Monday, August 20, 2007

One small step

On Sunday, the American Psychological Association, the largest professional organization in the mental health field, with 148,000 members,
banned members from taking part in more than a dozen tactics such as mock executions and water-boarding during questioning of military prisoners[, AFP reports]. ...

The resolution issues an unequivocal condemnation and prohibits psychologists' participation in specific interrogation tactics including mock executions; water-boarding; isolation, and sleep deprivation.
Unfortunately, it fell short of a call for a complete moratorium on psychologists' presence in detention centers. Still, it was considered "a move forward" by Neil Altman, author of the moratorium proposal.

Opposition to that proposal was based on the same old arguments that always get raised in such situations:
"I just came here from Cuba," said APA council representative Colonel Larry James. "If we remove psychologists from Guantanamo, innocent people are going to die."

Beth Wiggins of the APA law division agreed.

"Walking away from these situations would make us passive bystanders," she said.
That is, it's said, by being there you're doing something good, heading off the very worst of the possibilities.

What the people who raise such arguments refuse to face is that by being there you are not doing good. What you are doing is legitimizing the entire enterprise, putting a professional stamp on it, a smiley PR face labeled "we take good care of prisoners." You're not reining in the system, you're part of the system, part of the infrastructure of interrogation, and will allowed to continue as such only so long as you do not actually interfere with it.

That's also true of another motion that was rejected, one that proposed to limit psychologists to "ameliorative psychological treatment of detainees that are deprived of adequate protection of human rights." Ultimately, it's too easy for those who are really in charge to turn that into the detention-supporting "don't worry, if things go too far there's someone there to make it better," prisoners are in good hands, protected, no harm comes to them - and that's without even considering the issue of who gets to decide if prisoners have been "deprived of human rights."

While completely getting out of the interrogation business would have been the preferable course, at least this resolution, supported nearly unanimously by the APA council of representatives, has the effect of declaring some things as having completely and clearly crossed the line from interrogation to inhumanity. And to the extent that it strips such techniques of legitimacy and aids those psychologists who have been involved in regaining some of their own humanity, it is to the good.

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