Monday, August 11, 2008

The psychology of torture

I've just started reading Jane Mayer's new book, "The Dark Side," about how the United States turned to torture as a weapon in the "war against terror," and I may have some comment on it when I am done. Meanwhile, in yesterday's Boston Globe, psychologist/psychoanalyst Stephen Soldz penned an opinion piece entitled "Ending the psychological mind game on detainees" (registration on the site probably required.)

Soldz's piece is a sharp attack on psychologists who have helped American interrogators torture their subjects, and on the failure of the American Psychological Association to take a firm and unequivocal stand against members of the profession who were involved in this. A few key paragraphs:

... 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.

Soldz says that psychologists appalled by these revelations looked to the APA to take a strong stand on the matter. But:

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.

When the leadership appointed a task force on the ethics of psychologist involvement in interrogations, the report was strangely unsigned, and the members' names were kept secret from APA members and the media. Finally, it was revealed that a majority of members were from the military-intelligence establishment, with four having served in chains of commands implicated in detainee abuses. Three of the four nonmilitary members have since denounced the task force process and two have called for the report to be rescinded.

Now the good news:

Not surprisingly, unrest among APA members is growing. Many members, including the founder of the APA's Practice Directorate and the former head of its Ethics Committee, have resigned in protest.

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.

What can you do? If you are anywhere near Boston later this week, you can join in protests at the annual meeting of the APA:

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.

I don't know Stephen Soldz personally, but he sounds like the kind of ethical and socially engaged psychologist we could use a lot more of. On his Web site you will find links to his group Psychoanalyists for Peace and Justice and other important resources.

Update: The August 17 issue of the Boston Globe reports on the protest that took place outside the APA meeting.

Russia vs. Georgia: I will have more to say about this later, but for the moment this alarming situation should make it clear that the United States is no longer "the world's only superpower." That conceit has now been falsified by both China and Russia, and the blustering militarism of the Bush administration will have to give way to a new American humility and diplomacy (this will also require a new attitude on the part of those Americans who think their country can continue to be the international bully.) Is Obama up to the job? I'm not sure, but John McCain certainly is not.

More on Russian vs. Georgia: The mainstream media has given prominent play to the anti-Russian stance of the U.S. and Europe, but Georgetown University historian Charles King provides some more balanced nuances in an opinion piece in the Christian Science Monitor.

Still more: Please take the time to read the ever-wise Fred Kaplan's piece on the conflict in Slate. The bottom line: The Bush administration doesn't have a clue what it is doing in the region, it needlessly encouraged Georgia to take steps that would provoke Russia (nasty as that country has become), and it has no clue what to do now. A story of neoconservative delusions and total diplomatic incompetence. And for a very interesting perspective from a non-interventionist group, read Justin Raimondo's analysis on


terryt said...

Regarding Russia and Georgia. It seems Russia may be after a controlling interest in the oil flowing through Georgia. If true it is extrememly ironic that George W. Caesar is criticising the Russians for doing what the US did in Iraq.

By the way, nice picture of the South Island lake yesterday. I think it was Lake Hayes.

Michael Balter said...

Thanks, terryt. Are you from New Zealand, or do you know it? I am dying to go. Maybe next year.

Anne Gilbert said...

Just a "historical" note: At about the time the forner Soviet Union broke up, there were something like four different wars going on in Georgiaat the same time! One of these wars, I believe, involved Abkhazia. There were some others. There also used to be a North Ossetian Autonomous Republic. This is still part of Russia. I believe this is what the South Ossetians want to join. And you can trace a lot of this crap right back to the not-so-dear old days of Stalin. Which is ironic, since he came from Georgia. The town of Gori, as a matter of fact. But he didn't treat Georgia very well, notwithstanding. In any case, terryt pretty much asked the same question I was going to, so the above is what I've had to say about the situation. For now, anyway.
Anne G

terryt said...

From north of Auckland, halfway to the top. Be sure to let me know if you do head this way. I'm sure we can find a bed for you.

The problem with Georgia is that, as is the case in long-inhabited mountainous regions, people in almost every valley speak a different language. At least in this case they mostly belong to the same religion although I guess there are Muslims, Armenian Christians and Orthodox scattered through the mountains.

And I see that the US administration accuses the Russians of aiming for 'regime change'. Sound familiar?

Anne Gilbert said...

terryt and all:

Well, I guess you could say that Russia learned a lot from just watching the US in action!
Anne G

jqb said...

"If true it is extrememly ironic that George W. Caesar is criticising the Russians for doing what the US did in Iraq. "

My irony meter blew up when John McCain said "in the 21st century, nations don't invade other nations".

(lil bro here)

sildenafil citrate said...

I believe this is what the South Ossetians want to join. And you can trace a lot of this crap right back to the not-so-dear old days of Stalin