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John Grohol Issues Misleading APA Damage Control

Psychologist John M. Grohol objects to my mention of the distinctions between the immoral interrogation policy of the American Psychological Association and the ethical standards established by the American Medical and American Psychiatric Associations. Grohol asserts that, to the contrary, "there appears to be little significant difference between the APA and AMA positions."

Grohol claims that both the AMA and the American Psychological Association allow their members to "consult to interrogations." While this is true for the American Psychological Association, it is untrue for the AMA.

The policy recommendations [pdf] that the AMA adopted on June 12 state:

[P]hysicians must neither conduct nor directly participate in an interrogation, nor should they monitor interrogations with the intention of intervening. They may participate in developing interrogation strategies for general training purposes. These strategies must not be coercive and must be humane and respect the rights of individuals.

Physicians are allowed to develop strategies for "general training," but they are not allowed to consult to specific interrogations. The proper interpretation of the AMA language, I believe, is that AMA members may participate in developing general strategies that will help interrogators respect the human rights of detainees.

Last week, the APA passed a resolution that "condemns any involvement by psychologists in torture" but makes no effort to define the role of psychologists in interrogations. In the absence of clear professional guidelines, psychologists can only fall back upon the military standards and procedures [pdf] for those who serve as Behavioral Science Consultants (BSCs):

E2.1. BSCs are authorized to make psychological assessments of the character, personality, social interactions, and other behavioral characteristics of detainees, including interrogation subjects, and, based on such assessments, advise authorized personnel performing lawful interrogations and other lawful detainee operations, including intelligence activities and law enforcement. They employ their professional training not in a provider patient relationship, but in relation to a person who is the subject of a lawful governmental inquiry, assessment, investigation, interrogation, adjudication, or other proper action. . . .

E2.1.1. BSCs may provide advice concerning interrogations of detainees when the interrogations are fully in accordance with applicable law and properly issued interrogation instructions.

E2.1.2. BSCs may observe, but shall not conduct or direct, interrogations.

Psychologists who are BSCs may observe interrogations, make assessments of detainees and offer advice to interrogators. Physicians may not "monitor interrogations with the intention of intervening." Physicians are allowed precisely two roles regarding detainees: as providers of medical care and as providers of general training to interrogators, to teach them strategies that are "humane and respect the rights of individuals." In stark contrast, psychologists who serve as BSCs "employ their professional training not in a provider patient relationship, but in relation to a person who is the subject of a lawful governmental inquiry, assessment, investigation, interrogation, adjudication, or other proper action."

Current American Psychological Association policy allows its members to serve as BSCs and, in its silence on this mode of participation in interrogations, authorizes a range of activities that are categorically forbidden by both the American Medical and American Psychiatric Associations. It is highly misleading to say the respective policies "aren’t significantly different."

It is also misleading to suggest that the American Psychiatric Association "didn’t bother to elucidate a theoretical framework for their ethical stance." The American Psychiatric Association is an affiliate of the AMA; its members are therefore governed by the same ethical code, with the same underlying principles, as other AMA members. Furthermore, the three psychiatric professional organizations—the American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), and the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law (AAPL)—"gave detailed suggestions and comments to the AMA Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs (CEJA), which wrote the policy" (link [pdf]). The American Psychiatric Association went so far as to say [pdf] that, for its members,

Direct participation includes being present in the interrogation room, asking or suggesting questions, or advising authorities on the use of specific techniques of interrogation with particular detainees.

While, according to Grohol, "advising authorities on the use of specific techniques of interrogation with particular detainees" is indirect participation, it is direct participation, according to the American Psychiatric Association.(*)

In addition to making misleading arguments, Grohol also misrepresents the AMA through a misattributed quotation. Grohol asserts that

Specifically, the AMA states,

Physicians may consult to interrogations by developing interrogation strategies that do not threaten or cause physical injury or mental suffering and that are humane and respect the rights of individuals.

But Grohol's quotation does not come from the AMA. Instead, it comes from Stephen Behnke, director of the American Psychological Association Ethics Office. Much of Grohol's challenge to my characterizations of the associations' respective policies is drawn from Behnke's recent article in Monitor on Psychology, which includes the following passage:

[T]he AMA report states that physicians may consult to interrogations by developing interrogation strategies that do “not threaten or cause physical injury or mental suffering” and that are “humane and respect the rights of individuals.”

It is Behnke who asserts—untruthfully—that "physicians may consult to interrogations." Behnke quotes the AMA out of context, to assert that its policy says something that it doesn't. Grohol then quotes Behnke quoting the AMA but removes the quotation marks from the phrases that belong to the AMA and gives the false impression that Behnke's untrue assertion is a quotation of official AMA policy.

Grohol is trying awfully hard to make a case that that evidence does not support. Why?

~

*CORRECTION: At original posting, the phrase indicated with the asterisk, above, read "American Psychological Association," though it should have read "Psychiatric." I have applied the correction to the original text. ---BG

{ 3 comments… add one }

  • JDJ August 14, 2006, 12:52 pm

    For an excellent and somewhat ethnographic account of what really goes on at the Quantanamo Bay Prisons and other “secret” American-run prisons that sprang up since 2001, see the poet and essayist Eliza Griswold’s article in the most recent issue of Harper’s Magazine called “American Gulag: Prisoners’ Tales From the War On Terror.” Griswold travelled at some risk to many locales to interview former prisoners and to get some indication of interrogation practices that would augment present data.

    I admire the precision of your reporting very, very much. It is Socratic and Platonic on its insistence that faulty rhetoric (and actions) be challenged; and logical fallacies and misleading ornamentations be rebuked.

    (PS: The email accompanying my comment is a “dead” address that I’m using to cut down on spam at the website address.)

  • Keith Bidgeman June 3, 2007, 1:24 pm

    In correspondence with John Grohol, I have seen repeatedly that whan his integrity is challenged, he evades the issue, makes obviously false and spurious claims, tries to turn his errors on to other people, and fails to answer every question whose answer he does not like. Trying to reason with him is impossible, unless he feels that his public image is in danger. The image he tries to present publically and what he is like in person are two completely different things. The false public image he tries to portray is one of integrity and reason. The latter and the reality, is somebody who is arrogant and lacks any sense of honour and honesty, and who will do any say what he needs in order to gain advantage for himself.

  • Benjamin T. Greenberg June 3, 2007, 1:46 pm

    Keith, thanks for your comment. Sounds like we have had similar experiences with John Grohol. I would prefer to keep the discussion focused on specific statements, actions, arguments and facts, rather than assessments of Grohol’s character and/or abstract motivations. I do think it would behoove Grohol to make some further public statement about the APA’s role in US torture policy, in light of the new revelations in the recently declassified DoD report.

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