The American Psychological Association took a stand against torture Thursday but kept an existing policy saying that it's ethical for psychologists to assist in military interrogations. Critics said the new policy, adopted at the group's convention, does not go far enough to keep its members from becoming embroiled in practices that could violate the principles of human rights. "The ultimate question is, should psychologists participate in national security interrogations, and the answer is no," said Leonard Rubenstein, executive director of Physicians for Human Rights. "It's a question that other medical groups have addressed and the APA has not."Since many people get snagged into participating in acts that are torture because they don't see their actions as rising to the level of real torture or as being part of a group of actions that together reach that threshold, this policy could come back and bite psychologists.
Once a participant in interrogations becomes convinced that the results of a specific interrogation could mean the deaths of thousands of innocent people and that not doing enough to get the truth could make the participant partially responsible for those hypothetical deaths, it's easier to overwhelm that participant's sense of right and wrong.
If someone is bombarded with messages like:
9/11 - leaving a hood over someone's head - 9/11 - forcing someone to stand for 23 hours - 9/11 - sexually humiliating someone - 9/11
That drumbeat of comparisons between mass death and what the person is being asked to do becomes a form of psychological manipulation meant to drown out the listener's conscience that what they are being asked to do or support is wrong.
If psychologists only consult on interrogations, the danger can be even greater because the psychologists may not see the full ramifications of their help in stark detail. It's that separation from the reality of what they are supporting that makes people minimize abusive tactics until they say they don't mind or enjoy what detainees must endure.
The psychologist also may have no clue when there is no evidence connecting a subject of the interrogation to any acts of violence or any terrorist plot. It's too easy to assume that no innocent people will be subjected to military interrogations and to forget that a possible reason the subject of interrogation hasn't given up the information we want is because the person doesn't have any real information to give.
Even though most of us will never be in a position to directly impact an interrogation, our attitudes impact what others do either by our willingness to speak out or our willingness to look the other way or excuse wrongdoing committed by people like us.
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