Ever since the inception of the Global and Perpetual War on Terror,
there has been concern about the role of professionals with training in
psychology and psychiatry in the design, conduct, and interpretation of
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) banned such participation in
May 2006. The American Medical Association (AMA) followed a
few weeks later.
These associations do not have any regulatory authority.
Nonetheless, their proclamations and highly influential.
Oddly, the American Psychological Association [the other APA,
call it AP’A, (p-prime)] did not follow suit immediately.
Instead, they issued a statement that some considered to be
equivocal, calling for less than absolute prohibition.
It is kind of interesting how this came about. It started as
a survey posted on the Internet. We’ve all seen a zillion of
these online polls. For the most part, they are amusing but
inconsequential. However, this particular one morphed into a
referendum, conducted by a mail-in vote. The referendum
passed. The organization’s bylaws require that the changes be
placed in the official policy during their next national meeting
(August 2009). Their council could decide to take formal
action sooner than that.
Now, the New England Journal of Medicine (one of the oldest and most
influential medical journals) has published two open-access articles on
the subject of physician participation in torture. (The NEJM
makes selected articles openly-accessible, when they are deemed to have
important public policy implications.)
Ethics of Interrogation — The U.S. Military’s Ongoing Use of
Medical Ethics — Physician First, Last, Always
It is good to see that the issue remains on the front burner.
What they say in the first article is disturbing. It is based
upon the authors’ findings from a series of FOIA requests.
One document is a DoD memo, dated 20 October 2009 (after the
APA and AMA edicts) that ignored the APA resolution and watered down
the AMA resolution. In fact, it partly contradicted
the AMA resolution. Moreover:
Other documents obtained under FOIA indicate that
between July 2006 and October 2007, five Army psychiatrists were put
through the “behavioral science consultation” training course. The
policy memo raises critical questions about that course, among them,
Why are consultants receiving training in “learned helplessness”
— a term that invokes the work of psychologist Martin
Seligman, who used electric shocks to induce passive behavior in dogs
and destroy their will to escape? As Jane Mayer has revealed, Seligman
was invited by the CIA to give a lecture in learned helplessness at the
Navy’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape school in 2002,
purportedly to help U.S. soldiers to resist torture rather than enable
them to inflict it. According to Mayer, at least one experienced
interrogator has claimed that learned helplessness was the paradigm for
some of the most aggressive interrogations in the war on terror. If
coercive interrogations are supposed to be off the table, why teach
this theory to behavioral science consultants?
I have to disagree with the wording in that passage. The
military may have put five people through the training. Those
people might have had previous training as psychiatrists.
They may have been psychiatrists earlier in life.
But they are not psychiatrists now. I don’t know
what they are, but they are not members of any healing profession.
They have betrayed the profession; for them, there is no