[Ppnews] Psychologists' President Defends Participation in Detainee Interrogations

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Dec 4 12:17:29 EST 2007


December 4, 2007

Psychologists' President Defends Psychologist Participation in 
Detainee Interrogations

The Facts be Damned!


Last Friday American Psychological Association President, and Indiana 
University professor, Sharon Brehm discussed the APA's policies 
supporting psychologist participation in national security 
interrogations with faculty and students at her university. The 
Indiana Daily Student has an account of the meeting.
While the entire article is well worth reading, a few of Dr. Brehm's 
comments as cited there are especially worth commenting upon. Either 
they reflect an unacceptable level of ignorance of the basic facts 
about psychologists' roles in American torture or they are simply 
willful falsehoods. For example, Dr. Brehm stated:

"Psychologists only acted in an advisory role during questionings, 
working with interrogators to develop effective strategies that will 
elicit "accurate information."

There is now overwhelming evidence from reporters and government 
documents that this statement is not simply false, but almost the 
exact opposite of the truth. Thus, three major journalists (Jane 
Mayer at the New Yorker, Katherine Eban at Vanity Fair, and Mark 
Benjamin at Salon) have reported that the basic torture techniques 
used by the CIA in its black sites were initially developed and 
implemented by psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. This 
role is far from Brehm's "psychologists only acted in an advisory 
role during questionings, working with interrogators to develop 
effective strategies that will elicit 'accurate information.' " On 
the contrary, as Eban reported In Vanity Fair:

"psychologists weren't merely complicit in America's aggressive new 
interrogation regime. Psychologists, working in secrecy, had actually 
designed the tactics and trained interrogators in them while on 
contract to the C.I.A.."

Thus, Dr. Brehm's "effective strategies" include months of total 
isolation with nothing to do and no one to talk to, freezing, being 
chained up in painful positions for hours and days on end, and it 
seems, waterboarding.

The Department of Defense Office of the Inspector General (OIG), in a 
report declassified last May, documented the central role of 
psychologists, including those from the military's Survival, Evasion, 
Resistance, and Escape (SERE) program in the development of what the 
OIG itself saw as abusive. [See our summary of the OIG report and in 
pdf format.] The OIG report documents how SERE psychologists trained 
Guantanamo psychologists in the use of SERE-based torture techniques. 
The OIG report also documents how SERE and Guantanamo staff went to 
Iraq to train US soldiers there in abusive SERE-based 
"counter-resistance" techniques. The OIG report made clear that these 
techniques were, in the OIG's opinion, abusive.

Just last month the Guantanamo Camp Delta Standard Operating 
Procedures manual was leaked. As I wrote, this document details the 
systematic use of a month of isolation on all new detainees "to 
foster dependence on interrogators and `enhance and exploit the 
disorientation and disorganization felt by a newly arrived detainee 
in the interrogation process.' " The decision about how long a 
detainee would be held in isolation, the SOP states, was to be made 
by the GTMO Joint Intelligence Group (JIG). The Chief Psychologist 
for the JIG at the time the SOP was issued was Col. Larry James. The 
APA appointed Col. James, along with five others with military or 
intelligence ties (including the head SERE psychologist), to its Task 
Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security to formulate 
"ethics" to decide if it was "ethical" for psychologists to 
participate in national security interrogations. Further, the APA 
selected Col. James to present its "anti-torture" policy to the 2007 

To this extensive record that psychologists were active and central 
participants in some of the worst of the Bush administration's 
abuses, Dr. Brehm contrasts her faith:

""We have great confidence that at least most of our members are 
really good people and that they would not do bad things," Brehm 
said, adding her belief that psychologists had the ability to be 
heroes in fighting against torture."

Given the historical record, Dr. Brehm's belief only makes sense if 
the words "heroes," "against," and "torture" no longer mean what they 
used to mean.
Another of Dr. Brehm's statements is similarly astounding, given that 
she is a social psychologist:

"All of our ethical policies are based on individual responsibility. 
If you violate the behaviors that are prescribed then, if it is a 
serious violation, we'll kick you out of the association and you may 
not be able to make a living anymore. It is that basic."

Social psychologists are taught from the first day that the social 
environment often overrules individual behavioral tendencies. Those 
in abuse-generating situations are likely to participate in abuse. . 
Social psychologists routinely study why "good" people do "bad" 
things. There is no evidence that psychologists are uniquely able to 
resist these pressures Indeed, at the APA Convention last August, 
Craig Haney, a social psychologist who studies the US criminal 
justice system, stated that in 30 years of research in prisons, he 
knew of not a single instance in which a psychologist stopped existing abuse.

Dr. Brehm, like the rest of the APA leadership, ignores that we live 
in a country which, at this time, is committed to detainee abuse as 
national policy. Those aiding interrogations in that system are, at 
best, complicit in the numerous abuses we know are occurring, the 
kidnapping of detainees from around the world, the purchase of 
detainees, the lack of any legal rights, the removal of the 
centuries-old right to habeas corpus, not to mention the abusive 
interrogations. Rather than denouncing this organized regime, the APA 
talks obsessively about "influencing policy" through engagement, but 
has precious little to show for it. The CIA still tortures, using the 
techniques that were designed by psychologists. We all know it. The 
press reports on it. But the APA has yet to utter a word condemning 
these misuses of psychological knowledge and expertise.

Jane Mayer, in an august 8, 2007 Democracy Now! interview pointed out 
that not only the knowledge and expertise but the prestige of 
psychology was central to the Bush administration's torture regime. 
The administration figures ordering torture hoped psychologist 
participation would prove to be a "get out of jail free" card, in the 
event of future investigation of and trial for their crimes:

"if you take a look at the so-called torture memos, the forty pages 
or so of memos that were written by Jay Bybee and John Yoo way back 
right after 9/11, and you take a look at how they -- they're busy 
looking at the Convention Against Torture, basically, it seems, 
trying to figure a way around it. One of the things they argued, 
these lawyers from the Justice Department, is that if you don't 
intend to torture someone, if your intention is not just to inflict 
terrible pain on them but to get information, then you really can't 
be necessarily convicted of torture.

"So how do you prove that your intent is pure? Well, one of the 
things they suggest is if you consult with experts who will say that 
what you're doing is just interrogation, then that might also be a 
good legal defense. And so, one of the roles that these SERE 
psychologists played was a legal role. They were the experts who were 
consulted in order to argue that the program was not a program of 
torture. They are to say, "We've got PhDs, and this is standard 
psychology, and this is a legitimate way to question people.""

We have written Dr. Brehm directly documenting in detail reports that 
psychologists were central in creating, implementing, standardizing 
as policy, and disseminating the abusive interrogation techniques 
used by American military and the CIA. We sent Dr. Brehm an Open 
Letter signed by over 700 psychologists. We sent her our summary of 
the OIG report. She never responded. I sent her my article on the 
systematic use of isolation at Guantanamo. Again, no response. So, if 
Dr. Brehm is truly ignorant of the central role of psychologists in 
US abusive interrogations, it was not for lack of opportunity to 
inform herself.

Or do APA leaders know the facts, but simply not care? After all, the 
military and intelligence agencies hire hundreds, or even thousands 
of psychologists and provided many tens of millions in grant funding 
for psychological research. Further, psychologists have a preferred 
position over their long-time rivals, the psychiatrists, aiding 
interrogations in US detention centers. A little willful ignorance 
is, perhaps, a small price to pay for the APA leadership when 
millions of dollars and preferential treatment for psychologists are at stake.

But whether ignorance or willful avoidance, Dr. Brehm's lack of 
responsiveness to the legitimate concerns of so many of the APA's 
membership comes at a high price. The issue is increasingly dividing 
the organization, and threatens its hegemony as the primary 
representative of organized psychology at a time when rival 
psychological organizations are gaining membership and energy.

Only the APA's members can decide that closing one's eyes to abuse is 
too high a price to pay for government funding and other favors from 
the powerful.

Stephen Soldz is psychoanalyst, psychologist, public health 
researcher, and faculty member at the Boston Graduate School of 
Psychoanalysis. He maintains the 
<http://psychoanalystsopposewar.org/>Psychoanalysts for Peace and 
Justice web site and the 
<http://psychoanalystsopposewar.org/blog/>Psyche, Science, and Society blog.

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