‘Enhanced Interrogation’ Architect Dr. James Mitchell’s Testimony at Guantánamo Highlights His Role in U.S. Torture, Debasement of Psychological Ethics: PHR – Physicians for Human Rights

“This week’s testimony by former CIA contract psychologist Dr. James
Mitchell illustrates yet again the brutality of the U.S. government’s decision
to resort to torture after 9/11. It also reflects what a profound mistake it is
to have psychologists serve as interrogators or intelligence officers.
Psychologists are professionals dedicated to improving the welfare and
relieving the suffering of people; they commit to ‘do no harm.’

“The role of psychologists in national security interrogations has been
a subject of major debate within the psychological profession and its largest
association, the American Psychological Association (APA), since shortly after the 9/11 attacks. This
participation was defended by claims that psychologist involvement would keep
interrogations ‘safe, legal, ethical, and effective.’ While Dr. Mitchell’s
testimony is still in its early stages, it has already revealed the absurdity of
this argument.

“Regardless of any claims made by the CIA at the time of the torture
program, experience since then has definitively shown that the program was not ‘safe.’
Follow-up psychological evaluations of those tortured by the CIA have shown
that many suffered severe, life-altering psychological harm that undercut any
claim that the ‘enhanced interrogation’ techniques were not torture.

“After such harm has been clearly documented, the fact that Dr.
Mitchell told the court today that he would ‘do it again’ is appalling.

“In his testimony, Dr. Mitchell also detailed what he called ‘abusive
drift’ among staff and authorizing officials that caused already-vicious interrogations
to become even more brutal. Dr. Mitchell described his failure to constrain
such ‘drift’ toward ever greater violence, reporting that his continued
involvement in the detainee interrogation program was contingent upon him
agreeing to escalating levels of brutality, authorized by U.S. government

“Dr. Mitchell’s testimony also illustrated how psychological expertise
can be exploited to provide a scientific patina for torture while offering sanitized
language to protect its promoters from fully grappling with its inherent
violence. Dr. Mitchell provided a supposedly scientific theory – learned
helplessness – as a rationale for torture. He further claimed that the
experience of U.S. service members, who were voluntarily subjected to
time-limited, milder versions of torture techniques under highly controlled
conditions in the military’s SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape)
program, provided evidence that the techniques were ‘safe’ when applied involuntarily
with much greater intensity against helpless and imprisoned detainees. These
detainees were already subjected to highly stressful and terrifying conditions
of confinement, such as continual darkness, constant white noise, and chaining
in painful conditions for long periods.

“Dr. Mitchell’s testimony should provoke deep soul-searching among the
psychology community about how to preserve the ethical foundations of the
profession. I hope it will lead to an examination of how national security
operations can be inconsistent with the psychological profession’s imperative
to ‘do no harm.’”

Dr. Soldz Bio:

Dr. Soldz, a clinical psychologist and professor
at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis, co-founded the Coalition for
an Ethical Psychology. The Coalition has been in the forefront of efforts to
withdraw psychologists from aiding abusive interrogations in U.S. Department of
Defense and CIA facilities. Dr. Soldz has published numerous professional
articles, book chapters, and popular articles on U.S. torture, the roles of
psychologists and the American Psychological Association in U.S. detention
abuses, and related areas of professional ethics. Dr. Soldz has been a
psychological consultant on several Guantánamo detainee legal cases. Dr. Soldz
is a past president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility and is a member
of the APA’s Council of Representatives. He is an anti-torture advisor for
Physicians for Human Rights and was a co-author of PHR’s reports “
Experiments in Torture” and “Doing Harm.”[10][11]

Additionally, psychologist Dr. Steven Reisner[12] – PHR psychological ethics advisor and a leading expert on the roles of psychologists in U.S. detention abuses – provided the following statement on Dr. Mitchell’s testimony. Dr. Reisner is available for interview; please contact media@phr.org[13].

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