Professional responsibility and psychological torture

Yesterday, Steven Miles gave a most interesting seminar here at UBC entitled “War on Terror Interrogations:  Lessons for Forensic Behavioural Clinicians”.  Dr. Miles is Professor of Medicine and Bioethics at the University of Minnesota Medical School, and former President of the American Society of Bioethics and Humanities.  The talk was based upon his most recent book Oath Betrayed: America’s Torture Doctors which examines military medicine in the war on terror prisons.

In his seminar, Dr. Miles reviewed a small subset of the many documents that he has compiled on the role that psychologists and psychiatrists have played in the interrogation and torture of prisoners initially at Guantanamo but, via a kind of social and legal ripple effect, in Iraq and Afghanistan as well.  He also reprised comments from his 2007 AJOB article which said, in part,

“In response to public outcry against clinical participation in coercive interrogations at war on terror prisons, the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association have endorsed more stringent codes for military clinicians who are asked to participate in interrogation (Table 1). The American Psychological Association (APA) has taken a different tack and allows psychologists to assist in military interrogations (APA 2006). Although it bars psychologists from assisting in torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, its restrictive definition of those terms follows the United States’ reservations to the United Nations’ Convention Against Torture (APA Council of Representatives 2006).”

It may come as no surprise that after these new codes emerged, the military disbanded the use of psychiatrists to oversee ‘enhanced interrogations’ but kept psychologists on board.

Link to Miles’ AJOB article

Link to Miles’ new book.

Image credit: ProPublica