Friday, May 29, 2009

Things to read

Nature publishes a recent editorial that comes across as a propaganda exercise with regard to psychologists' involvement in "interrogations" (which as I think I've tried to mention before, is just a nice cold clinical way of saying torture sessions).

Jeff Kaye at Invictus offers up a counterpoint:

The idea that psychologists are necessary to ensure "responsible interrogation" may be popular among APA staffers and military psychologists, but it was rejected last summer by the APA membership at large when they voted by almost 60% to change official APA policy and ban psychologists from participating in settings where human rights violations, including torture, take place.

From the referendum's text:

Whereas the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Mental Health and the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture have determined that treatment equivalent to torture has been taking place at the United States Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Whereas this torture took place in the context of interrogations under the direction and supervision of Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCTs) that included psychologists.

Whereas the Council of Europe has determined that persons held in CIA black sites are subject to interrogation techniques that are also equivalent to torture [4], and because psychologists helped develop abusive interrogation techniques used at these sites.

Whereas the International Committee of the Red Cross determined in 2003 that the conditions in the US detention facility in Guantánamo Bay are themselves tantamount to torture [6], and therefore by their presence psychologists are playing a role in maintaining these conditions.

Be it resolved that psychologists may not work in settings where persons are held outside of, or in violation of, either International Law (e.g., the UN Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions) or the US Constitution (where appropriate), unless they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights.

Yet none of this appeared in the Nature editorial, which instead quoted a member of the APA's PENS commission, Mike Gelles, to the effect that psychologists are needed to prevent abuse at interrogations. Gelles at least comes by his position honestly, having reported to higher ups on abuse occurring at Guantanamo while he was there in the capacity of chief psychologist for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. What Gelles doesn't mention is that his whistleblowing did very little, and that abuse and torture at Guantanamo continued for years, if not to the present day.

But for the cynical APA bureaucracy, sensitive to the winds of politics change -- the recent moves by President Obama to embrace "war on terror" rhetoric, to propose the indefinite detention of WOT prisoners, and to restart the military commissions prosecutions -- current events are pushing them to return to their previous stance vis-a-vis psychologists and interrogations. After all, the referendum is only advisory and not enforceable, according to APA by-laws, as APA leadership is fond of quoting when they are in the mood. As an advocacy group, they are unstinting in their vigilance over access to government jobs, and with the expansion of the war in Afghanistan, there will be plenty of openings for psychologists who like to work in operational roles with Special Forces.

Moreover, the stance of the Nature editorial writer did not drop from the skies, as apparently, that individual got plenty of assistance in this task from APA brass. Writing to the APA Council of Representatives (COR) about the Nature editorial, Associate Executive Director for APA's Public and Member Communications department, Kim Mills, told COR members (emphasis added), "APA staff worked with one of the editors to provide detailed history and background, which led to what we think is a fair and balanced piece."

See also Ten Percent.

Feel like reading something lengthier? Check out this report by the Senate Armed Services Committee, Inquiry Into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody. It provides the latest evidence that contra the Nature editorial, psychologists have not been safeguarding detainees, but rather have been instrumental in creating the conditions in which torture occurs.

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