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New Resources: 3-18-2011

March 18, 2011

Could You Torture Someone?

What makes a torturer? That’s the question asked in a recent post on the blog of a Canadian NGO, Partners in Rights and Recovery, which describes itself as “dedicated to protecting the human rights and promoting the psychological recovery of individuals, families, and communities affected by torture and political violence around the world.”

“Could you torture someone?…Could you work in a job that required you to do it day after day?…Even the questions are repulsive. We want to believe that we are compassionate and just, and we live in a world that is safe and fair. Therefore, we assert that we would never purposefully brutalize another person, and we wish to avoid the thought that conditions exist that could dehumanize us to this extent, so we imagine that those who do torture others must be vastly different than us.”

We don’t want to think about these questions, but we must. The Making of a Torturer looks at a series of intriguing – and disturbing – articles exploring the issue, several of them based on interviews with actual torturers. It’s important reading.

“…all of the official investigations into torture committed by U.S. soldiers in prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan and Cuba, have strictly focused on perpetrators, ignoring the high ranking officials who created the conditions for torture to occur.  In his analysis of these reports, Zimbardo (2007) detailed continuous inconsistencies between the reality that there was a command system responsible for ordering torture and the public statements by military officials denying any such practices.” 

See also our post on Adrianne Aron’s new translation of Pedro and the Captain. This short play by Mario Benedetti, one of Latin America’s most important 20th-century writers, tellingly explores the psychology of a torturer.

Psychologists’ Roles in Interrogations

Kenneth S. Pope has a thoughtful new article on the struggles within the psychology community over their profession’s roles and responsibilities in relation to the interrogation of detainees. Psychologists and Detainee Interrogations: Key Decisions, Opportunities Lost, and Lessons Learned will appear in a forthcoming issue of the Annual Review of Clinical Psychiatry, but in the meantime Ken is making an uncorrected proof of the article available online.

“After the 9-11 terrorist attacks, U.S. psychologists faced hard choices about what roles, if any, were appropriate for psychologists in the detainee interrogations conducted in settings such as the Bagram Airbase, the Abu Ghraib Prison, and the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camps. The American Psychological Association sparked intense controversy with its policies and public statements. This article reviews APA decisions, documents, and public statements in this area, in the context of major criticisms and responses to those criticisms. The review focuses on key issues: how the APA created and reported policies in the areas of ethics and national security; transparency; psychologists’ professional identities; psychologists’ qualifications; ethical-legal conflicts; policies opposing torture; interpretations of avoiding harm; and effective interrogations. It suggests lessons learned, missed opportunities, and questions in need of a fresh approach.”

Ken’s invaluable daily postings have tipped me off to many stories that have ended up on this blog. Check out his website for a wide range of materials on related (and some unrelated) issues. To get on his mailing list, contact him at

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