Editorial: Ethics and torture in U.S. practices


Last week, Newsweek reported that top psychologists in the American Psychological Association collaborated with the Bush administration for “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

This should come as no surprise that high-ranking members of the U.S. premier psychological organization were on hand as consultants for the U.S. torture program. After all, monitoring the health of prisoners in the torture program — psychological and otherwise — is critically important. However, what is surprising is that these individuals were not on hand to ensure the safety of procedures. They were hired to do the exact opposite.

The Newsweek article, citing a recent 542-page report by the New York Times, Psychological Association members were on hand to work with high-ranking CIA members to “justify” the interrogation program. Furthermore, the article says, health officials and psychologists have long been on record as playing a role in the torture program to make absolutely certain that interrogators did not break the law.

Most shockingly of all, the report found that Stephen Behnke, the director of the Office of Ethics for the psychological organization from 2000 until just a week ago, worked with the CIA to develop a standard of ethics policies that would not interfere with the interrogation program.

The article described in much more detail the various failings of the organization, which allegedly colluded with the CIA to develop the ethics standards. Nathaniel Raymond, who directed the campaign against torture at Physicians for Human Rights, said, “[The scenario] represents the most egregious example of a health-professional organization allowing the national-security apparatus to determine its ethics.”

Raymond is exactly right.

The psychological organization, along with nearly every other “civil society organization,” as it is called in the article, has a duty to define ethical standards for the entire country, which can extend to the world. These ethical standards are designed to protect the American public. The idea of the federal government dictating the ethical standards of an independent organization responsible for setting ethical standards, including for the federal government, is unfathomable. It is the equivalent of criminal choosing punishment for their crimes.

The U.S. torture program is a controversial aspect of the federal government, to say the least. In a world in which martyrdom is a cornerstone of terrorism, the government may argue that torture is the only way to make an impact. The reality is that no matter what the government chooses to call it — enhanced interrogation or other euphemisms — there must be an ethical standard applied to the procedure. Those running the program should not be responsible to determine that standard.

Is it possible that the federal government has dictated other ethical standards for organizations that are held accountable for the health of U.S. citizens? Is it possible that it has controlled other aspects of daily life in the United States simply to fit its needs at that time?

As this investigation proceeds, answers to these questions will undoubtedly be revealed, but in the process, the purity of several organizations bending to the whims of the federal government may be called into question.

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