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Did destroyed CIA tapes show psychologists torturing? Did APA dodge a bullet?

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Last night we had news that the CIA, in 2005, destroyed videotapes of the "interrogation", aka, torture, of two al Qaeda detainees. One of these detainees has been identified as Abu Zubaydah. Of special relevance is that, according to Katherine Eban in Vanity Fair last summer, Zubaydah was tortured by psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. Thus, it is possible that the destroyed tapes show Mitchell and/or Jessen "keeping interrogations, safe, legal, ethical, and effective" -- as the American Psychologists repetitively tells us psychologists do -- by waterboarding and other techniques.

So far, the APA has responded to news of Mitchell and Jessen's torture simply by informing the public that these two psychologists are not APA members:

"Two psychologists have been identified by the media as developers of these interrogation tactics. They are not members of the American Psychological Association. Therefore, we have no ability to discipline them. APA continues to state publicly, however, that their alleged tactics have been discredited by responsible psychologists everywhere, including within the military." 

Notice that their tactics are "discredited," presumably because they apparently don't work. Nowhere does the APA actually say they are immoral, disgusting, a perversion of psychological knowledge and expertise, or anything similar. The tactics are simply "discredited" and these psychologists are not members. End of story. Not our problem.

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Similarly, when we were told that a former APA President had a financial and voting stake in Mitchell Jessen  & Associates, APA leadership might hve expressed their shock and dismay at the possibility [admittedly only a possibility] that a former President had knowledge of or involvement in heinous behavior. Surely APA leaders could have said that, if  the claims about Mitchell and Jessen were true and if this former President had knowledge or involvement, it would be reprehensible and that the APA would do all it could to find out. Instead we read:

"APA President Sharon Brehm and Stephen Behnke, the director of APA's Ethics Directorate, both declined comment last week when asked about Matarazzo's ties to the private psychology firm working for the CIA.

"Dr. Matarazzo was president of APA 18 years ago," Rhea Farberman, the organization's director of public affairs, said in a prepared statement.

"Since that time, he has had no active role in APA governance but has been actively involved in the American Psychological Foundation (APF), the charitable giving arm of APA. Dr. Matarazzo currently holds no governance positions in either APA or APF," the statement said." 

Again, not President right now, so not our problem. 

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If the destroyed tapes had become public and had showed psychologists using their 'expertise" to torture, or to train and supervise torture, would the APA have been able to continue its deafening silence? After all, it was the pictures from Abu Ghraib that broke through all the legal gobbledygook and seared the reality of American torture into consciousness around the world.  With the destruction of these CIA tapes, has the APA, as well as the CIA, dodged another bullet? For the moment, anyway?

 [Yes, yes, I know the APA has condemned torture and even written the President and the CIA asking them not to torture.  But their letters, like all other APA statements on the issue, were passionless. They read as an academic exercise conveying an APA policy statement, not as a passionate condemnation of the abuses we all know are being committed in our name, and that were aided and abetted by a number of psychologists. Call me old fashioned, but I think a little passion is in order when we're talking about torture and about the perversion of psychology to facilitate torture.]


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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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