Tag Archives: torture

APA Denounces CIA Psychologist

James MitchellI think this counts as an event worthy of breaking AHP’s summer silence.

The American Psychological Association (APA) has come out in favor of stripping James Mitchell of his license to practice. Mitchell (pictured right) is one of the psychologists who worked for the CIA developing and applying controversial “enhanced” interrogation techniques that were used against terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay prison and other “black sites” that the CIA maintains around the world. An Associated Press article about the APA’s actions can be found here.

The is move surprising because the APA has been heavily criticized both from within its membership and without for being evasive in efforts to forbid its members from participating in such activities. First it issued directives with ambiguous wording. When the membership voted overwhelmingly in favor of a more direct statement against torture, the APA Board came under fire for dragging its feet in  implementing the resolution.

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Is the APA Altering Its Past?

According to a blog post by psychologist and anti-torture activist Jeff Kaye, the APA may have been altering and deleting articles from on-line versions of its own publications that documented its participation in torture workshops co-mounted with the CIA and the Rand Corporation.

Kaye cites articles from the APA’s Science Policy Insider News website and from APA’s Spin that have been previously cited in major publications such as Vanity Fair, but whose URL’s now only bring up a “page is not available” message. He says that the originals can now be found only through “a web archive search engine.”

Kaye concedes that  “the scrubbing of the page describing truth drugs and sensory overload could be attributed to some normal archiving decision, or the victim of a web do-over” but insists that “the excision of the text and link to the site on the referring page cannot be an accident.” (Indeed, the APA launched a major overhaul of its web site in the past year.) Kaye continues:

APA has a history of bad faith on such issues. Recently, they rewrote a problematic section of their ethical code, dubbed the Nuremberg loophole by some, which allowed psychologists to violate their ethical rules if done to comply with “law, regulations, or other governing legal authority.”

Kaye’s blog item item has been picked up by the website of Harper’s magazine.

(Thanks to Ron Sheese for alerting me to this.)

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APA: Ludy Benjamin resigns over AHAP, torture

Ludy Benjamin Jr.Breaking news: Ludy Benjamin Jr. has resigned from the American Psychological Association.

In addition to his well-known and long-standing scholarly involvement in the Society for the History of Psychology, for which he was recognized as a Fellow in 1981, he has also shaped the last quarter-century of several APA divisions: Teaching (Division 2), for which he was recognized as a Fellow in 1982; General Psychology (Div. 1) and Psychology of Women (Div. 35) in 1990; and Experimental Psychology (Div. 3) in 1997. 

His presence will surely be missed.

But the reasons for his resignation run deeper than the recent cuts made to the Archives of the History of American Psychology. In a note sent to the listserv of the Society for the History of Psychology, he explained:

I began thinking about resigning when APA Council began passing resolutions on the involvement of psychologists in torture and interrogations that were opposite to positions taken by other national associations in health care and public welfare. But I stayed in because of the AHAP funding issues. As I indicated in my resignation letter to James Bray, I was not resigning because APA cut funds to the Archives. But I was resigning because the process was, in my opinion, one of subterfuge from the initiation of the cuts in Central Office through what I perceived as the rigged debate on the floor of Council in Toronto.

He will also return his Presidential Citation, awarded for his many contributions to the Association.

I have been a student affiliate member since my senior year in college and a member since 1971. I have been to every APA convention since 1974. In the nearly 40 years of my membership I have held many offices in APA on boards and committees and APA Council, as well as spending two years in APA Central Office as Director of the Office of Educational Affairs. APA has given me much and I have worked hard for the Association in return.

Yet, even as he resigns from the APA, he won’t be leaving History.

Resigning was not an easy decision for me. It is something that until recently I never imagined that I would do. APA has meant much to me and it pains me to leave the Association in this way. However, I feel that my own values do not mesh well with those of the Association’s leadership. I will continue to support the Society for the History of Psychology and maintain my membership there.

To join the Society for the History of Psychology, without first joining the American Psychological Association, find information here.  For information about how to support the Archives of the History of American Psychology (both financially and in terms of donating historical materials), look here.

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APA “Regrets” Torture

The Board of Directors of the the American Psychological Association today issued the following letter regarding the participaton of psychologists in torture over the past several years.

June 18, 2009

An Open Letter from the Board of Directors

Dear Colleague,

As a psychologist and member of the American Psychological Association (APA), you no doubt share our serious concerns about reports regarding the involvement of psychologists in torture and abusive interrogations as part of the Bush administration’s “war on terror.” We recognize that the issue of psychologist involvement in national security-related investigations has been an extremely difficult and divisive one for our association. We also understand that some of our members continue to be disappointed and others angered by the association’s actions in this regard. Although APA has had a longstanding policy against psychologist involvement in torture, many members wanted the association to take a strong stand against any involvement of psychologists in national security interrogations during the Bush administration. Continue reading

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Ongoing Debate About APA & Torture

Even though the membership of the American Psychological Association (APA) voted overwhelmingly in a referendum last year to strengthen the organization’s ethical guidelines to ban its members participating in the kinds of “harsh” interrogations that were being practiced by the US government at Guantanamo and various other “dark sites”  during the time of the Bush administration, the debate over the APA’s actions and how it got to be the kind of organization that would behave as is it did, continues unabated. Two recent items seem to crystalize one side of the debate particularly clearly Continue reading

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CIA Didn’t Know History of SERE

Soldiers waterboarding in the field in VietnamIn a stunning confirmation of George Santayana’s adage that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it*, the New York Times reports that none of the Bush cabinet members, including then-CIA director George Tenet, knew that the “Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape” (SERE) methods they used while interrogating inmates at Guantanamo and other “off-shore” prisons, had been developed decades before by the US military, “to give American pilots and soldiers a sample of the torture methods used by Communists in the Korean War, methods that had wrung false confessions from Americans.” Continue reading

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CIA Psychologists “Broke the Law”

Guantanamo Bay prisonDuring the debate over how the American Psychological Association should respond to reports of  psychologists participating in the “enhanced” interrogation of terrorism suspects in off-shore prisons, APA officials consistently argued that psycholgoists were there to protect the prisoners, ensuring that the procedures used did not endanger their mental health. Continue reading

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Sensory Deprivation at the BBC

still from Total IsolationThe BBC documentary program “Horizon” has partially replicated the landmark sensory deprivation experiments of the 1950s and 1960s. Interest in these studies has been spurred anew by recent claims that the studies were sponsored by the CIA, who were attempting to develop method of psychologically breaking down prisoners without resorting to physical torture, and that the techniques developed then are being used now in places like Abu Graib and Guantanamo Bay.

According to an article at BBC News/Magazine, six volunteers were shut inside cells in a nuclear bunker for a period of 48 hours. Three were left in total darkness. Three others were given some light, but made to wear translucent goggles and foam padding over their hands and arms. Continue reading

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Short History of Psychological Torture

Alfred McCoyA lecture by Alfred McCoy about the history of psychological torture by covert services and the military in the US has just been been posted on YouTube. McCoy, a U. Wisconsin professor of history, is the author of the 2006 book A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation from the Cold War to the War on Terror. He has also authored books on the international heroin trade and on the Australian underworld.

McCoy became significant to historians of psychology when he claimed in A Question of Torture that Donald Hebb’s sensory deprivation research and Stanley Milgram’s obedience research had been funded by the CIA, and that they were part of the CIA’s half-century of effort to develop and apply effective techniques of “no-touch” psychological torture that would evade the prohibitions of the Geneva Conventions Continue reading

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