200 Protest APA’s Sanction of Psychologists in Abusive InterrogationsSunday, August 17th, 2008
USA Today reported on Saturday’s Psychologists for an Ethical APA rally, which PHR co-sponsored.
BOSTON — About 200 demonstrators rallied Saturday outside the convention hall where some 14,000 are attending the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association to protest the role of psychologists in military interrogations.
Psychologists have traditionally played a part in questioning of U.S. captives done by the military or intelligence agencies. Some psychologists have criticized such work during the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism effort as a code of ethics violation, while others say eliminating the psychologists’ participation would make the interrogations more harmful for detainees.
At the two-hour rally, groups of psychologists, including Psychologists for an Ethical APA and Psychologists for Social Responsibility, as well as human rights organizations, including representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty International, blasted those psychologists for their part in the Bush administration’s practices. And they say they’re outraged over the APA’s acceptance of psychologists’ participation because of what they say are human rights violations by the government.
“Who would have thought that the APA — whose code of ethics mandates a respect for basic principles of human rights and holds psychologists ‘to a higher standard of conduct than is required by the law’ — would be so reluctant to prohibit psychologists from participating in interrogations from Guantánamo to Abu-Ghraib,” Nancy Murray of the American Civil Liberties Union in Massachusetts told the crowd. “The APA has justified this ‘policy of engagement’ by stating its involvement is intended to stop unethical interrogations.”…
Intermingled in the crowd were protestors carrying signs with slogans such as “Do No Harm” and “No Torture/No Collaboration.”
Nathaniel Raymond of Physicians for Human Rights, a health professional organization that has been outspoken about abuse of detainees in U.S. custody, told the rally, “It’s about restoration of the values that define us. It’s not just about interrogations. It’s about who were are in the world.”
The rally was all the more poignant following Thursday’s revelation in the Daily Kos that a licensed psychologist, US Army Lieutenant Colonel Diane M. Zierhoffer, ordered the torture of a juvenile detainee at Guantanamo Bay.
The Daily Kos was quickly followed by reports in the New York Sun and the New York Times.
From the Sun:
It is the first time a military psychologist belonging to a biscuit team is publicly known to have been asked to give testimony in a Guantanamo court proceeding. The woman’s response suggests that military psychologists are concerned about either their professional licenses or criminal liability.
Court papers filed on behalf of the detainee, Mohammad Jawad, say the psychologist had, in 2003, advised an interrogator to put Mr. Jawad in isolation in an effort to facilitate interrogation, a person familiar with the detainee’s case and who has seen the unclassified legal papers said. The interrogator had sought out the psychologist’s advice because of a concern that Mr. Jawad’s mental state was deteriorating, the person said, adding that Mr. Jawad had been observed speaking to posters on his wall. The psychologist apparently rejected that layman’s diagnosis and believed Mr. Jawad was faking and recommended isolation, the person said.
Nine weeks after Mr. Jawad was removed from a month of isolation, he tried unsuccessfully to commit suicide by either hanging himself or repeatedly banging his head, the source said.
“What is so disturbing about the Jawad case,” the source said, is that the psychologist “is calibrating the level of harm.”
The Times quotes Steven Reisner, who is the front runner in the upcoming election for the new APA president.
“This is what it’s come to,” said Steven Reisner, an assistant clinical professor at the New York University School of Medicine and a leading candidate for the presidency of the psychological association. “We have psychologists taking the Fifth.”
Dr. Reisner has based his candidacy on “a principled stance against our nation’s policy of using psychologists to oversee abusive and coercive interrogations” at Guantánamo and the so-called black sites operated by the Central Intelligence Agency.
The ACLU’s human rights researcher, Jennifer Turner, is blogging at the Daily Kos, directly from Guantanamo, where she is covering the pre-trial hearings of Mohammed Jawad and two others. She elaborated:
[A]ccording to Jawad’s defense attorney Maj. Frakt, in September 2003, “when an interrogator observed Mohammad talking to posters on the wall of the interrogation room and was concerned about his mental health,” instead of calling a mental health professional to care for him, they summoned the BSCT team, whose psychologist made a “cruel and heartless assessment and recommendations.” Maj. Frakt called the BSCT psychologist’s report, which was classified secret and therefore not discussed in detail in the open court session, “the most chilling document of all.”
In an environment such as Guantanamo, health professional psychologists, who are healers and safeguarders against harm, have taken a back seat to behavioral scientists—whose job it is to callibrate pain and abuse.