Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Shrink's Guide to Torture

Jobs may require any of us to do things we find beneath us, or which are borderline questionable legally, and then there may be the jobs that "require" us to do a job that is designing a torture program. Well, at least that's what one psychologist is saying he was doing, his job and his job was just that, torture of prisoners. Or maybe he didn't exactly say that. It's a bit unclear even with some rather startling evidence. His boss was the United States military where he was employed as a behavioral specialist. 

A memo, which was authored by a psychologist, points to his thoughts on how to treat prisoners. He began offering techniques that could be used and the memo outlines methods that included "daily 20-hour interrogations; strict isolation for up to 30 days without visitation from treating medical professionals or the International Committee of the Red Cross (with extended isolation upon approval); sleep deprivation; removal of all comfort items such as mattresses, sheets, and religious items; removal of clothing; handcuffing and hooding; exposure to extreme temperatures; the use of scenarios designed to convince the detainee he might experience a painful or fatal outcome; and exposure to cold weather or water." This pretty much spells out how completely thorough the stressful, inhumane treatment was to be and is spelled out in a government report.  

Not mincing words about its stand on torture/abuse of anyone, including prisoners considered combatants in war, the APA stated, in part:

"The American Psychological Association's (APA) position on torture is clear and unequivocal: Any direct or indirect participation in any act of torture or other forms of cruel, degrading or inhuman treatment or punishment by psychologists is strictly prohibited. There are no exceptions. Such acts as waterboarding, sexual humiliation, stress positions and exploitation of phobias are clear violations of APA's no torture/no abuse policy."

It's not a question of doing your job as a psychologist. Wasn't a portion of Adolph Eichmann's defense, when he was on trial in Israel for his part in killing European Jews, a version of "I was just doing my job" as a lowly bureaucrat? Yes, he stamped travel documents but they were intended to transport these men, women and children to death camps and he knew it.  The bureaucrat might as well have been the engineer on the train.

The trial judge in Israel didn't buy it and neither did the judges at the trials in Nuremberg after WWII. Nazi personnel, regardless of rank, were evaluated on their role in the "final solution of the Jewish question" and they, too, were found guilty. How, then, can American psychologists who are bound by an ethical code that forbids participating in or providing direction or training in torture techniques shrug their shoulders and point to their job descriptions? Oh, torture wasn't specifically outlined in their duties, so it was okay? What wording would have permitted them to toss their ethics aside? It's another example of the end justifying the means.

The question of whether there is any obligation to violate the ethical standard set for psychologists by The American Psychological Association has been more than a point of contention. While a large majority of the membership was loud in their damning remarks about certain psychologists' actions, others stood by and maintained it was their duty to help our government. 

The Coalition for an Ethical Psychology was quite clear in their view that it was never to be seen as acceptable and a duty to perform such services. They noted that one psychologist "devised, recommended, and implemented psychologically and physically harmful and abusive detention and interrogation tactics." Following their own guidelines of evidence gathering, the APA, however, could not uncover adequate proof against any psychologist because, according to the coverage given, they needed more than second-hand reports.  The requirement was of proof positive without question and it wasn't there, even though they did have a memo outlining such procedures written by a psychologist. You could argue, if you want to be the devil's advocate, that the psychologist was just providing an outline of things that might be done, but wasn't suggesting that it actually be followed with any prisoners.

The entire question of inappropriate, unethical actions is coming to the fore once more as prisoners are released and tales of torture begin to appear in the media.