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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 5/9/15

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

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From Robert Jay Lifton

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Robert Jay Lifton, the prominent psychiatrist famous for his study of the doctors who aided Nazi war crimes, speaks out on the role of the American Psychological Association in aiding government-sanctioned torture under President George W. Bush. A new report alleges the APA, the world's largest group of psychologists, secretly coordinated with government officials to allign its ethics policy with the operational needs of the CIA's torture program. "What the APA did was a scandal within a scandal," Lifton says. ...[This] is something we have to confront as a nation."


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Neil Young, "Who's gonna to stand up." And a shout out to the students at Borough of Manhattan Community College, BMCC, the classes that are here at Democracy Now! today. I'm Amy Goodman with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: New details have emerged on how the American Psychological Association, the world's largest group of psychologists aided government sanctioned torture under President George W. Bush. A group of dissident psychologists have just published a 60-page report alleging the APA secretly coordinated with officials from the CIA, White House, and the Pentagon to change the APA ethics policy to align it with the operational needs of the CIA's torture program. The report also reveals that behavioral scientist researcher working for President Bush secretly drafted language that the APA inserted into its ethics policy on interrogations.

AMY GOODMAN: Much of the report is based on hundreds of newly released internal APA e-mails from 2003-2006 that show top officials were in direct communication with the CIA. In 2004, for example, the APA secretly took part in a meeting with officials from the CIA and other intelligence agencies to discuss ethics and national security. Still with us, Dr. Robert Jay Lifton, leading American psychiatrist who has spoken out against the APA's practices. So the American Psychological Association has about 150,000 members, the largest association in the world, that's the APA. The little APA is the American Psychiatric Association, which I assume you are a part of. Dr. Robert Jay Lifton, your thoughts on what the APA did?

ROBERT JAY LIFTON: What the APA did, and I read that report, is what I call a scandal within a scandal. That is, I have been much concerned with the behavior of professionals and their ethics, not just in terms of how they conduct their everyday profession -- that is important enough -- but their relationship to the world ethically. I became interested in this in working with veterans of the Vietnam War. And in that war, military psychiatrists would be in a position when examining a soldier who was brought to them with anxiety and a sense of outrage at what was going on. Would be in the position of helping that soldier to be strong enough to return to duty, which meant daily atrocities. I asked myself, how did a psychiatrist find himself in that situation? And it had to do with a military structure of medicine and with the psychiatrist entering into what I called an atrocity-producing situation. In my work with Nazi doctors, it was even, of course, much more extreme, probably the most extreme example of any profession of any country engaging in extremely immoral behavior -- engaging directly in killing because Nazi physicians were in charge of the killing in Auschwitz, and that is what I studied in that research. But, you know --

AMY GOODMAN: What is interesting, both Nermeen and I saw you speak last time on a very different issue on the Armenian genocide and you talked about the significance of Dr. Josef Mengele dying without acknowledging what he did.

ROBERT JAY LIFTON: Yes, when Mengele, who was a notorious fanatical Nazi, quite unusual in that way among doctors, was found to be dead in a lake in Argentina, survivors of Auschwitz were upset that there wasn't the opportunity to bring him to the dock so he could confront his crimes. It wasn't so much a desire for revenge as it was for justice. So I mentioned that survivors of Holocaust or genocide or survivors in general are what can be called collectors of justice. They need a sense of justice for their own healing. But now here we have American psychologists -- there were psychiatrists involved early also in the enhanced interrogation, which spilled over into torture in American use. Fortunately, American psychiatric Association had slightly more enlightened leadership and we had the advantage of doctors Hippocratic oath, which is, do no harm, and there could be developed a resolution prohibiting any physician, any psychiatrist from being in the interrogation room.

The American Psychological Association took an opposite tendency. It's one thing -- and there were a couple of psychologists who were well known who helped create the torture and the whole psychological regimen for the torture, crudely and very unscientifically, but with the claim of psychological science. It's still another level when the professional organization supports torture by meeting with the administration and those people who were looking for some legitimation coming from a professional group for torture. And that's what the American Psychological Association did. And that's all too reminiscent of what the Nazis called Gleichschaltung. I'm not saying they're Nazis, we're not Nazis, we're still a sufficiently open society to confront this, criticize it and do something about it. But with the Nazis, there was this process of Gleichschaltung, meaning reordering or re-gearing all professional organizations -- not destroying them, but breaking them down and reconstructing them to serve the Nazi project. That's the kind of thing we must and can confront and avoid here.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Last December, psychologist James Mitchell who was contracted by the CIA while still a member of the American Psychological Association to design its interrogation program appeared on Fox News to talk about his role in the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah. He was interviewed by Megyn Kelly.

MEGAN KELLY: So were you the one actually conducting the techniques on Abu Zubaydah or were you in more of sort of a background role?

JAMES MITCHELL: It depends on when you're talking about. Initially, I was in a background role. Then after we shut down and the enhanced interrogations were approved, I was in an administration role.

MEGAN KELLY: OK, so did you personally waterboard him?


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