[Ppnews] APA Ethics Policy-Maker Endorses Torture

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed May 6 11:21:28 EDT 2009


May 6, 2009

A "Natural Reaction"?

APA Ethics Policy-Maker Endorses Torture


On Monday 
a story in which former military SERE [Survival, 
Resistance, Evasion, and Escape] psychologist 
Bryce Lefever openly endorsed US torture, saying 
it was a “natural” reaction of SERE psychologists 
to hearing their country was attacked by 
terrorists. In the piece, Lefever makes clear 
that, in his opinion, he is only stating publicly 
what virtually all military psychologists thought.

Lefever explicitly renounces the quaint 
psychologist ethics code with its “Do No Harm” 
standard. If causing pain will reduce the total 
harm in the world, then it is the only ethical 
way to go, Lefever told NPR listeners.

Lefever’s ethical attitudes are especially 
interesting as he was a 
of the American Psychological Association’s 
force on Psychological Ethics and National Security.

One might think that APA officials and PENS 
members would be surprised by Lefever’s 
pro-torture positions. But that would be naive. 
For Lefever expressed exactly these opinions on 
the PENS listserve. In fact, he complained that 
the “political” nature of the task force ­ by 
which he evidently means the fact that it was 
designed to provide ethical cover, akin to the 
legal cover provided by Justice Department 
lawyers, for the Defense Department program of 
abusive interrogations ­ prevented serious discussion of his opinions:

In fact the PENS meeting was a steep learning 
curve for me in that it was a far more political 
process than I anticipated and I had hoped that 
we would have worked out our positions via 
intellectual or philosophical debate. When I 
brought up the idea of harm, and what is harm, it 
fell on deaf ears. I pointed out that behavioral 
and psychological techniques used in training our 
high-risk-of-capture students in Survival Schools 
[SERE] are viewed as vital, necessary, good, and 
for the greater good. Psychologists are strong 
proponents of these techniques even though they 
inflict psychological and physical pain. Yet the 
very same behaviors are proscribed by the 
Department of Defense and viewed as harmful when 
applied to America’s prisoners.

Notice that Lefever appears here to be 
acknowledging that SERE-based techniques were 
indeed being used on US detainees, a fact 
conveniently ignored by the more politically 
savvy members of the task force. After all, they 
well knew, the plan was to pretend that military 
psychologists were protecting detainees from 
torture, rather than applying well-known torture 
techniques in pursuit of the “greater good.” And 
Lefever was in a position to know about the use 
of SERE techniques against detainees as he served 
in Afghanistan, “where he lectured to 
interrogators and was consulted on various 
interrogation techniques,” according to his 
<http://www.webster.edu/peacepsychology/tfpens.html>PENS biography.

Lefever also told the task force that the pursuit 
of “human rights” was, by definition, unethical:

These words–morals and ethics–do not mean “the 
ways of the individual” or individual rights. Any 
time the rights of the individual are placed 
above what is best for the community, it is, by 
definition, unethical or immoral. The discussion 
of individual rights is the domain of “human rights” organizations (like ACLU).

While it is likely that many others involved in 
the PENS process shared Lefever’s opinions of 
human rights, none were politically naive enough 
to say so. After all, such individual opinions 
might interfere with the greater good of 
providing cover for the SERE-based interrogations 
that had become US standard operating procedure.

Meanwhile, the APA touted the PENS report, with 
its supposedly careful examination of the ethics 
of psychologist aid to interrogations, as 
evidence of their systematic examination of the 
ethical dilemmas involved when psychologists aid 
secret national security interrogations. Bryce 
Lefever’s comments put the lie to that carefully constructed cover story.

for Social Responsibility, 
for Human Rights, bioethicist 
Miles, and others have said recently, we urgently 
need an independent investigation of 
psychologists’ aid to abusive interrogations. 
Such an investigation must examine the role of 
the APA and its leadership in providing ethical cover for this torture program.

<mailto:ssoldz at bgsp.edu>Stephen Soldz is a 
psychoanalyst, psychologist, public health 
researcher, and faculty member at the 
<http://www.bgsp.edu/>Boston Graduate School of 
Psychoanalysis. He maintains the 
for Peace and Justice web site and the 
Science, and Society blog. He is a founder of the 
Coalition for an Ethical Psychology, one of the 
organizations working to change American 
Psychological Association policy on participation 
in abusive interrogations. He is also a Steering 
Committee member of 
<http://psysr.org/>Psychologists for Social Responsibility [PsySR].

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