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APA bars participation in military interrogations
September 20, 2008 3:21 PM   Subscribe

Psychology Group Changes Policy on Interrogations. The American Psychological Association has adopted a measure prohibiting its members from participating in interrogations of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay and other military prisons where detainees have been tortured (previously). [Via Paper Chase]
posted by homunculus (36 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
A measure which has no enforcement mechanism, as far as I know. Although they say they want to make it an official part of the code of conduct in a few months, after bush would have left office.

Heck of a Job APA.
posted by delmoi at 3:59 PM on September 20, 2008 [3 favorites]


...they say they want to make it an official part of the code of conduct in a few months, after bush would have left office. Heck of a Job APA.

While it would have been better, no doubt, for the APA to have introduced the measure sooner, it's not as though the practice of torture by the CIA at "black sites", or by armed services personnel at Guantanamo and elsewhere will magically go poof and disappear the moment Bush moves out of the White House.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:12 PM on September 20, 2008


Ending Torture
posted by homunculus at 4:16 PM on September 20, 2008


America: The Global Pioneer Of Torture
posted by homunculus at 4:29 PM on September 20, 2008


Political deathbed conversions are about as convincing as the regular kind.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:44 PM on September 20, 2008


If the APA's reclassification of homosexuality is any indication, the consequences of shifting debate in larger society will prove far more significant than the immediate impact on APA members.
posted by scottreynen at 5:06 PM on September 20, 2008 [4 favorites]


What a coincidence! I recently decided to prohibit myself from participating in any form as torture as well (either as torturer or torturee). I hope governments world-wide will respect this position.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:23 PM on September 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Too little, too late.
posted by orthogonality at 6:06 PM on September 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Optics, optics.

When it was seen as bad form not to be on the bandwagon, participation was encouraged, now that the tide has turned, they make an about face. They should have remembered that all doctors make a vow to heal, never to harm, and doctors who specialize in emotional and psychological health have to be extra careful not to misuse their knowledge. The damage has already been done.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 6:20 PM on September 20, 2008 [4 favorites]


This is serious progress. Sure, I'd rather someone start enforcing applicable laws, actually preventing and punishing torture. I'd also like to see someone go after Marty Seligman, who is reported to have helped the torturers develop their degrading techniques. (His defense: "I'm apolitical! I was just teaching them about learned helplessness!") Of course, the interrogators came to him because of his long experience in the field of torture. He's most famous for his work torturing dogs with continuous electric shocks, reducing them to shivering in pools of shit and piss. He's also a former APA president.

To those of you who say, "Too little, too late" -- remember: this will come up again.
posted by grobstein at 6:44 PM on September 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


wow that's wonderful and only five years too late

eat shit APA you bunch of worthless soft-science drop-out do-nothing freud-fuckers
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:46 PM on September 20, 2008 [3 favorites]


Wow, what a cutting edge issue!
posted by smackfu at 6:52 PM on September 20, 2008


They should have remembered that all doctors make a vow to heal, never to harm, and doctors who specialize in emotional and psychological health have to be extra careful not to misuse their knowledge.

The AMA was very quick to make public statements against torture back in 2004. The APA, on the other hand, has a long history of collaborating with the US government and the CIA when it comes to torture and interrogation, and any participation of its members in torture at Guantanamo or any other secret prisons can be seen as simply a continuation of a longstanding tradition of collaboration in such schemes. As Alexandra Kitty says, it's only now that the tide has turned and the spotlight focused on the APA that they decided to pass this resolution.
posted by deanc at 7:03 PM on September 20, 2008 [4 favorites]


Torture ... "because the threat of death just isn't enough to control people."

Every time this subject comes up, I can't help but flash on a certain Negativland piece. And now I see it's been immortalized you know where.

Warning: this won't make you feel better.
posted by philip-random at 8:29 PM on September 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Why does the APA hate America??
posted by UseyurBrain at 8:32 PM on September 20, 2008


Anyone read the "Con statement"?
"This Overbroad Petition Will Harm Vulnerable Populations and Put Ethical Psychologists at Risk"
Utter, utter, twatty berks.
posted by slater at 9:42 PM on September 20, 2008


oops, here's the con statement
posted by slater at 9:43 PM on September 20, 2008


Whenever I feel like I'm the one with all the problems and issues, and that my shrink is somehow above them all, I'll remember that the APA had to ADOPT A FUCKING MEASURE to say that participating in torture is NOT ok.
posted by treepour at 9:44 PM on September 20, 2008 [3 favorites]


treepour: Psychologists are human too. Your mistake for thinking otherwise.

Optimus Chime
: It sounds like you're holding something back. Tell me about your mother.
posted by digitaldraco at 10:48 PM on September 20, 2008


I've been watching this issue for the past few years -- what an embarrassment. Appalling. I guess I'm glad the prior position has been changed.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 11:36 PM on September 20, 2008


Why does the APA hate America??

Because they're a bunch of Ive League elitists.
posted by homunculus at 11:57 PM on September 20, 2008


"treepour: Psychologists are human too. Your mistake for thinking otherwise.

Optimus Chime: It sounds like you're holding something back. Tell me about your mother."

digitaldraco: it seems as if you have a compulsive need to mock your betters. Did you get properly toilet trained?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:58 PM on September 20, 2008


lupus: Why do you rush to defend others? Tell me, does the name Oedipus mean anything to you?
posted by digitaldraco at 12:16 AM on September 21, 2008


grobstein To those of you who say, "Too little, too late" -- remember: this will come up again.

I agree, in that any progress away from undesirable behavior and towards desirable behavior should, in principle, be rewarded (and the converse punished). But the rest of your comment: "I'd also like to see someone go after Marty Seligman, who is reported to have helped the torturers develop their degrading techniques. (His defense: "I'm apolitical! I was just teaching them about learned helplessness!") Of course, the interrogators came to him because of his long experience in the field of torture. He's most famous for his work torturing dogs with continuous electric shocks, reducing them to shivering in pools of shit and piss." is two extremely harsh accusations to make - can you back them up?
posted by aeschenkarnos at 2:51 AM on September 21, 2008


I would be astonished if that were true about Seligman. For one, his current line of research is all about positive psychology-- he hasn't, AFAIK, done learned helplessness stuff for decades. Second, the whole point of that research was to help understand and treat depression: I just can't see him using it to help people try to break someone.

Where was this "reportedly"reported?
posted by Maias at 6:33 AM on September 21, 2008


Early research on learned helplessness did indeed involve electric shocks on dogs. To say that he's most famous for torturing dogs is somewhat misleading, though. (And as Maias says, he's been working on positive psychology for quite a while now).
posted by Infinite Jest at 9:20 AM on September 21, 2008


Seligman's wiki entry notes this controversy. It points to an article by Andrew Sulivan that mentions it. All of these sources seem to originate to Jane Mayer's book on torture.

Scott Horton writes in his interview of Jane Mayer:
She notes that the techniques rely heavily on a theory called "Learned Helplessness" developed by a Penn psychologist Martin Seligman, who assisted them in the process. All of this was done under the thin pretext of being a part of the SERE program. Seligman is a former president of the American Psychological Association. This helps explain why the APA alone among professional healthcare provider organizations failed to unequivocally condemn torture and mandate that its members not associate themselves with the Bush Administration techniques.

That interview (question 2 of 6, specifically) talks about his work in the context of torture and is worth reading.
posted by el io at 9:31 AM on September 21, 2008


The reason APA didn't take a more aggressive stance against torture earlier on has nothing to do with Seligman, SERE, learned helplessness, "pseudo-science" or being a bunch of academics who don't understand "real life" (most of APA is made up of clinicians, not academics).

It has to do with APA's (and psychology's) very existence and history in the U.S., going from a tiny professional association in 1892 to becoming a recognized scientific endeavor. And that history is deeply intertwined with the U.S. military from the beginning. In 1917, it began helping the military devise and conduct psychological assessments on military recruits for WWI (as recruiting folks who aren't, you know, psychopaths who won't listen to authority can be helpful, as well as identifying people who have sufficient intelligence to take and follow orders).

So yeah, if you're indebted to the military for your start and continued promotion and advancement (the military is where psychologists first were trained for prescription privileges a decade or so ago; the V.A. system relies significantly on psychologists for the mental health concerns of combat vets for decades and recognizes them with the same privileges as medical docs), you're probably going to go slow on changing a century-old policy.

Which of course doesn't excuse the speed of the change. Just provides some context for why it took them as long as it did... And doesn't change the fact that this entire issue is so over-blown for the amount of actual professionals it directly affects (dozens out of some 200,000+ psychologists in the U.S.).
posted by docjohn at 1:37 PM on September 21, 2008


Oh, and I forgot to mention, any professional -- medical doctor, psychologist, social worker -- can pretty much do whatever they want that is covered by a professional association's ethics code by simply opting out of membership of that society or association. As long as they're not violating state or federal law (and this kind of stuff is rarely codified in the law), they simply need not be a member of an association and can happily go about their merry way. For instance, the AMA represents only about 1/4 of the total physicians in the U.S. (240,000 of the approx. 940,000 physicians). The APA represents about 90,000 psychologists in the U.S. out of 180,000 (50%).
posted by docjohn at 2:03 PM on September 21, 2008


two extremely harsh accusations to make - can you back them up?

Yes. Seligman's role in contemporary torture is reported in Jane Mayer's book, as mentioned above. I believe Seligman has responded in his own words, but off-hand I'm not sure where to find it.

As to the role of dogs in the learned helplessness experiments, most of that is available from Seligman's own publications, and other official documents. A concise account, based on quotations and paraphrases from those publications, is available in Chapter 2 of Animal Liberation. One poster disagreed with my characterization of this as Seligman's main claim to fame, and I know that Seligman is now (somewhat ironically) famous as the founder of the "positive psychology" movement as well. But the "learned helplessness" work is at least a major part of his legacy, and is built on the quivering backs of those tortured dogs.
posted by grobstein at 4:59 PM on September 21, 2008


Who Would Jesus Waterboard? Southern White Evangelicals & Torture
posted by homunculus at 12:51 PM on September 22, 2008


Appeals Court Orders Defense Department To Release Detainee Abuse Photos In ACLU Lawsuit
posted by homunculus at 2:35 PM on September 22, 2008


SERE (afaik) is about psychologically removing learned helplessness. Don’t know why anyone needed to torture dogs to learn that stuff though. Hell, the Spartans knew oodles about human nature and psychology (in war at least) and wrote a lot of it down.

Not condoning leaving children out in the wild here, but some people just don’t want to seem to realize how much their own destiny really is in their hands. It seems to be instilled in some people.
And I wouldn’t say that this isn’t by design. A lot of people, organizations, etc. push you to try to make you live their way. Think as they do. Etc. But really, it’s your world to make of it what you will.

Only thing you -have- to do is crap and die. And if you don’t eat much, you don’t have to do the former. Everything else in the world is on your terms - which is as much a statement of freedom as it is responsibility.
And of course, torture is a grotesque violation of that fundamental freedom and a forced abjuration of duty.

It’s incomprehensible to me how any practitioner of medicine (ostensibly healers) would have to change a policy to repudiate torture in the first place.

Oh, I’ve met some screwed up shrinks in my time. They don’t seem to get the “recoil” answer. (You’re ordered to shoot the next person who comes over the hill. The next person is your mother. What do you feel?) And bit lacking in sense of humor (I told a shrink once I was having bizarre, yet hyper real hallucinations. These episodes would occur shortly after I would pass out. Typically for 7 to 8 hours. Also, I was addicted to dihydrous oxide).

But some seem to want to do good work and have a general grasp of things.
So it’s hard for me to imagine anyone losing touch so badly.
To me it’s analogous to a medical doctor deciding not to carve out people’s brains for - say - homosexuality. Or some such. Then deciding not to.

Well, what the hell made you think it was a good idea in the first place?

And ‘bars participation’?

Hell, I really don’t want to get too deeply into this because if I do find a torturer, if I can put my hands on them, I’m going to kill them. Just on GP. I’d do the same with any terrorist I saw. Now the odds of my tailor turning out to be Fahid Msalam are pretty long, but I’d probably err on the side of caution. It’s not like they’re going to come along easy. (Always wondered why the Gotham police don’t shoot at the Joker on sight. “OMG! The Joker! Kill him!” bang bang bang!” - Instead it’s “Halt!” or some such and they chase him. Meanwhile he gasses the neighborhood)

There is no middle ground there. You don’t just ‘not participate’ in torture. If you see it, you stop it. By whatever means necessary.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:49 PM on September 22, 2008


Psychiatrists still participating in banned interrogations
posted by homunculus at 11:03 PM on September 24, 2008


...aaaand scene.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:37 PM on September 24, 2008


Closing In On War Crimes
posted by homunculus at 1:50 PM on September 25, 2008


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