Psychologists and torture

Some academics and medical personnel have been complicit in the torture and other abuses of prisoners. Medical professionals have been part of the teams that have overseen the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo and helped with the force-feeding inflicted on them. Meanwhile psychiatrists have helped in the design and implementing torture practices.

You would think that their professional ethical guidelines would prevent such things and being part of programs that harm people would be such a serious violation that they could lose their licenses. But sadly the professional organizations representing these fields have often shown themselves to be willing to compromise their principles in order to accommodate the government.

Cora Currier reports that the American Psychological Association is belatedly launching an investigation into their own role in the Bush torture program.

The top professional organization for psychologists is launching an independent investigation over how it may have sanctioned the brutal interrogation methods used against terror suspects by the Bush administration. The American Psychological Association announced this week that it has tapped an unaffiliated lawyer, David Hoffman, to lead the review.

In 2002, the American Psychological Association (APA) revised its code of ethics to allow practitioners to follow the “governing legal authority” in situations that seemed at odds with their duties as health professionals. Many argue that the revision, as well as a task force report in 2005 that affirmed that the code allowed psychologists to participate in national security interrogations, gave the Bush administration critical legal cover for torture.

The APA has since removed the just-following-orders excuse from their code, disavowed the 2005 report, and gone to lengths to distance themselves from the controversy.

But it reopened last month, when New York Times reporter James Risen’s book “Pay Any Price” revealed e-mails from the files of a deceased CIA contractor, Scott Gerwehr, showing close contact between the intelligence establishment and leadership at the APA. The emails centered particularly on the 2005 report and suggested that members of the Bush Administration were involved in its conception and drafting.

Let’s see if this report is anything more than a whitewash, an attempt to salvage the reputation of their profession after being involved in blatant violations of human rights.


  1. Randy Lee says

    Its not just medical professionals and psychiatrists who “have often shown themselves to be willing to compromise their principles in order to accommodate the government.”
    We have a whole nation of sheep who have been indoctrinated to sustain the predatory nature of government. Why would we think that medical proffessionals and psychiatrists who are taken from among our numbers would for the most part be any different?
    I have pointed out in the comments under your article, “Why Don’t People Vote?” the irrationality and contradictory nature of our predatory actions as compared to Principles we claim to recognize and believe in. The same contradictions are believed by these ‘professional’ types, who cannot even see their own unprofessional behaviors.

    In 51 seconds flat the following video shows why most people accept these predatory means.

  2. Matt G says

    The Iraq war was wrong on so many levels, and I hope something good can be gained from it. “Ethics” is a foreign word to most politicians, but to medical professionals it’s supposed to mean something.

  3. lorn says

    Psychologists have major roles in market research, advertising, political positioning, issue framing, and marketing. All of which pay very well. None of which are unmitigated benefits to mankind.

  4. lanir says

    It’s probably not a good idea to try to put a whole profession on a pedestal. That’s an awful lot of people with different backgrounds and reasons for getting into the field. They aren’t all going to fit on the same pedestal (I think this is true for any area of study).

    In general I think this concept of health workers is much more useful in person. You need to trust that the people who are helping you when you’re sick are trying to do the best they can for you, especially when you need to be helpless and you need to agree to cooperate with that in a short period of time. As a general idea that long term they’re looking out for you as a group in a big benevolent way, this is a far less useful concept. They’re not guardian angels they’re men and women with knowledge, skills, hopes, fears and foibles just like the rest of us. I think it is better for us and them if we acknowledge both the exceptionally good and exceptionally bad things that can come from them as a group and treat each individual based on their merits and our needs demand.

  5. says

    The AMA and APA needs to grow a spine and suspend the licenses of those who participated until a full investigation is done. If the “doctors” involved or US government refuse to cooperate, revoke their license to practice permanently. If the US government refuses to submit their names, revoke ALL the licenses of doctors in the US military until the government cooperates. It’s an escalation those two bodies can legally take and would have major effects. By allowing those “doctors” to continue their “practice”, the AMA and APA are condoning torture.

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