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The American Psychological Association Meets Dr. Mengele

APA Confab Whitewashes Torture by Shrinks

by Dr. TRUDY BOND

Even as the unindicted war criminal Donald Rumsfeld persists in the totally-discredited fiction that the U.S. military doesn’t torture, the American Psychological Association (APA) provides cover for its uniformed professionals to continue to devise torture plans for inmates at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and perhaps other secret prisons of the far-flung American empire. Mimicking the Pentagon lie model, the APA recently uttered a gratuitous self-serving pronouncement that participation in torture by its psychologist members is forbidden, while at the same time failing to modify its more permissive Code of Ethics to reflect such high piety.

The APA Council passed an updated Resolution on Torture at their recent annual convention. In the press release from APA, the Resolution reaffirmed

"the organization’s absolute opposition to all forms of torture and abuse, regardless of the circumstance. . . The Association unequivocally condemns any involvement by psychologists in torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. This APA policy applies to all psychologists in all settings. The resolution, approved on August 9, 2006, further underscored the duty of all psychologists to intervene to stop acts of torture or abuse as well as the ethical obligation of all psychologists to report such behavior to appropriate authorities."

"’Our intention is to empower and encourage members to do everything they can to prevent violations of basic human rights — at Guantanamo Bay or anywhere else they may occur," said Gerald P. Koocher, PhD, President of the American Psychological Association. ‘It is not enough for us to express outrage or to codify acceptable practices. As psychologists, we must use every means at our disposal to prevent abuse and other forms of cruel or degrading treatment.’"

Such is the basis of all the press releases coming from the convention. A good sound byte, a sweet-smelling smoke screen, or in military parlance, a great psyops.

Mark Benjamin had written a 2-part trailer in Salon of what was to occur at the APA convention when psychologists across the country rose en masse to protest the role of psychologists in the torture process in our current military, which has been given the green light by Rumsfeld, Bush and Gonzales to ignore the Geneva Convention.

The mutiny never occurred. We won’t know whether it was due to the fact that Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley, the Army’s surgeon general, was present at the Council’s meeting to discourage antitorture sentiment, or the fact that the Resolution simply served to appease the APA members who didn’t understand the reality of what was occurring. It is apparent, however, that the highly-touted "Resolution on Torture" is worthless in the face of the equivocal APA Ethical Code.

In his article in the July/August 2006 volume of the Monitor on Psychology, Stephen Behnke, JD, PhD and director of APA’s Ethics Office, stated "APA derives its position from Principle A, "Do No Harm," in the Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct (2002), and from Principle B, which addresses psychologists’ responsibilities to society. By virtue of Principle A, psychologists do no harm; by virtue of Principle B, psychologists use their expertise in, and understanding of, human behavior to aid in the prevention of harm."

Dr. Behnke also referred to the report, "REPORT OF THE PRESIDENTIAL TASK FORCE ON PSYCHOLOGICAL ETHICS AND NATIONAL SECURITY," which delineates the role of psychologists in the military. The PENS report served as justification for the role of psychologists in torture:

"Principle B of the Ethics Code, Fidelity and Responsibility, states that psychologists ‘are aware of their professional and scientific responsibilities to society.’ Psychologists have a valuable and ethical role to assist in protecting our nation, other nations, and innocent civilians from harm, which will at times entail gathering information that can be used in our nation’s and other nations’ defense . . . The Task Force looked to the APA Ethics Code for fundamental principles to guide its thinking. The Task Force found such principles in numerous aspects of the Ethics Code, such as the Preamble, ‘Psychologists respect and protect civil and human rights’ and ‘[The Ethics Code] has as its goals the welfare and protection of the individuals and groups with whom psychologists work'; Principle A, Beneficence and Nonmaleficence, ‘In their professional actions, psychologists seek to safeguard the welfare and rights of those with whom they interact professionally and other affected persons'; . . .

The Task Force concluded that the Ethics Code is fundamentally sound in addressing the ethical dilemmas that arise in the context of national security-related work."

And thus the psychologists have endorsed the Orwellian groupthink process, that by repeating the mantra that Pentagon psychologists don’t torture but are busily safeguarding the nation’s defense, they can believe that psychologists are not aiding torture. Perhaps Orwell’s survivors should sue APA for copyright infringement.

To verify the reality that the recent Resolution on Torture did not supersede the Code of Ethics, or in other words the reality that psychologists were fully empowered by APA to participate in any form of torture as long as they believed it was in the realm of national defense, I wrote to Dr. Behnke requesting a clarification. In response to my question, "Did the new resolution passed by APA at the convention erase Principle B as referred to in your article in the Monitor, which addresses psychologists’ responsibilities to society?", Dr. Behnke cheerfully responded, "Hi Dr. Bond, Not at all–this Resolution was intended to update the 1986 Resolution Against Torture. Have you had a chance to read it? APA’s press release can be found at: http://www.apa.org/releases/notorture.html."

To rub more salt in the wounds of the tortured prisoners, on the last morning of the conference, APA Council of Representatives voted to suspend all rules and regulations in order to commend military psychologists for their many significant contributions and sacrifices, and to direct Dr. Koocher to convey thanks and support in an individual letter to each. Apart from the tragic irony in this action, it is quite clear that APA knows the names and locations of those psychologists specifically involved in torture.

Perhaps a letter of commendation is not enough. I propose that APA create the "Mengele Award" for those psychologists who have sacrificed so much to protect their nation in the "war on terror" by assisting in torture for prisoners of Guantanamo, Bagram and Abu Ghraib. Even though Dr. Mengele was not a psychologist, he made valuable contributions to the science of torture which no doubt has been inspiration to some of our own APA members. As psychiatrists have refused to participate in torturing others in any form including devising torture, there won’t be much competition.

Dr. TRUDY BOND is a psychologist in Toledo, Ohio. She has been a member of APA for 28 years though soon to resign in protest (if not kicked out first). She can be reached at armordilo@aol.com