The A.P.A’s “Rotten Apples” Negate Human Rights

Posted by on Dec 1st, 2007 and filed under Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry


RELUCTANTLY, the U.S. Senate nominated Michael Mukasey as Attorney General of the United States a few weeks ago, even though he stopped short of declaring water boarding, an interrogation technique, a form of torture and therefore illegal under U.S. law. Among one of his rationales is he doesn’t know whether the U.S. government has used it.

It seems that the future Attorney General of the United States is unaware that water boarding doesn’t “simulate” the feeling that someone is drowning. Water boarding is not “virtual reality”. According to one seasoned Navy interrogation instructor who testified about water boarding before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the victim really is being tortured; he doesn’t think he’s drowning. Yet we must remember that, in a democratic republic such as this one, the rule of law and human rights rarely, if ever, intersect. And, like the rule of law, the American Psychological Association, an organization of mental health professionals who in principle represent the core principles of human rights – that is, to do no harm -, is negating human rights. The majority of its members may object to this statement; besides, only a minority of its members have trained and supervised military interrogators at Guantano Bay and elsewhere around the globe. A few rotten apples, sad to say, do spoil the whole bunch. This is not to say that psychologists are directly conducting interrogations, but that they are perfectly suited, according to the U.S. military establishment, to supervise interrogators so as to ascertain whether any interrogation technique inflict harm “above the normal threshold”.

In its zeal to appease the U.S. military establishment so as to establish psychology as a “psychological science”, these “rotten apples” categorically refuse to prohibit all members, including themselves, from participating in interrogations. As alternative news reports directed its gaze at the A.P.A.’s role in legitimizing interrogation sessions, A.P.A. president Gerald Koocher directed a Task Force to draft ethical guidelines for psychologists involved in national security interrogations. Out of 10 psychologists who sit on the Task Force, 6 of them have close ties to the military. Four of the psychologists who drafted the ethical guidelines were involved with the handling of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. The Task Force report declared that psychologists participating in terror-related interrogations are fulfilling “a valuable and ethical role to assist in protecting our nation, other nations, and innocent civilians from harm”. No other member of the A.P.A. was actively involved in deliberations leading to the Task Force report; its membership was kept private until now and, in an unusual move, the A.P.A’s Board of Directors formally adopted the report.

Here are the “rotten apples”: Col. Larry James, who was chief psychologist at Guantanamo Bay in 2003 and who was director of the behavioral sciences group at Abu Ghraib in 2004; Col. Morgan Banks, who loaned his psychological skills to support combat operations at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, where serious abuses have been reported. He is one of the founders and senior psychologist at the Army’s SERE program at Fort Bragg, N.C., where the military trains elite soldiers to resist torture in case of capture. Ironically, these same techniques used to protect soldiers against torture – from sleep deprivation to isolation to sexual humiliation – have been reverse-engineered to be used on detainees in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. Capt. Bryce Lefever lectured interrogators and was consulted on various interrogation techniques. R. Scott Shumate was in charge of a team of psychologists who “engaged in risk-assessments of the Guantanamo Bay detainees”.

While the American Psychological Association issued ethical guidelines for members who participate in interrogations, the American Psychiatric Association flatly directed that none of its members participate in interrogations anywhere.

The history of psychology is replete with “turf wars” between psychologists and psychiatrists, at least in the United States, with psychologists struggling for recognition. There is still a stubborn perception that the psychiatrists rank above psychologists. Until recently, psychiatrists declared that psychologists must not conduct psychotherapy; psychologists, in turn, fought for rights to conduct such treatments. Over the past several decades, representatives of organized psychologists gained recognition and value by emphasizing its scientific character to the powerful in marketing. In the early 1900s John B. Watson, American psychologist, first president of the American Psychological Association and die-hard behaviorist, single-handedly raised the profits of chewing gum and candy manufacturers by suggesting that vending machines be placed strategically at supermarket aisles so children can see them. The scientific character of psychological science is already in use in educational circles. But the “dark side” of psychological science was already in full swing after World War II, when the United States government began to develop a sophisticated military. Psychologists soon demonstrated their scientific character by developing sophisticated interrogation techniques that could “tease-out” information from captives through the application of behavior modification techniques based on psychological science. Many of these techniques were used during the Vietnam War and various U.S.-supported counter-insurgency techniques in Latin America and the Caribbean during the 1970s and 1980s. Until a few months ago many of us were unaware of the admonition that mental health professionals were aiding the Bush Administration by serving as consultants on Behavioral Science Consultation Teams, or BSCT.

Hegel, arguably the first modern European philosopher of history, insisted throughout his life that the struggle for recognition is the most powerful human impulse. My take is that throughout any democratic society there are those “rotten apples”, whether psychologists or not, that channel this struggle by aligning themselves with powerful lobbying groups in order to gain prestige, honor and monetary gain. That these “rotten apples” are psychologists is particularly odious. Rather than heeding to Hegel’s philosophy, the A.P.A’s “rotten apples” have instead channeled their impulses to “cozy up” with political elites who care a whit about human rights issues.  

The writer is a recent revert to Islam and can be contacted at:

Leave a Reply

Log in | Designed, Developed and Hosted by: BIZIBIZI INC.