Psychologists help devise US torture techniques

The dogs wouldn’t jump. All they had to do to avoid electric shocks was leap over a small barrier, but there they sat in boxes in a lab at the University of Pennsylvania, passive and whining. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/11/health/architects-of-cia-interrogation-drew-on-psychology-to-induce-helplessness.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=b-lede-package-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0
They had previously been given a series of mild shocks and learned they could do nothing to stop them. Now, they had given up trying. In the words of the scientists, they had “learned helplessness.”
The release of a Senate report on interrogation techniques used by the Central Intelligence Agency has revived interest in that study, one of the most classic experiments in modern psychology. It and others like it, performed in the 1960s, became the basis for an influential theory about depression and informed the development of effective talk therapies.
Nearly a half-century later, a pair of military psychologists became convinced that the theory provided a basis for brutal interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, that were supposed to eliminate detainees’ “sense of control and predictability” and induce “a desired level of helplessness,” the Senate report said. The architects of the C.I.A.’s interrogation program have been identified as James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen.
“My impression is that they misread the theory,” said Dr. Charles A. Morgan III, a psychiatrist at the University of New Haven who met Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Jessen while studying the effects of stress on American troops. “They’re not really scientists.”
One of the researchers who conducted the initial studies on dogs, the prominent psychologist Martin J. Seligman, said he was “grieved and horrified” that his work was cited to justify the abusive interrogations.
It is not the first time that academic research has been used for brutal interrogations, experts said. After the Second World War, the intelligence community began to study methods of interrogation, often financing outside psychiatrists and psychologists.
“A lot of the early work came out of psychoanalysis,” or Freudian thinking, said Steven Reisner, a psychologist in New York and co-founder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology, which opposes the profession’s participation in coercive interrogations. “Studies of sensory deprivation and sleep deprivation induced a psychosis, in which people lost control of what they said and what they thought.” At that point they might begin to cooperate — or so the theory went, Mr. Reisner said.
One interrogation guide derived in part from such research, the C.I.A.’s “Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual,” set forth the so-called D.D.D method of interrogation, for Debility, Dependency and Dread. “The purpose of all coercive techniques is to induce psychological regression in the subject by bringing a superior outside force to bear on his will to resist,” the manual reads.
Some of the techniques in the manual — isolation, sleep deprivation, threats — were also used in the post-9/11 interrogations and are cited by the Senate report. “It’s very similar to what we’re hearing about now, and it’s astounding that the agency didn’t use the research it had already paid for,” said Stephen Soldz of the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis, referring to D.D.D. He is an outspoken critic of psychologists’ participation in interrogations.
The American Psychology Association, divided and convulsed by the revelations of members’ participation in the interrogation program, has hired an independent auditor to investigate ties between the association and the intelligence agency. Debates over psychologists’ role at the base in Guantánamo Bay and so-called black sites have raged for years within the association.
The two architects of the C.I.A. interrogations were convinced that they would uncover intelligence that would save lives, their colleagues have told reporters, and that their methods were justified by the events of 9/11 and afterward.
So, too, were psychologists within the agency. In an article titled “Psychologists and Interrogation: What’s Torture Got to Do With It?” Kirk M. Hubbard, a psychologist formerly with the C.I.A., wrote, justifying the methods, “We no longer live in a world where people agree on what is ethical or even acceptable, and where concern for other humans transcends familial ties. When adolescents carry bombs on their bodies and plan suicides that will kill others, we know that shared values no longer exist.”
The Senate report concludes that the brutal techniques did not add valuable information to what had been already obtained through less coercive means. Critics of the report, in Congress and in the C.I.A., say the conclusions do not tell the full story.
Academic research on interrogation — whether it is “learned helplessness” or other methods — cannot be tested in an ethical way in the real world, and provides little guidance for effective questioning, experts say.
Severe stress disrupts people’s thinking, and fast. Dr. Morgan recently studied American troops’ levels of compliance and suggestibility after the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) course, a training exercise that includes what he calls a “mini-exposure” to many of the interrogation techniques the C.I.A. was using, including confinement and sleep deprivation. The result: a subset became more compliant, but the vast majority also became more suggestible when given misinformation. “Essentially you’re making people less reliable and more stupid,” he said. “You can see the problem.”
Some experienced interrogators emphasize the value of establishing rapport
with a detainee, and obtaining information on the basis of trust, rather than cruelty.
“As both an interrogator and someone who has served in senior intelligence
positions, I would not trust any information obtained through the employment of
D.D.D. or learned helplessness,” said Steven M. Kleinman, an interrogator who
worked in Iraq and has been critical of the C.I.A.’s program.

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