Nature Editorial ‘Responsible Interrogation’ Is A Torture Apologia

…and so the cancer spread.

Revered scientific journal Nature has an unsigned editorial that calls for psychologists to keep working with the interrogation torture regime of the US even after American Psychological Association members voted overwhelming (after fighting the elite leadership) to ban psychologists’ involvement in torture. The editorial pulls the old trick of making some good sounding statements on the wrongness of the Bush torture polices it then mumbles ‘there are no easy answers‘ before putting across its real point- supporting the elite and military psychologist’s view that they should be involved in interrogations, ostensibly (so they claim) to prevent abuse. As events have shown that is the fig leaf explanation for being very valuable members of medical teams who facilitate prolonged torture (care for a biscuit?). The pro-involvement position also looks to maintain a very lucrative relationship with the Pentagon, for those status loving psychologists with ethical deficiencies and a debilitating bout of egocentric nationalism (and perhaps a racist animus towards Muslims). So it is no surprise the pro-involvement leadership were involved in drafting the editorial.

Like a lot of the current emergence of potential war crimes defendants this feels a little like the establishing of a defence through the media to sway public opinion, to head off trouble for those involved. With fellow elites sharing -base tribal- interests in avoiding consequences for action, perpetuating the polite collegiate myth of professional ‘good faith’. Either that or the editorial board of Nature is pig shit stupid and hasn’t read a newspaper for the last 8 years, which do you think is the more likely explanation? An excellent analysis by Jeff Kaye @ Invictus is required reading (an excerpt)

What galls so many APA critics is to see ignorance and platitudes, not to mention cover-up of recent historical evidence on the role of psychologists and APA over the interrogations/torture scandal, paraded as anti-torture propaganda in the pages of a prestigious scientific journal. There is an abundance of evidence, most recently in a 200-plus page report by the Senate Armed Services Committee, that rather than protect prisoners, psychologists working for the CIA and the Department of Defense, and psychologists contracted for such purposes, such as former JPRA/SERE psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, were instrumental in creating the conditions for torture and abuse.

…and then please feel free to write to Nature.


5 Responses to “Nature Editorial ‘Responsible Interrogation’ Is A Torture Apologia”

  1. ralfast Says:

    Always trust the words of a person who is unwilling to put his/hers name on the bottom of the page. Always!


  2. WillW Says:

    As professionals, we are expected to hold a standard of evidence and not simply personal opinion. How is it that we continue to address the medium rather than the issues?

    Torture is dreadful and well beyond anything that I thought we supported as a Nation. I was exposed to it in Vietnam as a Special Forces officer working with Vietnamese. I had a visceral reaction and did everything that I could do to stop it. I believed then and still believe now that we are a country whose values do not allow or tolerate the violation of human rights and certainly do not condone torture.

    It caused me considerable concern to be supporting a Vietnamese government that accepted torture. The fact that the Viet Cong and NVA commonly practiced torture was no excuse to use, mush less consider torture as interrogation. I am aware of no military service members in Vietnam who did torture.

    I served in the military to be part of protecting the values that we, as a Nation, espoused.

    We face a considerable dilemma. It’s a classic ethical dilemma.

    Will we engage in torture to obtain information that we believe we need to protect large segments of our fellow Americans?

    Can we quibble and label what we used to call torture by the title “enhanced” interrogation.

    Can we “torture” because it is legal?

    Where did we loose our minds and perhaps our souls?

    Legality used to be only the first test of the “harder right”. If it was legal, that did not make it ethical, and if the legal and ethical tests were passed, we still had to face up to – Is it the right thing to do?

    I really do not know if we will be able to stand the test. Situational ethics is a very slippery slope and if we are willing to take someone to the point of believing he or she is about to die, would we be willing to cut off a finger or take an eye to get information to protect Americans. As Americans, we have professed that we take the higher road.

    When I returned from Vietnam, I faced much of the verbal abuse and other nonsense that many of us had to face. In my mind, I told myself that I had served the Nation to ensure that those protesters could voice their opinions openly, even if I disagreed and took the brunt of it at times.

    We have some serious work to do in addressing who we are and who we have become.

    The notion that the majority of American Psychology Association members overwhelmingly supported creating petitions and prohibitions on psychologists’ actions and where they could work is not quite accurate. It was the position of those who responded, but the majority of us seemed to believe that it did not need to be made. We cannot afford to have military psychologists absent from places where torture or unethical behaviors can occur. Check Zimbardo’s Stanford prison experiment ( and Larry James recent book on Fixing Hell ( As psychologists, we understand how these unethical and misguided behaviors can result from lack of leadership and supervision. Apparently 2 misguided CIA psychologists have taught torture techniques that are used to train our service members what could happen and how to resist if captured. Where did we loose our way?

    Military Psychologists and APA’s Division for Military Psychologists are unequivocally against any torture and advocate for punishment of psychologists who engage in such behavior.

    The real problem is a National one and we need to increase dialogue and discussion, not shut it down with personal opinion and inflammatory rhetoric. We need to understand the dangers of the world – and the importance of defining who we are in how we are to deal with these considerable threats.

    • earwicga Says:

      “Apparently 2 misguided CIA psychologists have taught torture techniques that are used to train our service members what could happen and how to resist if captured. Where did we loose our way?” Misguided is not the word I would use! Torture is torture, and it is wrong. Torture does not produce reliable and correct evidence, and even if it did then it would still be WRONG.
      I am surprised that you can state “I am aware of no military service members in Vietnam who did torture. Rape is torture, and for it to be absent from any military force would be unbelievable – Rape as well as being torture is a popular mode of warfare.

  3. RickB Says:

    Well Will that you were not aware of colleagues using torture in Vietnam perhaps explains your naivety on this current issue. And as for the ‘dangers of the world’ America spoends more than th rest of the world on warfare, it has over 700 bases in over 100 countries, the most powerful single empire currently on earth acting the victim is just laughable. Psychologists would not be needed if interrogation was not torture,

    In 1994, with the Cold War over, Washington ratified the U.N. Convention Against Torture, seemingly resolving the tension between its anti-torture principles and its torture practices. Yet when President Clinton sent this Convention to Congress, he included four little-noticed diplomatic “reservations” drafted six years before by the Reagan administration and focused on just one word in those 26 printed pages: “mental.”

    These reservations narrowed (just for the United States) the definition of “mental” torture to include just four acts: the infliction of physical pain, the use of drugs, death threats, or threats to harm another. Excluded were methods such as sensory deprivation and self-inflicted pain, the very techniques the CIA had propagated for the past 40 years. This definition was reproduced verbatim in Section 2340 of the U.S. Federal Code and later in the War Crimes Act of 1996. Through this legal legerdemain, Washington managed to agree, via the U.N. Convention, to ban physical abuse even while exempting the CIA from the U.N.’s prohibition on psychological torture.

    Now either you are unaware of that or you are being wildly disingenuous in your apologia. The experiments are well known and do not prove psychologists are needed in interrogations. As for psychologists showing leadership, well unless the psychologist has supreme command authority and are independent of the US chain of command and they are monitored by APA oversight with human rights criteria -which they are not- that is a misleading argument. Psychologists were involved very knowingly and profitably in war crimes, and no amount of obfuscation will change that.

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