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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Thoughts on Psychologists, Ethics, and the Use of Torture in Interrogations

Zimbardo, P.G. (2007). Thoughts on Psychologists, Ethics, and the Use of Torture in  Interrogations: Don’t Ignore Varying Roles and Complexities.
Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy (ASAP) Online SSPSI Journal. Vol. 7, pp. 65-73.

Here is an excerpt:

Such considerations lead me to conclude that PENS has utilized the wrong model for its ethical deliberations about psychologists as consultants to military interrogations. The model featured in this task force report is that of a psychologist working for the military as an independent contractor, making rational moral decisions within a transparent setting, with full power to confront, challenge and expose unethical practices. It is left up to that individual to be alert, informed, perceptive, wise, and ready to act on principle when ethical dilemmas arise.

Instead, I will argue that those psychologists are "hired hands" working at the discretion of their military or government agency clients for as long as they provide valued service, which in the current war on terrorism is to assist by providing whatever information and advice is requested to gain "actionable intelligence" from those interrogated. PENS notes that psychologists often are part of a group of professionals, rarely acting alone. They can become part of an operational team, experiencing normative pressures to conform to the emerging standards of that group. They cannot make readily informed ethical decisions because they do not have full knowledge of how their personal contributions are being used in secret or classified missions. Their judgments and decisions may be made under conditions of uncertainty, and may include high stress. Moreover, definitions of basic terms are not constant, but shifting, so it becomes difficult or impossible to make a fully informed ethical judgment about any specific aspect of one's functions.

In addition, PENS does not recognize the reality that in field settings, the work of Ph.D./Psy.D. psychologists is often substituted by, or made operational by, numerous paraprofessionals, such as mental health counselors, personnel officers, psychological assistants and interns, and others trained in psychology. If they do not belong to professional associations, such as APA, they are relieved of the professional consequences of engaging in unethical actions. Thus, our concerns must extend to these psychologist paraprofessionals as well as those professionals within APA.

The entire article is here.

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