Did Professional Psychologists Group Approve of Torture?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A recent release of emails among members of the American Psychological Association (APA) has revealed the group’s discussion of the ethics behind the role that psychologists played in designing torture tactics used at interrogation facilities, such as Guantánamo Bay. While the psychologists struggled with the profession’s ethical call to “do no harm” and never condone torture, the APA essentially gave its seal of approval to psychologists working in overseas sites to develop interrogation tactics equivalent to torture.

In 2002, psychologists were employed by the CIA under the impression that they were to oversee interrogations of al-Qaeda members and ensure their safety. Two such psychologists working at Guantánamo Bay were Paul Burney and John Leso, who were both trained in the SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) program used by the military to train U.S. soldiers to withstand torture in case they are captured by the enemy. Once they arrived at the facilities, however, the psychologists were asked by the CIA to use SERE methods to develop interrogation tactics against Guantánamo prisoners. This included stripping the prisoners naked, exposing them to extreme temperatures, and waterboarding. The psychologists warned the Guantánamo authorities that the techniques would increase resistance from detainees and yield inaccurate information, but military officials ignored these warnings. In a patriotic effort to do their part in the “War on Terror,” the psychologists proceeded, with the blessing of the APA, to develop the same tactics they had warned against. Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) argues that the APA should never have allowed the psychologists to participate in torture and has called for an independent investigation of the psychologists’ actions.
- Jamie Mei Cheng
CIA Outsourced Development of Interrogation Plan (by John Goetz and Britta Sandberg, Spiegel)
Psychologists' E-mails Stir Interrogation Issue (by Farah Stockman, Boston Globe)


Leave a comment