A Tortured Twist on Ethics

Why isn’t the American Psychological Association pursuing ethics charges against psychologist John Leso for abuses he helped carry out at the Guantánamo prison?

— by Yosef Brody


George Orwell wisely observed that our understanding of the past, and the meaning associated with it, directly influences the future. And as the unprecedented public feud between the CIA and Congress makes clear, there are still significant aspects of our recent history of state-sponsored torture that need examination before we put this national disgrace behind us.

Important questions remain unresolved about the U.S. torture program in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. And the four-year, $40 million Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture is unlikely to provide sufficient answers, even if it’s ever declassified and released.

APA Finds No Ethical Violations at Gitmo, a cartoon by Roy Eidelson

For example, what will be done about doctors who helped create U.S. torture programs and participated in their implementation? And is there any evidence that cruel, inhuman, and degrading practices continue under official policy, even to this day?

The question of whether American health professionals previously involved in military torture programs should be allowed to quietly and freely continue their careers came to a head recently when it was revealed that the American Psychological Association (APA)refused to pursue ethics charges against psychologist John Leso.

According to official and authoritative documents, Dr. Leso developed and helped carry out “enhanced interrogation” techniques at Guantánamo Bay in 2002. Importantly, the APA hasn’t disputed Leso’s role in the interrogation of detainee Mohammed al-Qahtani, an interrogation that included being hooded, leashed, and treated like a dog; sleep deprivation; sexual humiliation; prolonged exposure to cold; forced nudity; and sustained isolation.

In a subsequent investigation, Susan Crawford, a judge appointed by then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, characterized this treatment of al-Qahtani as “life-threatening” and meeting the legal definition of “torture.”

Over almost seven years, the APA — whose leadership has nurtured strong connections with the military and intelligence establishment — never brought the case to its full Ethics Committee for review and resolution. In defending this decision a few weeks ago, the APA board released a statement explaining that a handful of top people with classified military access had determined that there was nothing unethical about Dr. Leso’s actions and that the case should be immediately closed.

What exactly is the interest of the leaders of the world’s largest professional association of psychologists in blocking investigation into torture? And should psychologists who participated in torture have this dark chapter of their careers wiped clean without censure?

Ethical imperatives to “do no harm” and sanctions for psychologists who break the rules — from sleeping with patients to insurance fraud to not informing research subjects of their rights — exist not only to protect the public but also to provide clear guidance to professionals faced with moral dilemmas. Yet when considering ethical complaints, the APA apparently takes involvement in torture less seriously than these other transgressions.

If such ethical parameters are effectively nullified, what kind of future might we expect?

Here’s an equally important question: Has U.S. torture really ended? While the Obama administration made an early display of banning some of the worst techniques that had been given the official seal of approval under Bush and Cheney, such as waterboarding, the Pentagon continues to engage in cruel, inhuman, and degrading practices.

As the lawsuit brought this month by Guantánamo prisoner Emad Abdullah Hassan in federal court makes clear, the force-feeding of hunger strikers there is continuing despite a military blackout since December on the number of inmates engaged in that protest. Human rights and medical organizations have widely denounced this brutal practice.

Before U.S. psychologists and other Americans tell ourselves it’s time to put our history of torture behind us, we should take a hard look in the mirror.

What does it mean for our society to allow health professionals who have been involved with torture to subsequently practice with impunity? Like all civilized societies, we must reckon with past and present truths — if we want to be in control of our future.

Yosef Brody is a clinical psychologist and president-elect of Psychologists for Social Responsibility PsySR.org.  The cartoon by Roy Eidelson, APA Finds No Ethical Violations at Gitmo, a former PsySR president, is used by permission. Distributed via OtherWords.org

TransCanada Attempting to Obliterate Our First Amendment Rights

On Tuesday, peaceful protesters blocking Keystone XL pipeline construction equipment in Texas were brutalized by police at the request and encouragement of TransCanada officials.1

The two protesters, who had handcuffed themselves together on TransCanada’s construction equipment, were subjected to choke holds, stress positions in which their free arms were handcuffed, contorted, and then pepper sprayed, burning their skin. They were then tased — one of the activists was tased twice.

There is no excuse for subjecting peaceful, defenseless protesters to this level of violence.

Reports indicate these tactics were carried out at the request direct of the TransCanada officials on the scene, who later congratulated police on a “job well done.”2

Police had been peaceful toward the protesters before TransCanada officials arrived. Then TransCanada officials encouraged police to “run off” the activists who were observing the protest. Once the cameras were out of sight, the unnecessary brutality was used until the pain became too much for the protesters.

Law enforcement officers are also known as peace officers. Their job is to protect the peace and serve the public, not corporations. Nonviolent civil disobedience has played a key role in winning social change in the U.S. In Texas, peaceful protesters are putting their bodies on the line to literally block TransCanada’s machinery because they see this as a key battle in our fight against climate change.

It is the job of the police to arrest these protesters and, in the absence of violent resistance, to do so without violence or brutality. If this slows down the work of TransCanada, so be it.

TransCanada has a history of lying to, bullying and strong-arming landowners. Now it is bringing violence upon peaceful protesters. If citizens are so moved to right a wrong that they will line up to be arrested in front of TransCanada’s machines, then TransCanada will have to wait while police safely and humanely arrest them.

We cannot let TransCanada’s brutality intimidate protesters into standing down, we cannot allow our public safety officers be commandeered as violent tools of a foreign oil company. And we will not let TransCanada jam its apocalyptic pipeline down our throats without due process of law.

The courageous protesters are taking action because they see the risk of doing nothing in the face of the “game over for the climate” Keystone XL pipeline as greater than the risk of personal harm as a result of their protest and arrest. They are playing an essential role to slow construction right now, and we need to do what we can to stand with them, and pressure TransCanada to ensure that peaceful protesters are treated safely, not with completely undue brutality.

Click below to automatically sign the petition to stand with the tar sands blockaders in Texas:

Thanks for fighting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

Elijah Zarlin, Campaign Manager
CREDO Action from Working Assets


  1. TransCanada Actively Encouraged Torture Tactics to be Used on Peaceful Protesters,” Tar Sands Blockade, 9/25/12
  2. TransCanada Urges Texas Police to Use “Aggressive Pain Compliance Tactics” on Keystone XL Blockaders,” Fire Dog Lake, 9/26/12

Under the Reading Lamp — 8/13/2011

Clueless in Washington — Eugene Robinson, Op-Ed:
“The survey by the Post shows that while officials in Washington may be clueless in the face of economic turmoil, most of their constituents see things quite clearly. Seven out of 10 respondents said the federal government is “mostly focused on the wrong things” — and blamed Democrats and Republicans for this misdirected focus in precisely equal measure. How many times does this message have to be delivered? In poll after poll, Americans have said their top concern is the jobs crisis. Unemployment is at 9.1 percent. The worst economic slowdown since the Great Depression robbed the nation of 9 million jobs and only a fraction have been replaced.”

Republicans Strain Facts in Debate — News Analysis:
Michele Bachmann cast her opinion as a settled fact when she said Thursday that a key element of President Barack Obama’s health care law is unconstitutional. And Mitt Romney danced around an attempt to learn why he stayed largely mum on the epic debt limit standoff between Obama and Congress. The first big GOP debate of the primary season brought viewers a flurry of claims and counterclaims, not all built on solid ground.

You Can’t Waive the Reality of Our Public Schools — Jeff Bryant, Op-Ed:
Secretary Duncan’s once-reliable “reform” backers, true champions of the New Consensus, were mostly vehement in their criticism — slamming it as a “back door” strategy, a grasp for “greater presidential authority,” and a “gambit” pleasing no one. It seemed the best support that Duncan could get from the self-anointed reformers would be the incoherent declaration from loyal ally Michelle Rhee that waiving NCLB “accountability” is okay only if the government enforces “rigorous accountability.” And those who’ve long opposed NCLB were uniformly and unsurprisingly critical of the waiver plan.

Franken Calls for Oversight of Ratings Agencies — Joe Conason, Op-Ed:
“By setting up an independent federal board to assign ratings jobs to the agencies — rather than letting them be paid by those who issue the securities they grade — his proposal would have severed the industry’s gross conflicts of interest. Known as the “issuer pays” model, that traditional relationship let the banks reward S&P and Moody’s for awarding rubber-stamp AAA ratings to worthless mortgage-backed securities (as they did for years before the housing bubble burst). It was those abuses, he said, that left taxpayers, workers and government “holding the bag” while the bankers and ratings firms walked away with huge profits.”

Verizon’s Battle with Striking Workers — Kanya D’Almeida, News Analysis:
“On Monday, 45,000 workers represented by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) staged a coordinated walkout across a range of northeast and mid-Atlantic states, from Maine to Virginia. The workers are disgruntled employees of Verizon Communications, which, according to its website, is “America’s largest and most reliable wireless voice and 3G communication network”. Infuriated that the company is requesting 20,000 dollars in givebacks from every employee, Verizon workers are refusing to back down.”

Buzzsawing Bachman — Ruth Marcus, Op-Ed:
“The unavoidable fact of the matter is that, at least for the foreseeable future and most likely beyond, readers and viewers are going to focus more on female candidates’ looks and clothes than they do when men are involved. This is a phenomenon that journalists and fellow politicians need to keep in mind when choosing words and images. In fact, the phrase “Queen of Rage” may be more troubling than the photo that’s created so much fuss. Both words — “queen” and “rage” — are fraught. Queen has its Marie Antoinette-esque overtones. Would a male candidate be dubbed the “King of Rage?” And “rage” conjures unhinged, out-of-control anger, raging hormones and all that.”

VIDEO — U.S. Navy Vet Sues Donald Rumsfeld
On Monday, a federal appeals court refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed by two U.S. citizens against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and unnamed others for developing, authorizing and using harsh interrogation techniques against detainees in Iraq. Donald Vance and Nathan Ertel were working for a private U.S. government contractor, Shield Group Security, in 2006 when they witnessed the sale of U.S. government weapons to Iraqi rebel groups for money and alcohol. They were arrested and detained by U.S. troops, moved to the U.S.-run prison at Camp Cropper, and subjected to extreme sleep deprivation, interrogated for hours at a time, kept in a very cold cell, and denied food and water for long periods.

Collateral Damage in the War on Anonymity — David Sirota, Op-Ed:
“In the media and political arenas, we’ve seen paparazzi culture famously fetishize the outing of anonymous iconoclasts, from Watergate’s Deep Throat (Mark Felt) to a top CIA agent working on weapons of mass destruction (Valerie Plame). Likewise, in our communities, we now know that we are almost always being monitored in highly trafficked parks, malls, airports and stadiums — and as Slate recently reported, we may soon have apps on all of our smartphones that let us identify random faces in a crowd.”

Has Obama Found A New Voice on The Economy? — Lesley Clark, News Analysis:
In a rhetorical turnaround, President Barack Obama on Thursday described the debt debate in Washington as a symptom of a broken political system that puts party before country. His fiery comments, at a high-tech battery factory in Holland, Mich., evoked the passion of his 2008 presidential campaign and stood in contrast to his careful, almost bureaucratic message of recent weeks. “Time and again we’ve seen partisan brinkmanship get in the way,” Obama said. “As if winning the next election is more important than fulfilling our responsibilities to you and to our country.”

“Using Children”: Fox Hypocritically Attacks Progressive Video For “Indoctrinat[ing]” Kids
Research: On Monday afternoon, MoveOn.org and Rebuild the Dream announced a campaign to build up a popular movement that could match (if not surpass) the debt reduction crowd in both size and energy. And they have borrowed a concept from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) as their organizing principle. The basic premise of the campaign is that America isn’t broke, it’s merely imbalanced. In order to stabilize the economy, politicians should make substantial investments in infrastructure, energy, education and the social safety net, tax the rich, end the wars, and create a wider revenue base through job creation.

CPI Will Mean “Real Sacrifice” for Veterans — Daniel Marans, Op-Ed:
“Eight leading veterans’ groups sent letters to President Obama, and members of the House and Senate this week, urging them not to adopt the chained Consumer Price Index (CPI) for determining cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) for Social Security and VA benefits. The letter relied on information from a new analysis by the Strengthen Social Security Campaign showing that the chained CPI will have an especially large effect on veterans and their families. The chained CPI, a change in the way inflation is measured, which would reduce Social Security and VA benefits, by cutting the annual COLA, as well as increase taxes, by slowing the rate at which tax brackets rise, has been on the table in deficit reduction talks for months.”

The 13 Best Positive, Progressive Bills of 2011 — News Analysis:
In states where the corporate right did not control the agenda, some landmark legislation passed that may point the way forward for future years in other states—when they will surely find themselves out of power once again. In no particular order, here are 13 positive, progressive pieces of legislation from around the states that advanced in 2011, and that represent some of the key policy solutions featured in the Progressive States Network’s Blueprint For Economic Security. Some are more prominent, others less so—but all advanced policies that promise to continue gaining momentum across the nation in the years to come.

Health Reform Without an Individual Mandate? — John Nichols, Op-Ed:
“The individual mandate was always a bad idea. Instead of recognizing that health care is a right, the members of Congress and the Obama administration who cobbled together the health-care reform plan created a mandate that maintains the abuses and the expenses of for-profit insurance companies – and actually rewards those insurance companies with a guarantee of federal money. Those who think that the for-profit (or even not-for-profit) insurance industry has to control any health-care reform initiative have every right to be upset with the 11th Circuit’s ruling – which almost certainly will send the case of the Obama health-care plan to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Corporate Informants May Benefit From Exposing Fraud — Michael Hudson, News Report:
“The Securities and Exchange Commission’s new whistleblower rules went into effect Friday, paving the way for tipsters who expose corporate fraud to collect rewards that could total millions of dollars. To highlight the official start of its new whistleblower bounty program, the SEC launched a Web page, http://www.sec.gov/whistleblower, that includes information on eligibility and directions on how to submit a tip. Under the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, whistleblowers who provide useful and original information could be eligible to receive between 10 percent and 30 percent of penalties of $1 million or more that the SEC collects in criminal or civil cases.”

Gov. Perry’s Ties to Radical Evangelicals — Video Interview:
“Republican Gov. Rick Perry of Texas is expected to announce his entry into the 2012 presidential race. Perry will make the announcement Saturday at a conference in South Carolina organized by Erick Erickson’s RedState.com. Early backers of Perry’s presidential run have heralded him as being behind the so-called Texas economic miracle. However, many have questioned Perry’s economic claims in Texas. Questions have also arisen over Perry’s close ties to the radical wing of the Christian evangelical movement.”

Critics Accurately Accuse Limbaugh Of “Lying” — Research:
“Rush Limbaugh complained recently that critics constantly accuse him of “lying” and “making [things] up,” a charge he steadfastly dismissed. However, Media Matters has rounded up some of the whoppers he’s told this week alone. Limbaugh Whined That Critics Accuse Him Of “Lying”. On his radio show, Rush Limbaugh said: “I’m wondering if maybe these emails are coming from actual supporters disguised as critics, because my email box gets flooded every time I make an assertion: “You’re lying about it, just like you lie about everything. You’re just making it up.”

Republican Debate Offers No Policy Solutions — Ben Adler, Op-Ed:
“In general the debate featured unanimity despite the loud, petty arguments about who supported raising cigarette taxes in Minnesota (Tim Pawlenty versus Michelle Bachmann), and who said what about who (Pawlenty versus Mitt Romney). There was plenty of sniping, but no meaningful disagreement, except for Ron Paul versus Rick Santorum on Iran. There were pledges of undying fealty to extremist ideology, but no practical explanations of how change would be achieved, other than Representative Michele Bachmann’s promise not to rest until Republicans win a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.”