While most psychologists are good people, tyrannies have always deployed corrupt psychologists to punish dissenters, and label them “crazy”.
Soviet psychiatrists famously aided Stalin in applying fake insanity diagnoses to political dissenters. The official explanation was that no sane person would declaim the Soviet government and Communism.
And authoritarian American psychologists are eager to label anyone “taking a cynical stance toward politics, mistrusting authority, endorsing democratic practices, … and displaying an inquisitive, imaginative outlook” as worthy of a trip to the insane asylum. (Those traits may also get one labeled as a potential terrorist.) Indeed, Americans are literally being thrown in the loony bin after they question those in power.
As prominent forensic psychiatrist James Knoll – psychiatry professor at SUNY-Syracuse and director of a forensic fellowship program – writes in the Psychiatric Times:
When psychiatric science becomes co-opted by a political agenda, an unhealthy alliance may be created. It is science that will always be the host organism, to be taken over by political viruses…. [P]sychiatry may come to resemble a new organism entirely — one that serves the ends of the criminal justice system.
Indeed, American psychologists created the American program of torture which was specially-crafted to produce falseconfessions to justify U.S. military policy.
Ironically – given the background of psychologists deployed by Stalin to crush dissent – the type of torture used by the CIA was a Communist torture technique . And see this. (In reality, we’ve known for 2,000 years that all torture produces falseconfessions. And we’ve known for a very long time that torture reduces our national security.)
It wasn’t just rogue psychologists: the American Psychological Association was central to the torture program.
Pulitzer-prize winning journalist James Risen reports today in the New York Times:
The American Psychological Association secretly collaborated with the administration of President George W. Bush to bolster a legal and ethical justification for the torture of prisoners swept up in the post-Sept. 11 war on terror …
“The A.P.A. secretly coordinated with officials from the C.I.A., White House and the Department of Defense to create an A.P.A. ethics policy on national security interrogations which comported with then-classified legal guidance authorizing the C.I.A. torture program,” the report’s authors conclude.
The involvement of health professionals in the Bush-era interrogation program was significant because it enabled the Justice Department to argue in secret opinions that the program was legal and did not constitute torture, since the interrogations were being monitored by health professionals to make sure they were safe.
The American Psychological Association “clearly supports the role of psychologists in a way our behavioral science consultants operate,” said Dr. William Winkenwerder, then the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, describing to reporters why the Pentagon relied more on psychologists than psychiatrists at the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
By June 2004, the Bush administration’s torture program was in trouble. The public disclosure of the images of prisoners being abused at the Abu Ghraib prison earlier that year prompted an intense debate about the way the United States was treating detainees in the global war on terror, leading to new scrutiny of the C.I.A.’s so-called enhanced interrogation program, which included sleep deprivation and waterboarding, or simulated drowning. Congress and the news media were starting to ask questions, and there were new doubts about whether the program was legal.
In early June 2004, a senior official with the association, the nation’s largest professional organization for psychologists, issued an invitation to a carefully selected group of psychologists and behavioral scientists inside the government to a private meeting to discuss the crisis and the role of psychologists in the interrogation program.
Psychologists from the C.I.A. and other agencies met with association officials in July, and by the next year the association issued guidelines that reaffirmed that it was acceptable for its members to be involved in the interrogation program.
To emphasize their argument that the association grew too close to the interrogation program, the critics’ new report cites a 2003 email from a senior psychologist at the C.I.A. to a senior official at the psychological association. In the email, the C.I.A. psychologist appears to be confiding in the association official about the work of James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, the private contractors who developed and helped run the enhanced interrogation program at the C.I.A.’s secret prisons around the world.
In the email, written years before the involvement of the two contractors in the interrogation program was made public, the C.I.A. psychologist explains to the association official that the contractors “are doing special things to special people in special places.”
“In 2004 and 2005 the C.I.A. torture program was threatened from within and outside the Bush administration,” [Stephen Soldz, a clinical psychologist and professor at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis] said by email. “Like clockwork, the A.P.A. directly addressed legal threats at every critical juncture facing the senior intelligence officials at the heart of the program. In some cases the A.P.A. even allowed these same Bush officials to actually help write the association’s policies.”
The critics frequently criticized the 2005 findings of an association committee, the Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security, or PENS, which concluded that it was appropriate for psychologists toremain involved with interrogations, to make sure they remained safe, legal, ethical and effective.
So psychologists created, pushed and rationalized, and then actually took part in the torture program.
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