Psychological torture: officially sanctioned


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

The American Psychological Association Meets Dr. Mengele
APA Confab Whitewashes Torture by Shrinks

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 

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 

Dr. Behnke also referred to the report, "REPORT OF THE PRESIDENTIAL TASK FORCE 
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

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 

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:"

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 •••@••.•••

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