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.

With the release by the Obama adminstration of Bush-era CIA documents pertaining to the interrogations, it has become evident that this was not the case. The Washington Post reports that the physicians and psychologists contracted by the CIA to work on these interrogations often served to approve government actions rather than protext prisoners. For instance, the psychologist who worked on the interrogation of the high profile prisoner Abu Zubaida, “provided ideas, practical advice and even legal justification for interrogation methods that would break Abu Zubaida, physically and mentally. Extreme sleep deprivation, waterboarding, the use of insects to provoke fear — all were deemed acceptable, in part because the psychologist said so.”

The Post report included excerpts of an interview with Frank Donaghue, chief executive of Physicians for Human Rights, who said that:

The health professionals involved in the CIA program broke the law and shame the bedrock ethical traditions of medicine and psychology…. All psychologists and physicians found to be involved in the torture of detainees must lose their license and never be allowed to practice again.

(Thanks to Mind Hacks for alerting me to this story.)

About Christopher Green

Professor of Psychology at York University (Toronto). Former editor of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences. Creator of the "Classics in the History of Psychology" website and of the "This Week in the History of Psychology" podcast series.

One thought on “CIA Psychologists “Broke the Law”

  1. Here is APA President James Bray’s response to recent media reports detailing the participation of psychologists in the design and use of “enhanced” interrogation techniques by the CIA.

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