Posts Tagged ‘stephen soldz’

Stephen Soldz Op-Ed on the Need for Ethical Standards to End Torture by Psychologists

Thursday, August 14th, 2008

Our colleague, Stephen Soldz, has published a timely op-ed in the Boston Globe on the involvement of psychologists in torture and other abuses.

Ending the psychological mind games on detainees

When most people think of psychologists, they think of a professional helping them with life’s emotional difficulties, or of a researcher studying human or animal behavior. Since the Bush administration and the war on terrorism have transformed our country, however, a new, more ominous image of psychologists has slowly seeped into public consciousness

Psychologists have been identified as key figures in the design and conduct of abuses against detainees in US custody at Guantanamo Bay, the CIA’s secret “black sites,” and in Iraq and Afghanistan. Psychologists should not be taking part in such practices.

Yet a steady stream of revelations from government documents, journalistic reports, and congressional hearings has revealed that psychologists designed the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” techniques, which included locking prisoners in tiny cages in the fetal position, throwing them against the wall head first, prolonged nakedness, sexual humiliation, and waterboarding….
When reports of these abuses surfaced, we psychologists looked to our largest professional organization, the American Psychological Association, to take the lead in condemning them and taking measures to ensure that they would not recur. After all, these actions by psychologists violate the central principle of the APA’s ethics code: “Psychologists strive to benefit those with whom they work and take care to do no harm.”

The APA, however, failed to take clear action. While the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association quickly and unequivocally condemned any involvement by its membership in such activities, APA leaders quibbled over whether psychologists had been present at the interrogations and questioned the motives of internal critics….

This month, ballots went out for a first-ever referendum to call a halt to psychologist participation in sites where international law is violated. And dissident New York psychologist Steven Reisner, a founder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology, is running for the APA presidency. His principal campaign platform is for psychologists to be banned from participating in interrogations at US military detention centers, like Guantanamo Bay, that violate human rights and function outside of the Geneva Conventions. In the nomination phase Reisner received the most votes of the five candidates.

At our annual convention in Boston this month, other APA members and I will rally against association policies encouraging participation in detainee interrogations. We will be joined by community activists, human rights groups, and civil libertarians to demand that APA return to its fundamental principle of “Do no harm.” Psychologists owe it to their profession and to the cause of human rights to oppose abuses, not participate in them.

(Read the whole article at the Boston Globe.)

If you are in Boston, please join PHR at the Psychologists for an Ethical APA rally (PDF flyer), from noon to 2 pm this Saturday at the Hynes Convention Center, 415 Summer Street, Boston, where the the APA is holding its national convention.

Stephen Soldz on BLBL and Medical Complicity in US Torture

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

PHR’s friend, psychologist Stephen Soldz, discussed Broken Laws, Broken Lives today on his blog, Psyche, Science, and Society. Soldz observed that in addition to “medical evidence supporting torture claims, and evidence of the severe long-term effects of the abuse,” Broken Laws, Broken Lives also “provides abundant documentation of the extent of medical and psychological complicity with the torture.”

In no case did medical personnel report abuse. In many cases they patched up detainees to facilitate additional torture:

“[W]hen the doctor had finished treating him, “I heard the doctor say ‘continue’ (to the interrogators)”, p. 21.

The cases where medical personnel were “helpful” are just as disturbing:

““[The doctor] helped me … he told the soldiers, ‘If you go on torturing him in this way, he will die’,” p. 85.

Not surprisingly, detainees did not report psychologists consulting in interrogations (SOP called for these psychologists to not identify themselves, an interesting ethical issue in itself). But treatment psychologists were perceived to be collaborating with interrogators:

“Haydar indicated, however, that he suspected the psychologists shared information with the soldiers,” p. 48.

And:

“While in Camp Delta, Youssef asked to speak with a psychologist because he was distressed, and the two spoke about him missing his family and his feelings of sadness. Although Youssef believed the meeting was confidential, he stated that shortly after the psychologist left, he was brought to an interrogator who immediately brought up information connected to his disclosures, such as telling him that he was going to stay at Guantánamo for the rest of his life and discussing his family (“Don’t you want to leave this place and get back together with your family?”…If you do as we tell you, you can get back to your family.”). He stated, “I figured out the reason they had called me for the interrogation was because the psychologist had told them about the meeting.” He stated, “They were stressing these fears very much.” Following this interrogation, Youssef reported that he was moved to the “worst” section in Camp Delta, where he was not allowed to have a blanket or a mattress,” p. 58

After the publication of this report, any claim that psychologists helped keep detentions or interrogations “safe or ethical” are completely unsupportable. Psychologists, and indeed, all medical personnel, regardless of their personal characteristics, were simply part of the apparatus of abuse. As Maj. Gen. Taguba — who was driven out of the military because of his Abu Ghraib investigation– states in his preface:

“And the healing professions, including physicians and psychologists, became complicit in the willful infliction of harm against those the Hippocratic Oath demands they protect.”

If we do not stop this complicity, we thereby ourselves become complicit. After this report, we can no longer say “We didn’t know. We thought they were helping.”

 

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