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Deep Concern on My Profession

Psychologists and torture.

May 3, 2015

I have been part of two projects that made me very grateful to be an American.

In the mid-1980s, I served as chief development writer for the campaign to restore the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Part of my job was to read the oral histories of immigrants, to incorporate their stories into our written material.

After becoming a psychologist, I volunteered for several years for an organization that helped people who sought asylum in the U.S. from torture and persecution in their home countries.

In both cases, I was deeply moved by the accounts of people who had escaped desperate hardship and persecution to make a new, freer and more hopeful life here. I wasn't naive, or at least I didn't think I was. I had protested civil rights violations, the Vietnam war, and nuclear armament. I knew our country had serious flaws, but I believed that we had a real commitment to liberty and justice, and that our evolution was in an overall positive direction.

This belief has been challenged by many events in the intervening years. I have never felt quite so disheartened, though, or so implicated, as I do by the unfolding stories of the American Psychological Association's apparent collaboration in the Abu Ghraib torture system.

While I was feeling proud of helping people, in my role as a psychologist in good standing with the APA, to escape torture, my colleagues may have been helping the CIA to continue, justify and even "enhance" the torture of other individuals.

Again, I didn't think I was naive. The APA has survived a number of controversies, including their endorsement of PENS. That was quickly rescinded, though, when members objected, and I didn't think there was any reason to doubt the transparency of the association's activities.

My initial impulse was to resign in protest. I have learned from experience, though, that impulsive acts, while satisfying in the moment, aren't always the wisest ones. I will wait for the results of the independent review. But I have a sickening conviction that I know what the outcome will be.


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