The Corpus Callosum

Psychologists and Torture

Amy Goodman has a good article on Truthdig.  The
reason I like the article is that it provides follow-up to an issue
that was in the headlines, briefly a couple of years ago.  It
has largely been ignored by the media since then.  

Oath: Psychologists and Torture

By Amy Goodman
Jun 5, 2007

First, do no harm. This tenet of medicine applies equally to
psychologists, yet they are increasingly implicated in abusive
interrogations, dare we say torture, at U.S. military detention
facilities like Guantanamo. While the American Medical Association and
the American Psychiatric Association both have passed resolutions
prohibiting members from participating in interrogations, the American
Psychological Association refuses to, despite the outrage of many of
its members.

This is something that I could not understand at all.  How
could this happen?  I still can’t understand why any physician
or psychologist would participate in torture, but now we hear that the
American Psychological Association seems to tacitly endorse such
participation.  I was happy to see the explanation…

years ago, after a leaked report from the International Committee of
the Red Cross criticizing the role of health professionals in U.S.
interrogations, the American Psychological Association formed its
Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security
(PENS). There were nine voting members. Six of them were connected to
the military. At the time, the identities of the panelists were secret.
The PENS panel endorsed the continued participation of psychologists in
military interrogations.

Of the three nonmilitary voting members, one, Dr. Michael G. Wessells
of Randolph-Macon College, resigned, and another, Dr. Jean Maria
Arrigo, recently called for the PENS report to be annulled…

The third, Dr. Nina Thomas, told me: “I don’t think
I was,
in fact, critically aware of what Morgan Banks’ role was at
time of the meetings themselves. I knew the outline of his background,
but I didn’t know the meaning of his background. So it

It is not clear from the article how the American Psychological
Association was essentially duped by a stacked committee; perhaps this
has not yet come to light.  But the article states that some
members of the PA have quit, and some are withholding dues.  

It is unlikely that anyone believes that the APA endorses participation
in torture, or even that there are very many psychologists who ever
would do so.  The military managed to find six, and somehow
got them them on the committee that would decide the “official” stance
of the entire Association.

is another instance of the Republican War on Science.  I find
it alarming that they would so successfully infiltrate a professional
organization.  But then, people who would do this kind of
thing obviously will stop at nothing.

One of the military psychologists on the panel was R. Scott
Shumate.  Dr. Shumate  received his Doctor of
Philosophy in Clinical Psychology from the University of Denver in
1985.  But he also was the chief operational psychologist for
the CIA’s counterterrorism center.  He was a
professional spy.  I imagine the CIA does this kind of thing
all the time.  Of course the APA is not going to expect to be
infiltrated by professional spies, so they are not going to have any
kind of counterintelligence apparatus.  I don’t think they can
be faulted for allowing this to happen.