Ethics

There’s an interesting post at Harper’s , a set of 6 questions by Scott Horton and responses by Nathaniel Raymond “a war-crimes investigator who analyzed these furtive communications for the FBI and who now heads Harvard’s Signal Program on Human Security and Technology,” referring to James Risen’s new work Pay and Price.  Risen is a Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times reporter the Obama administration is trying to jail because he won’t give up his confidential sources for information he published on Bush-Obama middle east policy (there’s a long recent interview with him archived on Democracy Now).  The Harper’s post is not about Risen, however, but about one of the things he reports on:  The American Psychological Association’s collusion and participation in torture, and its lies about that participation.  I won’t try to summarize a brief and very clear, article, but some key points — “the APA secretly allowed the CIA to assist in revising its ethics policies on whether psychologists could participate in interrogation,” that the APA initiated some of this collusion, and then lied about it.  As Raymond point out, “the 2002 amended APA ethics code, which was passed by APA’s council within days of the Yoo–Bybee memo [the Bush administration’s effort to create a legal defense for torture] being signed off on by the Bush Administration, removed core concepts of international medical ethics from the code. The new code allowed the Nuremberg Defense and eroded the Nuremberg Code” and that Office of Legal Council (OLC)

memos hinged on the health-professional involvement in the torture. The OLC memos state that a good-faith defense against torture charges could be made if experts, in this case psychologists, claimed that the application of the torture tactics did not cause “severe, long lasting mental pain and suffering.”

Such conflations of legality and professional knowledge in the service of physical torment, and the subordination of both to the political desires of the state, may be most visible in the exception, but are probably common everyday institutional practice.   Schools, which in the US are dominated by the discourses of psychologists and educational psychologists affiliated with the APA, which supply a repertoire of pathologizing discourses that supply a scientific sheen to everyday oppressions.   More fundamentally, our standard, seemingly neutral vocabularies are built on premises about the normal distribution of “intelligence,” the individuation of “motivation,” the morality of tracking children, or treating decisions they make with young as one-shot “opportunities” which they have a single chance at using.   Is there an ethical problem embedded in the central conceit of intra-psychological processes?  The very idea that we can speak of individuals and psychological processes apart  for socio-cultural world?

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