Us Psychologists Participated In Torture Of Al Qaeda Prisoners

The APA legitimized torture programs of the United States government, according to a report.

Recently, information has come to light that some members of the American Psychological Association (APA for its acronym in English) endorsed and legitimized torture programs to extract information from some detainees after 9/11.

Specifically, the APA members involved legitimized certain torture of the detainees that allowed the US government to legalize such activities. Among some entities involved in the event, we find the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), senior executives of the Pentagon and the White House, together with the then President of the United States George W. Bush.

This is especially serious considering that, currently, the APA is one of the largest organizations linked to the world of psychology worldwide. In addition, it has 150,000 associates and has an annual budget of $70 million. Not in vain its system of bibliographic citations is one of the most used in the world.

The APA asks for forgiveness

Fourteen long years have had to pass for the APA, after successive denunciations by senior positions in the world of psychology, to have apologized in relation to the close cooperation in military interrogations. It has done so after the publication of the Hoffman Report , a 524-page document that explicitly relates the participation of these psychologists in what they called reinforced interrogation techniques, a euphemism for what has always been described as torture.

The Hoffman report is making a big splash. There are already four senior APA officials who have either been expelled from the association or, on the contrary, have left of their own accord suddenly. They include Ethics Office Director Stephen Behnke, Executive Director Norman Anderson, Deputy Executive Director Michael Honaker, and Communications Officer Rhea Farberman.

What kinds of torture were used in the interrogations?

Ruthless and cruel procedures were used in the interrogations. One of them was to play loud music to prevent detainees from falling asleep. They also forced the suspects to walk every 15 minutes throughout the night in order not to rest.

Another type of torture used was what was called waterboarding or simulated drowning. This technique consists of immobilizing the individual and pouring water over his nose and mouth so that he does not actually drown but does produce the sensation of suffocation.

Finally, it should also be noted that some CIA agents threatened to assault and violently attack the close relatives of the detainees.

What role did psychologists play in the torture?

The psychologists analyzed the detainees and reported on their mental state, looking for their weak points (phobias, etc.) to later use them against them.

Jim Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, two retired US military psychologists, played a key role in torturing those suspected of belonging to the terrorist group  Al Qaeda.

Helplessness learned as a technique to get information out of prisoners

Specifically, these psychologists proposed the theory of  learned helplessness as a starting point to get the information they wanted. This theory was formulated and developed by Martin EP Seligman during the 1970s, who studied the effects of applying electric shocks to animals. Seligman observed that these animals displayed behaviors related to depression. In addition, he stressed that these behaviors only occurred when the animal lost all hope, that is, when it came to think that it could not change its unfortunate situation.

The use of this theory in the interrogations was aimed at reaching a time when the detainee lost all hope, as happened in the Seligman experiments, and thus acceded to the demands of the agents.

Stephen Soldz, a prestigious Boston psychoanalyst who had been denouncing the APA for a decade, explains that the CIA agents excused themselves on the grounds that they were only following the recommendations that the psychologists proposed.

The fine line between the ethical and the illicit

All this matter leads me to reflect on what the profession of psychologist entails. We know theories and we master concepts that can influence human beings but that does not give us any power to use them incorrectly.

All professionals belonging to this sector should be clear about the line between what is ethical and what is illegal. Especially in the dangerous realm of military psychology.

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