22 June 2008

Psychological Warfare III: Blacklisting the Torturers

The American Psychological Association seems to be all a-twitter about what some psychologists may or may not be doing for the US Military and Intelligence communities. In some quarters they are trying to run psychologists who work for our country out of the APA. Make sure that if they ever go into private practice they don't get any referrals. No invited talks. No academic appointments. Back when Joe McCarthy was a Senator, they called it blacklisting.

At issue is whether psychologists are helping the DoD and the CIA torture people detained as "illegal combatants" (as defined by the Geneva Convention). Let me point out a few things:

If you are going to torture someone, you do not waste months on sensory deprivation and disorientation. If you are going to torture someone, you do things like what the North Vietnamese did to John McCain. You will notice that he doesn't spend time combing his hair, because his arms won't reach that high.

If you are going to torture someone, you do not need the services of a psychologist. You only spend time and money on psychology if you are NOT going to torture someone, but you need to reduce their resistance to interrogation because you are reasonably sure they know something that could prevent the untimely deaths of your colleagues.

I guess I find it harder than some APA members to choose between making a select few illegal combatants unhappy on the one hand, and tallying the otherwise preventable deaths of our troops and operatives on the other.

I must note that al-Qaeda has its own form of Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) training, which includes accusing their detainers of torture and inhumane treatment regardless of whether such treatment actually occurred, and regardless of the inhumane treatment that al-Qaeda and sympathizers use on their detainees, such as Daniel Pearl. (Or is cutting someone's throat and posting the video on the internet OK as long as non-Western people do it? Talk about the "bigotry of low expectations.")

I also note that those detained as illegal combatants or terrorists routinely swear to kill their interrogators and the interrogators' families should the detained ever be released. They could be aided by the terrorist cells operating in many Western countries, including the United States. It may feel brave to discuss one's objections to some fellow psychologists' possible activities, but by naming names, one may be fingering them for assassination.

Given the real risks of vilification by their colleagues and death at the hands of released detainees (or those acting for them) it seems to me that the real courage is that of those psychologists and sociologists who help, rather than hinder, our counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism efforts.

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