological Association (APA), the world's largest scientific and professional organization of psychologists, to commend and support your ongoing efforts related to the confirmation hearing and follow-up correspondence to Attorney General nominee Michael B. Mukasey. We highly value your commitment to ensure that the next U.S. Attorney General is dedicated to safeguarding the physical and psychological welfare and human rights of individuals incarcerated by the U.S. government in foreign detention centers."
As has been the case so often during the last several years, the APA can't actually get itself to take a position on the Mukasey nomination. They continue with a particularly bizarre couple of sentences:
"We are all too aware of reports of a 2002 memorandum by then Assistant U.S. Attorney General Jay Bybee that granted power to the President to issue orders in violation of the Geneva Conventions and international laws that prohibit torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. (Fortunately, this memorandum has since been disavowed by President Bush and overridden by his Executive Order in July of this year.)"
Of course, the President's July Executive Order is not generally known for its overriding of the Bybee memo, but, rather, for reauthorizing the CIA's "enhanced techniques" that the APA is supposedly condemning in these letters.. The Bybee memo was retracted by the Justice Department in late 2004 to improve the chances of torture-supporting Alberto Gonzales being confirmed as Attorney General. Perhaps most revealingly, the APA includes this phrase about the President's Executive Order despite the fact that the New York Times revealed that the essence of the Bybee memo was reinstated in a secret 2005 Justice Department memo reauthorizing CIA torture. The New York Times also revealed that the 2005 memo is still in effect. On can only wonder what would posses the APA leaders to engage in such historical revisionism in a letter to the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who is unlikely to be fooled? These letters show that the APA has gone far from its early hear no evil defense at all costs of maintaining psychologists in interrogations. The organization's leadership finally acknowledges, albeit timidly and largely implicitly, that abuses are occurring. But it still refuses to come to terms with the systemic nature of that abuse, or with the crucial role that psychologists played in creating that system of abuse and maintains the fiction that psychologists' primary concern was the safety of the detainees. And the APA still refuses to acknowledge that psychologists serving as interrogation consultants in illegal prisons are abettors of that illegality. I give them a C- for this latest initiative. Presumably the Association's overriding goal of pursuing influence with the military-intelligence establishment prevents the leadership from going further. An extensive movement of concerned psychologists has pushed the APA far from the 2005 PENS report which, rather than a critique of the abuses of the military-intelligence establishment, was, rather, essentially a creation of that establishment. Only continued massive pressure from an aroused membership stands a chance of separating the profession of psychology from its military and intelligence promoters.

 

Stephen Soldz is psychoanalyst, psychologist, public health researcher, and faculty member at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. He is co-founder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology and is President of Psychologists for Social Responsibility. He was a psychological consultant on two of (more...)
 
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http://www.votenic.comResults Posted Tuesday Eveni... by Peter S. on Monday, Nov 5, 2007 at 9:37:38 PM
Let the history books record that this president&#... by mrk * on Tuesday, Nov 6, 2007 at 9:30:51 AM
To think that we're still debating what tortur... by Mr M on Tuesday, Nov 6, 2007 at 10:54:11 AM