[Marxism] Shades of Mengele
lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Jul 26 07:41:13 MDT 2006
Angered that their professional organization has adopted a policy condoning
psychologists' participation in "war on terror" interrogations, many
psychologists are vowing to stage a battle royal at the APA's annual meeting.
By Mark Benjamin
Jul. 26, 2006 | The 150,000-member American Psychological Association is
facing an internal revolt over its year-old policy that condones the
participation of psychologists in the interrogations of prisoners during
the Bush administration's "war on terror."
Last summer, the APA adopted new ethical principles drafted by a task force
of 10 psychologists, who were selected by the organization's leadership.
That controversial task-force report, which is now official APA policy,
stated that psychologists participating in terror-related interrogations
are fulfilling "a valuable and ethical role to assist in protecting our
nation, other nations, and innocent civilians from harm."
But Salon has learned that six of the 10 psychologists on the task force
have close ties to the military. The names and backgrounds of the task
force participants were not made public by the APA; Salon obtained them
from congressional sources. Four of the psychologists who crafted the
permissive policy were involved with the handling of detainees at
Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, or served with the
military in Afghanistan -- all environments where serious cases of abuse
have been documented.
APA president Gerald Koocher, who handpicked the task-force members along
with the organization's former president Ronald Levant, said in an
interview that the psychologists' military and national-security
backgrounds did not raise conflict of interest or broader questions about
the task force and its report. He defended choosing psychologists with such
backgrounds, saying "they had special knowledge to contribute."
The 10-member task force enunciated the new principles for interrogations
in a June 2005 report. The 11 pages of ethical obligations include 12
statements on interrogations, including one directing psychologists to
report abuse and remember that suspects may be innocent. But detractors say
its ban on "torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment" is pro
forma, an insufficient safeguard in the post-9/11 atmosphere.
Critics of the APA's interrogation policy are planning an all-out assault
during the organization's annual meeting Aug. 10-13 in New Orleans, using
tactics that include taking out a full-page advertisement in the local
Opponents argue that when psychologists use their technical training to
help break down the resistance of a prisoner, they are performing in a role
diametrically at odds with their professional mission to serve as a healer.
"I do not believe that psychologists should be involved in interrogations
which are intrinsically coercive and inherently harmful to the person being
interrogated," said Steven Reisner, a psychologist and senior faculty
member at Columbia University's International Trauma Studies Program.
Joining in this chorus of dissent, former APA president Philip Zimbardo
said psychologists used "the wrong model" to come up with the interrogation
ethics principles. As the architect of a famous 1971 Stanford prison
experiment in which students who were instructed to pretend they were
guards in a mock prison quickly began to exhibit sadistic behavior,
Zimbardo has more than a passing familiarity with the dynamics of cruelty.
He warned against "abandoning the high moral ground in unquestioned support
for ideological banners of 'national security.'"
Reisner said in an interview that the revelations of the close ties between
the Department of Defense and a majority of psychologists on the task force
would help galvanize opposition to the policy. The biographies of the task
force members underscore these extensive and questionable connections.
Task force member Col. Larry James was the chief psychologist for the
intelligence group at Guantánamo in 2003. In 2004, James was at Abu Ghraib
working as the director of the behavioral sciences group in the
interrogation unit there. His biography said he was sent to Abu Ghraib "in
response" to the abuse scandal. Requests to interview James were rebuffed;
U.S. Army Medical Command spokeswoman Cynthia Vaughn referred Salon back to
Col. Morgan Banks spent four months during the winter of 2001 and 2002
"supporting combat operations" at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, where
serious abuses have been reported. Banks told Jane Mayer of the New Yorker
last summer he had also "consulted generally" on Guantánamo interrogations,
but could not recall any specific cases. Banks' biography lists him as one
of the founders and the senior psychologist at the Army's secretive
Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) program at Fort Bragg,
N.C., where the military trains elite soldiers to resist torture in case of
capture. The techniques used to harden those soldiers against torture --
sleep deprivation, isolation, sexual humiliation, bags on the head, long
exercise -- have been used on detainees in Afghanistan, Guantánamo and Abu
Ghraib. (Salon reported last month on a military document showing that SERE
instructors taught their techniques to interrogators at Guantánamo.)
APA task force member Capt. Bryce Lefever was assigned to the Navy's SERE
school in the early 1990s and deployed with Special Forces to Afghanistan
in 2002, "where he lectured to interrogators and was consulted on various
interrogation techniques," according to his bio.
Two other members of the task force worked for the Department of Defense
Counterintelligence Field Activity, which coordinates Pentagon security
efforts. One of them, R. Scott Shumate, was in charge of a team of
psychologists who "engaged in risk assessments of the Guantanamo Bay
detainees." Another psychologist on the APA task force worked for the Navy.
Requests to interview the APA task force members who had military ties were
unsuccessful, even though Salon approached them through both the APA and,
in most cases, the military.
Zimbardo, the former APA president, warned that the task force members'
independence could be curtailed by their ties to the Pentagon. "There
likely would be implicit pressures on them to keep the scope of their
recommendations restricted," Zimbardo said.
Some psychologists go so far as to wonder if the APA has allowed its
interrogation policy to be set by the military. "The military seemed to be
very well represented on that committee," Reisner said. "This issue, which
is never spoken about, is the relationship between the American
Psychological Association and the military. This has been in the back of my
mind throughout this whole debate."
That relationship appeared to be codified last month, when the Pentagon
effectively embraced the psychologists' interrogation guidelines. In May,
the American Psychiatric Association reacted to the detainee-abuse scandal
by barring psychiatrists' participation in interrogations. A month later,
in June, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs William
Winkenwerder Jr. unveiled a new policy clarifying the role of medical
professionals in interrogations. It laid out a preference for psychologists
(rather than psychiatrists) to advise on interrogations. That 10-page
document also set other guidelines for military medical professionals who
deal with detainees, such as establishing a barrier between acting as
caregivers and those who advise interrogators.
Speaking to reporters last month, Winkenwerder said that, when the system
works correctly, psychologists assess "the character, personality, social
interactions and other behavioral characteristics of detainees." The
psychologists, he explained, do not conduct the interrogations themselves,
but instead "coach and counsel the interrogator in a way that allows him or
her to build a relationship with the detainee."
Dr. Steven Miles, the author of "Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity
and the War on Terror," said that the use of psychologists in these
interrogations flowed from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's orders to
get tough with prisoners. "They devised interrogation plans to exploit the
physical and emotional vulnerabilities of the prisoners," Miles said in a
telephone interview. "They turned to psychologists because they wanted to
find every way of breaking people down."
APA president Koocher, the editor of the journal Ethics and Behavior and a
former associate professor at Harvard Medical School, said it was unfair to
link task force members to abuses at Guantánamo or elsewhere, just because
they worked there. "The conceptual leap required to conclude that the
particular person on our task force was involved is unreasonable," Koocher
The task force was empaneled last summer as news reports were piecing
together a disturbing portrait of medical professionals stationed at
Guantánamo and in Afghanistan and Iraq -- rifling through medical files for
interrogation tips, withholding medical treatment from detainees, omitting
evidence of abuse from records, or just remaining silent about what went on
around them. "Physicians have a checkered past on this," said Dr. Allen
Keller, director of the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture. "Who
knows better how to inflict pain and suffering, physically and
psychologically, than somebody who has studied the human body?"
In response to the scandals, some medical organizations have raced to
develop new ethical standards that would bar anyone from using their
professional training to assist in breaking down prisoners. Typical was the
unequivocal new policy of the American Psychiatric Association, adopted in
May, that forbids participation in interrogations.
"I think it is wrong to use one's professional knowledge in the service of
breakdown -- breaking people down," author and psychiatrist Robert Jay
Lifton said in a phone call from his home at Cape Cod, Mass. He called the
psychological association's willingness to participate in interrogations
"wrong." Lifton added, "Even though they do not take the Hippocratic oath,
they are in the healing profession."
In defense of his association's position, Koocher pointed out that many
psychologists are behavioral scientists, and as such aren't caregivers. The
APA president cited examples such as psychologists who evaluate people's
competence to stand trial or who train hostage negotiators.
To underscore the difference between caregiver and interrogation
consultant, the APA's ethics principles bar the same person from performing
both functions, stating that psychologists should "refrain from engaging in
such multiple relationships."
APA director of ethics Stephen Behnke added that psychologists may actually
help keep interrogations safe, by encouraging interrogators to talk to
prisoners rather than employ harsher methods. "Psychologists take advisory
or consultative roles in relation to interrogations to help ensure
interrogations are safe, legal, ethical, and effective," Behnke wrote in an
That may be true in some cases, but the presence of a psychologist did not
prevent the interrogation of so-called 20th hijacker Mohammed al-Khatani at
Guantánamo from turning brutal. Khatani was stripped naked, isolated, given
intravenous fluids and forced to urinate on himself, and exercised to
exhaustion during interrogations that lasted 18 to 20 hours a day for 48 of
Part of the plan was to humiliate Khatani and submit him to extreme
psychological stress. He became exhausted, disoriented and hopeless. He was
called a homosexual, forced to wear a mask and dance, and leashed and made
to perform dog tricks. Interrogators hung pictures of fitness models on his
neck and had a female interrogator "invade his personal space," according
to the unredacted interrogation log obtained by Salon.
To help break down Khatani's psyche, the interrogation team included a
psychologist, Maj. John Leso, a member of the military's Behavioral Science
Consultation Teams, called BSCTs. The teams are a newly minted tool in the
"war on terror." They include psychologists who are supposed to help
interrogators break down resistance and pry loose useful information.
Former Guantánamo commander Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller called the teams
"essential in developing interrogation strategies" in a September 2003
internal military report.
At various points during the questioning of Khatani, Leso's BSCT operators
instructed interrogators to keep the prisoner awake, force him to stop
staring at a wall, and advised on the effectiveness of techniques. "BSCT
observed that detainee does not like it when the interrogator points out
his nonverbal responses," reads an entry in the log from Dec. 29, 2002.
Leso's actions may not be typical. But the press has obtained a much more
detailed record of Khatani's interrogation than that of any other
Leso's behavior would appear to violate the ethics principles that were
later established by the APA task force, which bar "torture or other cruel,
inhuman or degrading treatment." Those prohibitions might ordinarily appear
to be unequivocal, but the Bush administration's "war on terror" has made
them far murkier. As Zimbardo, the former APA president, noted, that kind
of terminology is precisely the lexicon that Bush administration lawyers
have turned into Swiss cheese. The Bush administration has "changed the
definition of torture, the definition of detained prisoners, and the nature
of their prolonged confinement without due process," Zimbardo said. In the
Bush administration's eyes, Zimbardo said, "nothing done to such detainees
qualifies as torture."
Several civilians close to the APA task force criticized the final product
for failing to make a clear statement about the excesses of the "war on
terror" and failing to explicitly say what psychologists can and cannot do.
"It is a bunch of platitudes without any situational reality to it," said
Jean Maria Arrigo, a civilian psychologist who served on the APA task force
and founder of the Intelligence Ethics Collection at the Hoover Institution
at Stanford University. "This was not a politically adequate document.
There are no specifics in it. We needed to at least say that we can't do
waterboarding," Arrigo said.
Arrigo said she doesn't have any complaints with the military members of
the task force. Instead, she blames Koocher for the vagueness of the APA
position statement, which allows psychologists broad latitude in
interrogations. "Koocher was involved in appointing the task force, he
strongly guided and monitored it and had taken the position of representing
the document," she said.
Other civilian psychologists on the task force agree that the fault lies
not with individual military members of the task force, but with the APA
leadership. Task force member Michael Wessells, a psychology professor at
Randolph-Macon College, resigned from the task force in protest early this
year. According to his resignation letter, which he provided to Salon, "At
the highest levels, the APA has not made a strong, concerted,
comprehensive, public and internal response of the kind warranted by the
severe human rights violations at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay."
Wessels said that the ethics guidelines, which sailed through the APA's
board of directors and Council of Representatives to become APA policy,
never addressed such controversial questions. "I think by going this route,
strategically, the organization was playing it safe," he said. "As a
response to the nature of the situation, it was completely inadequate."
Despite promises that the standards would be further debated, Wessells said
that there was never any follow-up. As a result, he said, "I felt more than
a little exploited."
Both sides expect intense debate next month over the interrogation
standards -- and the question may overwhelm the other items on the APA's
agenda at the convention. Koocher has asked Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley, the
surgeon general of the Army, to come to New Orleans and address the
Koocher acknowledged that his organization could revisit the issue in the
future. "Remember that as far as APA is concerned, the issue is not over,"
Koocher said in a phone call.
But some psychologists are not satisfied with bland promises of further
review. "At the moment, the American Psychological Association is complicit
in the mode of interrogations going on at Guantánamo, by focusing on the
justification for interrogation," said Reisner. "We are being used to
further the ends of what amounts to torture."
-- By Mark Benjamin
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