Friday, April 19, 2013

"Descent into torture"... and reactions

The US “Constitution Project” recently published the report of their Task Force examining US policy in the ‘war on terror’. It’s worth noting that the Task Force included a former Director of the FBI and a former President of the American College of Physicians.

The report has been described as “documenting the United States' descent into torture”.

Among the 600-page Report's conclusions are:
U.S. forces, in many instances, used interrogation techniques on detainees that constitute torture. American personnel conducted an even larger number of interrogations that involved “cruel, inhuman, or degrading” treatment. Both categories of actions violate U.S. laws and international treaties.
Of course:
“There is no firm or persuasive evidence that the widespread use of harsh interrogation techniques by U.S. forces produced significant information of value. There is substantial evidence that much of the information adduced from the use of such techniques was not useful or reliable”

Unfortunately, also, the report also contains some evidence of the reprehensible involvement of psychologists – my profession – in this abuse.
The CIA OIG report describes the individuals who waterboarded Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri as “SERE psychologist/interrogators” or “psychologist/interrogators.” The DOJ OPR report similarly states that “psychologist/interrogators administered all of the interrogation sessions involving EITs [enhanced interrogation techniques]” for Abu Zubaydah, and administered the waterboard to al-Nashiri on two occasions. The Associated Press, which cited anonymous U.S. intelligence officials, has also reported that [named psychologists] personally waterboarded Abu Zubaydah and Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri.”

In 2005 I was delighted that the British Psychological Society very willingly and without demur agreed to ratify an official statement repudiating torture and making it clear that, at least in the UK, psychologists are horrified by such practices. I’m proud to say that I led on the development of that statement (and therefore, I’m afraid, I’m also responsible for its weaknesses).

We made it clear that:
Psychologists shall not knowingly provide any premises, instruments, substances or knowledge that facilitates the practice of torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or that diminishes the ability of the victim to resist such treatment.”

It’s clearly not yet a story that has come to a final conclusion. But, it’s timely to remind colleagues that some of us did not participate in that “descent into torture”.   

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