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Friday, October 20, 2017

The American Psychological Association and torture: How could it happen?

Bryan Welch
International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies
Volume 14 (2)

Here is an excerpt:

This same grandiosity was ubiquitous in the governance's rhetoric at the heart of the association's discussions on torture. Banning psychologists' participation in reputed torture mills was clearly unnecessary, proponents of the APA policy argued. To do so would be an “insult” to military psychologists everywhere. No psychologist would ever engage in torture. Insisting on a change in APA policy reflected a mean-spirited attitude toward the military psychologists. The supporters of the APA policy managed to transform the military into the victims in the interrogation issue.

In the end, however, it was psychologists' self-assumed importance that carried the day on the torture issue. Psychologists' participation in these detention centers, it was asserted, was an antidote to torture, since psychologists' very presence could protect the potential torture victims (presumably from Rumsfeld and Cheney, no less!). The debates on the APA Council floor, year after year, concluded with the general consensus that, indeed, psychology was very, very important to our nation's security. In fact the APA Ethics Director repeatedly advised members of the APA governance that psychologists' presence was necessary to make sure the interrogations were “safe, legal, ethical, and effective.”

We psychologists were both too good and too important to join our professional colleagues in other professions who were taking an absolutist moral position against one of the most shameful eras in our country's history. While the matter was clearly orchestrated by others, it was this self-reinforcing grandiosity that led the traditionally liberal APA governance down the slippery slope to the Bush administration's torture program.

During this period I had numerous personal communications with members of the APA governance structure in an attempt to dissuade them from ignoring the rank-and-file psychologists who abhorred the APA's position. I have been involved in many policy disagreements over the course of my career, but the smugness and illogic that characterized the response to these efforts were astonishing and went far beyond normal, even heated, give and take. Most dramatically, the intelligence that I have always found to characterize the profession of psychology was sorely lacking.

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