[News] Psychologists in an Age of Torture

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Jan 13 11:51:33 EST 2010


January 13, 2010

An Open Letter to Dr. Carol Goodheart

Psychologists in an Age of Torture


"We've seen a lot of negative e-mail discourse in recent years as APA 
has made decisions and released reports that have triggered 
controversy among our members . . . We also saw heated disputes over 
APA's stance on the role of psychologists in interrogations . . . The 
difference is that in the new age of outrage, criticism on these 
issues quickly escalated to unwarranted heights. In 24/7 instant 
communications, extreme voices dominate . . .I see four elements 
converging online to strain the collegiality within APA . . .viral 
distortion (a small number perpetuate shocking misrepresentations 
about APA's actions, policies and procedures). The effect on APA is 
damaging when members and the public believe the distortions . . . 
Let's turn down the temperature on outrage."

APA in the age of outrage
by Dr. Carol D. Goodheart
President, American Psychological Association

I am aware that many object to the severity of my language; but is 
there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as 
uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, 
or to speak, or write, with moderation. No! no! Tell a man whose 
house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately 
rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to 
gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; 
-- but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I 
am in earnest -- I will not equivocate -- I will not excuse -- I will 
not retreat a single inch -- AND I WILL BE HEARD. The apathy of the 
people is enough to make every statue leap from its pedestal, and to 
hasten the resurrection of the dead.

William Lloyd Garrison
White Abolitionist, 1831

Dear President Goodheart:

I take issue with your column, "APA in the Age of Outrage" in 
January's APA Monitor. As president of the APA you seem to have 
diminished the concept of outrage, defining it as the freedom of 
others to express their disagreement with your "majority opinion." In 
my universe, there will never be enough outrage to counteract the 
injustices in the world. Rather than "turning down the temperature" 
as you wish to do in your universe, which I assume would make you 
more comfortable, ratcheting up the outrage is necessary to save humanity.

In the universe where I live, people with malevolent intentions are 
sometimes elevated into positions of power over thousands or even 
millions of other people. When their actions are murderous, or 
physically threatening, or destructive of others' life chances, or 
are unjust, others who do not share their belief systems take 
measures, ranging from reasoned criticism to election participation 
to organizing others against such actions. When the actions of those 
in power, such as experimentally calibrating just how much physical 
or mental torture is enough to make a human prisoner confess, are 
violations of international law and human rights, many are outraged.

In my universe, "outrage" did not come into being only with the 
latest communication technologies, including the internet. Unlike 
your universe, these "outrages" predate the latest communication 
technologies, including the internet, sad to say. Our history is 
replete with dreadful and callous "outrages", going back to very 
nearly the beginning of human existence.

In my universe, I and others find it necessary to work with real 
facts and circumstances. For example, while some insist that we must 
fight a "war on terror," others of us - who, I admit, become a little 
"outraged" at the irrationality of "terror" as an enemy - try to 
reason that wars are fought against human beings, not abstract 
concepts. And that before human beings must be exterminated or 
tortured in the name of fighting "terror," certain reality-based 
accountings and considerations, such as the law, should be 
unavoidable. When they are not, I am outraged.

In your column it seems that your universe has suddenly become 
populated with abstractions to be eradicated. "Email tyranny," and 
"viral distortions" appear to be causing a "lack of civility." This 
"lack of civility" seems to be one of the very worst things that can 
happen in your universe, enough to devote a presidential column to 
the subject. I must admit to a certain amount of jealousy here, 
because in my universe, facts and circumstances reveal vastly 
different problems.

In my universe, illegally-undertaken wars have killed tens of 
thousands of people and thousands are jailed because of "terror" when 
most of the time there is little or no factual reason for them to 
lose their rights and recourse, their lives and their families. In my 
universe, some psychologists who have taken an oath to use their 
educations and healing abilities only for beneficent purposes instead 
have deliberately and knowingly used them to oversee the intentional 
infliction of physical and mental harm to others.

Those of us who are "outraged" by the misuse of psychologists' 
intellectual gifts and skills have demonstrated that laws and 
standards are being unmistakably violated. Yet in your universe, you 
are more outraged by the communication of these atrocities.

Most recently in my universe (and yours), a new abstraction has been 
posed: "operational psychology," the deliberate use of psychological 
principles in warmaking and intelligence. In my universe, many think 
this abstract "operational psychology" isn't a legitimate field of 
psychology at all, but is a deliberate attempt at the misapplication 
of humane learning to do harm to others, illegal, inhumane and, yes - 
outrageous - transmutation of a great good to something unmistakably evil.

In my universe, those who promote abstractions like "terror", "email 
tyranny" and "viral distortion" as disembodied enemies of "civility" 
tend to be people who rotely repeat untested notions, subjective 
beliefs and unconsidered generalities so often that they come to 
mistake phantasms for facts. By quarreling with the means of 
communication, they avoid looking at the content of communications. 
They shut themselves off from learning by coming to view those whose 
opinions differ with their own as viruses or people whose mission is 
simply to not be civil because they're "outraged."

Those who traffic in abstractions destroy their own credibility with 
their decided anti-intellectual stereotyping. Accusations that those 
who use email are "distorting" and amplifying their misplaced 
"outrage" to destroy "civility" are peddling diversionary tripe. They 
are refusing to do the intellectual work they were trained to do and 
are obligated to do as thinking human beings: engaging in fact-based, 
science-implicated investigation and discussion.

One final outrage: almost three years ago I submitted a professional 
ethics complaint to the APA over which you now preside. This 
complaint concerned the alleged involvement of Major John Leso, 
psychologist and APA member, in the planning and use of torture on 
prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Two years later, your ethics office 
acknowledged receipt of that complaint. To date, no further action 
has been taken. That is an outrage.

Dr. Trudy Bond is a licensed independent psychologist in Toledo,Ohio. 
She can be reached at <mailto:trudybond at att.net>trudybond at att.net.

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