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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 5/10/15

Robert Jay Lifton, Author of "The Nazi Doctors": Psychologists Who Aided Torture Should Be Charged

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MEGAN KELLY: We're going to get to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a minute, but sticking with Abu Zubaydah for now, were all of the methods that were recited in the Senate report employed, like nudity, standing sleep deprivation, the attention grab, the insult slap, were those all used?

JAMES MITCHELL: The ones you mentioned were used.

MEGAN KELLY: The facial grab, the abdominal slap, the kneeling stress position, Walling?

JAMES MITCHELL: Walling was used, the others -- if they showed up on the list, they were used. We didn't typically use a lot of those stress positions -- we didn't use any stress positions with Zubaydah because he had an injury.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was James Mitchell speaking on Fox News last December. He was the psychologist who was asked by the CIA to design its interrogation program. Could you talk about that, Dr. Lifton, and in particular in a context of what you called earlier an atrocity-producing situation? What enabled this to occur?

ROBERT JAY LIFTON: Professionals are as prone to being socialized to the norm of a group, including being socialized to evil, as are any other groups in American society. What that means is that psychologists, in this case, and there are others from other professions, internalize what is considered to be acceptable and appropriate for them in carrying out their profession. So torture exists. There is the not from the administration, go ahead with torture, and psychologists then adapt to that. And in this case, become not just participants in torture, but the creators of the methods of torture. That's a shocking clip because it shows him kind of slightly reluctantly admitting that they do all of those things. Of course, it's denied that they're torture, and that's absurd. They're out and out torture. But the fact that they'll come on a network program and describe it as something legitimate is another level of scandal. After all, torture has been conducted, you know, from the time of the beginning of history. It's always been seen, especially in recent centuries, as something evil. You can judge a society as to whether it engages in torture. You condemn a society that engages in torture. In our case, looking at the sequence, one can praise the Obama administration for ending that torture but one must criticize the Obama administration for blocking any examination or confrontation of our role in torture. You showed an interesting clip about the city of Chicago confronting and at least recognizing that the police had engaged in torture of certain suspects. Well, that doesn't undo what they did, but it's a step towards some kind of ethical advance. And for the United States to have engaged in torture on such a widespread dimension, to have legitimated it among professionals like psychologists -- for psychologists and others to have created and participated in it -- is something that we have to confront as a nation to move ahead in something like an ethical way.

AMY GOODMAN: And when you talk about confronting, what exactly do you mean? You've just given a psychological, sociological explanation, understanding, for example, James Mitchell or Mitchell and Jessen, the company of the two psychologists that Pentagon funneled money into. Not to mention others who didn't even work for them, working at Guanta'namo and Abu Ghraib. But should they be brought up on charges?

ROBERT JAY LIFTON: Of course they should. There are many situations that I can probe psychologically of psychohistorically, as we say, but have to be approached politically for some kind of resolution, and this is an example of that. A proper confrontation of what we did would mean a real investigation that didn't stop as we got to the top. Of course, the order for torture being acceptable and advised, comes from above, comes from the highest sources in the administration. That has to be uncovered by an investigation, and there has to be a legal context. Whether or not everybody who participated in torture is in some way condemned and put in jail, I don't know. But at a minimum, there must be confrontation and revelation of what was done, who did it, what the consequences were and how to prevent it in the future.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think of this comment by CIA psychologist, former CIA psychologist, Kirk Hubbard who served as the CIA's chief of operations of the Operational Assessment Division before he joined Mitchell Jessen Associates? In 2012, Hubbard told the Constitution Project's Task Force on Detainee Treatment "Detainees are not patients, nor are they being treated by the psychologists. Therefore, the ethical guidelines for clinicians do not apply, in my opinion. Psychologists can play many different roles and should not be forced into a narrow doctor-patient role." Dr. Robert Jay Lifton, your response?

ROBERT JAY LIFTON: What you've heard, what you just recited is a rationalization for torture and for destructive behavior on the part of professionals. All professions require some sort of ethical code, as I said before, not just in everyday practice, but in what they do in society and to weasel out of any such ethical requirement because one is dealing not with patients, but with prisoners -- and of course, that administration didn't even give them prisoner rights, according to Geneva conventions -- to do that is simply a rationalization for destructive or even evil behavior.

AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Dr. Robert Jay Lifton, a leading American psychiatrist, author of many books, including "Witness to Extreme Century: A Memoir." We will be back with him talking about a number of issues, including another of his books, "Who Owns Death?: Capital Punishment, the American Conscience and the End of Executions. Prosecutors, Judges Jurors, Wardens and the American Public in Conflict." Stay with us.

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