S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Be careful what you ask for --

When using the internet to discover things about which you are curious, it is prudent to exercise caution. Curiosity seekers can be easily offended, appalled or disgusted by what they see. Personally, I have no "peeping Tom" tendencies, so I have a strong antipornography filter installed on my computer. That is not what this post is about. I write today about something equally shameful -- the Bush administration's practice of torture as aided and abetted by the A.P.A.

First a little background. A curiosity about the PTSD thread at FORUM: Lucidity started my thought, "Should I start another thread at the FORUM?" My idea began as I started to think about how ashamed I am, as a mental health professional, of psychologists' collaboration in the U.S. government's torture program. So I did a simple little Google search on "psychologist Guantanamo torture," producing about 39,500 entries. Yikes! But I plunged into reading the citations anyway. After all, I had asked for it. My search turned up a slew of stuff I would have just as soon not learned. What I discovered during this little web surfing episode has given me "the shivers." Here are a few of the most interesting nuggets I found about what others are doing to fight back against this very unfortunate turn in American policy.

  • "Torture After Dark" (7/22/08) at Counter Punch by Soldz*, Olson, Reisner, Aarigo and Welch. It begins:
    Torture and the Strategic Helplessness of the American Psychological Association --

    Jane Mayer's new book, The Dark Side, has refocused attention on psychologists’ participation in Bush administration torture and detainee abuse. In one chapter Mayer provides previously undisclosed details about psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen’s role in the CIA's brutal, “enhanced interrogation” techniques. . .

    What we do now know, from a report issued by the Defense Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and from documents released during recent hearings by the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), is that [these] SERE techniques, designed to ameliorate the effects of torture, were "reverse engineered," transformed from ensuring the safety of our own soldiers, to orchestrating the abuse of detainees in Guantánamo, Afghanistan and Iraq.

  • "Guantánamo: Torture victim Binyam Mohamed sues British government for evidence" (5/10/08) at American Torture (Australian website) by Andy Worthington. To quote:
    On Tuesday, Binyam Mohamed, a 29-year old British resident in Guantánamo, sued the British government for refusing to produce evidence which, his lawyers contend, would demonstrate that he was tortured for 27 months by or on behalf of US forces in Morocco and Afghanistan, that any “evidence” against him was only obtained through torture, and that the British government and intelligence services knew about his torture and provided personal information about him -- unrelated to terrorism -- that was used by the Americans’ proxy torturers in Morocco. . .

    A refugee from Ethiopia, who arrived in the UK in 1994 and was later granted indefinite leave to remain, Binyam Mohamed was working as a cleaner in an Islamic Centre in west London in 2001, and attempting to recover from a drug problem, when he decided to travel to Afghanistan to see what the Taliban regime was like, and, he hoped, to steer clear of drugs because of the Taliban’s reputation as fierce opponents of drug use. . .

    Although he later reported to his lawyer -- Clive Stafford Smith of the legal action charity Reprieve, which represents 35 prisoners in Guantánamo -- that the British checked out his story, and confirmed that he was a “nobody,” the Americans were not convinced, and decided to send him to Morocco, where he could be interrogated by professional torturers who were not bothered about international treaties preventing the use of torture, and who were equally unconcerned about whether evidence of their activities would ever surface.

  • From Antifascist Calling (5/3/08): "Documents Confirm Psychologists Collaborated With "War On Terror" Torture Program. This blogger's intro reads, "Exploring the shadowlands of the corporate police state." To quote from the post:
    Newly declassified documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) from the Department of Defense (DoD) expose the role played by psychologists in the illegal interrogation of prisoners at CIA and Pentagon detention facilities in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. . .

    But as we now know, under the torture regime given legal sanction by the Bush administration, as ABC News reported in April, medicalized torture by military psychologists operating in U.S. dungeons was both a ubiquitous and banal aspect of the "war on terror."

This is not a new story. It has been around for years. The American Psychological Association members have been in turmoil about it for a long time. Many have left in disgust. But so far the association has failed on all counts to disavow its unhealthy collaboration with the U.S. military and the Bush administration. In contrast, members of other "helping professions" have actively opposed torture to the point of getting arrested. I am proud to be a social worker, though I confess that the extent of my activism consists of mere writing. Therefore I am much more proud of a retired 69 year-old social worker, Sherrill Hogen, who was among 34 activists arrested on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court. Right Web has the story (6/3/08), from which I quote the opening:

“My name is Ahmed Mohammed,” she told police after her arrest outside the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington in January. Last Thursday, in a courtroom in Washington, DC, she has—at her own insistence—been charged under that name, although her real one is Sherril Hogen.

"Torture is a product of a sick society, of leaders bloated with power and fear, and is the antithesis of human goodness, compassion and love,” Hogen told the DC Superior Court, “I don't think I have a choice about where to put my energies."

Hogen, a 69-year-old retired social worker, was arrested in front of the Supreme Court building while protesting against the indefinite detention of the alleged terror suspects at the U.S. military base in the Cuban territory of Guantanamo Bay. Like 34 other activists who took part in the protest on the doorstep of the Supreme Court building on January 11, Hogen is now facing trial on minor criminal charges ranging from "unlawful free speech" to disorderly conduct.

"We came to the Supreme Court building because it has jurisdiction over the [primary] issue about which we knew there were violations of justice," she said to the judge last Thursday. "[That is] the denial of habeas corpus to the prisoners held by the U.S. at Guantanamo."

Additional References:

  1. *Another article (6/24/08) by Stephen Solz at Counter Punch: "The Torture Trainers and the American Psychological Association"

  2. "Why Torture Made Me Leave the APA," by Jeffrey S. Kaye, PhD. at AlterNet (March 6, 2008)

  3. Psychologists for Social Responsibility -- "Statement from the End Torture Action Committee"

View my current slide show about the Bush years -- "Millennium" -- at the bottom of this column.

(Cross-posted at The Reaction.)

My “creativity and dreaming” post today is at Making Good Mondays.

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pdsa said...

Psychologists/Psychiatrists are only human. The scalar of diversity within practitioners of the field will in large correlate to humanity as a whole. There are evil/good; self-centered/humanists; true-believers/sceptics; sociopaths/altruists; and every point in-between the extremes. This should come as no surprise.

I remember my first taste of University psychology, and witnessing 'encounter group' sessions, in which I felt a few professors were predating upon a very specific minority female population of students; mid 30s to early 40s divorcees, who had been suddenly cast into a harsh new reality of having to figure out how to derive their own living income, and had returned to finish a college degree. They were unsure of their own abilities, and in my opinion were targeted by a few psychology professors, just so they could assuage their own personal voids of personal intimacies.

As a returning son from SE Asia, I was older than the average student, and yet much younger than these women, and was still struggling to come clear of my own personal war-fog. I could comprehend the evil being done, but had no ability to stop it from occurring, other than to speak of it to other professors in the department, and move forward.

Remember that Josef Mengele was an M.D. It is sad,however, that the A.P.A. has been so anemic at eradicating the evil within their midsts.

Evil is. It need be resisted, if you are able; but remember also, that yours is not theirs.

Carol Gee said...

What a thoughtful comment; I appreciate your story. I was one of those "returning students" (at age 50) to our social work masters program.
I agree that being a professor (or a therapist, for that matter) can be a really enticing way to psychological pseudo-intimacy. And that has its own potential for evil, due to the uneven power ratios in such transactions.
The evil present in the torture consultation transactions with the U.S. government is not hard to figure out. Egos are involved; power-over "the other" is delusional; and being in the favored "in-group" with the megalithic U.S. military can be heady stuff, I imagine.
Thanks for reminding me that their evil is not mine.
Stop by S/SW again, anytime.

pdsa said...

What happened to the humanistic psychologists? Abraham Harold Maslow had it right from many perspectives, and understood early on. Yet I've discovered, from discussions with contemporary psychologists, that he is under-studied in academia.

Peak experience is a concept that need be thoroughly understood for human nature to evolve towards a better state. Along with it need be also taught how to walk in the valley of shadows without fear. They are part of the cycle/wheel/changes, or whatever it may be called. It is life, and the superior keep their eyes on a goal of achieving a higher state of awareness, keep the thought firmly in their minds, to the best of their abilities, that it is better to be a self-willed entity, that to be an animal.

These Pavlovians, Skinnerians and their ilk have polluted humankind with their dehumanised behaviouralism. Hard quantitative science has its place, and it is a valuable one, but it has no business being abused within the social sciences, and it is abusive, when it posits that a human soul is nothing but a black box.

Societal acceptance of human torture has now become a mortal threat to the Dreamtime America. If America, the archetype, is to survive, then those who understand this manifest evil must will to stand at the ramparts in its defense until they can stand no more.

Carol Gee said...

I am intrigued with your argument regarding the decades-long fight we in the social work and psychology professions have had over how to prove whether an intervention is scientifically effective or not. While I was working for a United Way supported agency my reports had to show whether my work made a difference to my clients. That was one kind of reality that I tried to approach in good faith. But the reality I held in my own mind about the same question was a different definition. Comparing a client's "improved ability to carry out activities of daily living," derived from a self-reported survey instrument, is very different than my therapist's "practice assessment" of whether my client's psyche was more functional. Both are realities, but I trusted my gut more than I trusted my surveys.
Maslow was wiser than Skinner or someone such as the contemporary Donald Michenbaum, who considered himself an expert on treating women's sexual abuse. I disagreed with his premises from top to bottom.
The part of this story I did not cover in my post concerns Martin E. P. Seligman, who ironically, is the well-respected psychologist that originally briefed the military about the concept of "learned helplessness." That it was his idea that was turned on its head by others later, is very sad to me. I believe that Seligman's involvement was innocent. I also speculate that he is understandably very angry about such a betrayal by those psychologists who eventually collaborated with the military. Seligman seems to me to be somewhere in the wise middle between pure behaviorists and most of my gurus such as M. Scott Peck, who so understood the evil of "The People of the Lie."
Thanks for your thoughtful and soulful comment.

pdsa said...

I wasn't even aware there had been a battle going on within Psychology until you mentioned it, causing me to do a bit of reading. It figures that managed health care would have played a role in all of this. Bean counters are notorious for dehumanisation.

My knowledge of the field is very weak. Freud was twisted, Jung was at times lucid, and I have revisited him on occasion. Still he attempted to quantify what cannot be properly put into data-sets. His using astrology and marital spouses in an attempt to prove synchronicity was a dead-end from the beginning. He had it in his hand, and missed the whole concept in the end.

It's about making something out of the randomness; about jumping intuitively; about finding the spark, when a flame is needed to light the path. It's also about learning the ability of waiting, and that has always been my personal weakness.

I've mentioned to you before, that I've a very strong affinity for the I Ching. I just threw a hexagram after composing the previous paragraph. It seems appropriate to me.

Hexagrams are composed of two trigrams: an upper and a lower. Each trigram has three lines. Each line is either yin or yang, but each line is also either changing or static, and this is how the second hexagram is created; the change, so to speak.

The hexagram I threw was Sun, which is one of the eight doubled trigrams.

Sun is The Gentle, The Wind, Wood.

The image is one of wind over the wind. From Wilhelm/Baynes:


57. Sun / The Gentle (The Penetrating, Wind)



THE GENTLE. Success through what is small. It furthers one to have somewhere to go. It furthers one to see the great man.

Penetration produces gradual and inconspicuous effects. It should be effected not by an act of violation but by influence that never lapses. Results of this kind are less striking to the eye than those won by surprise attack, but they are more enduring and more complete. If one would produce such effects, one must have a clearly defined goal, for only when the penetrating influence works always in the same direction can the object be attained. Small strength can achieve its purpose only by subordinating itself to an eminent man who is capable of creating order.


Winds following one upon the other: The image of THE GENTLY PENETRATING. Thus the superior man Spreads his commands abroad And carries out his undertakings.

The penetrating quality of the wind depends upon its ceaselessness. This is what makes it so powerful; time is its instrument. In the same way the ruler's thought should penetrate the soul of the people. This too requires a lasting influence brought about by enlightenment and command. Only when the command has been assimilated by the people is action in accordance with it possible. Action without preparation of the ground only frightens and repels.


There were two changing lines, both at the top in the 5th and 6th places:


Nine in the fifth place means:
Perseverance brings good fortune.
Remorse vanishes.
Nothing that does not further.
No beginning, but an end.
Before the change, three days.
After the change, three days.
Good fortune.

Nine at the top means:
Penetration under the bed.
He loses his property and his ax.
Perseverance brings misfortune.


In this I see change as inevitable, but there are two paths in which the change can be traversed. In the 5th place, the change is one that is accompanied by careful reflection, both before and after. In this there will be gain. In the 6th place, change comes after intense and mindless pushing into recesses which are not ready to be properly worked in the present change, and fatigue ruins the process, even though the perception was proper.

If the change is properly worked, it will result in:


46. Shêng / Pushing Upward



Within the earth, wood grows:
The image of PUSHING UPWARD.
Thus the superior man of devoted character

Heaps up small things
In order to achieve something high and great.


Synchronicity is grasping out into the surrounding chaos, and returning with auspiciousness in your hand.

Enough of the Dreamtime for now. It is late, and I've yet to sleep.

Carol Gee said...

pdsa, I appreciate your I Ching. I don't understand it much more than what you say your understanding is of Freud and Jung.
But at some level I do understand it as ancient Eastern wisdom, as beautiful poetry, as beautifully symmetrical geometry (which I always loved), and as your thoughtful effort done in such good faith to further this dialogue.
I hope your dreams were meaningful and important.