Learned Helplessness and Trained Incapacity

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A theory of "learned helplessness" put forward by Seligman, based largely on some pretty nasty animal experiments. Seligman’s theory of learned helplessness initially was used to design a training program to help captured military personnel resist the effects of torture. Later it served as a cornerstone of the design of the methods of torture used in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay detention camp. For this purpose the theory of learned helplessness was “reverse-engineered” to assist the interrogation of detainees (Torture victims will bear psychological scars long after CIA report scandal fades Law The Guardian):

Jabuli and other torture survivors experienced a chilling process referenced in the US Senate intelligence committee’s report into CIA torture. Two architects of the CIA’s torture program, contractor psychologists Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell, called it by the antiseptic term “learned helplessness”. It means that torturers break down an individual’s self-control, until he or she is emotionally and psychologically unequipped to disobey.

The key finding is that the experience of being put in a position in which there is no possibility of escape from harm or pain can lead to an overall fatalism and resignation, in which it is believed that there is no point in trying to improve the situation. More generally, it can describe a belief in one's own powerlessness, which renders futile any attempt to learn.

Typical experiments include the demonstration that dogs, confined in a cage where they have no possibility of escaping shocks from an electrified floor, no longer attempt to escape such shocks when the opportunity is presented (this bears a resemblance to the anticipatory-avoidance learning experiment): and that rats, which normally swim for 48 hours before drowning in a tank, only manage eight hours after having been held tightly and long enough to cease struggling before being put in the tank.

Learned helplessness might be viewed as a form of meta-learning. It sets out a general orientation towards learning or actions rather than an account of how a specific item of knowledge or skill is learned or not.

According to Wikipedia (Learned helplessness ) :

Learned helplessness as a technical term in animal psychology and related human psychology means a condition of a human being or an animal in which it has learned to behave helplessly, even when the opportunity is restored for it to help itself by avoiding an unpleasant or harmful circumstance to which it has been subjected. Learned helplessness theory is the view that clinical depression and related mental illnesses result from a perceived absence of control over the outcome of a situation (Seligman, 1975).

The American psychologist Martin Seligman's foundational experiments and theory of learned helplessness began at University of Pennsylvania in 1967, as an extension of his interest in depression. Quite by accident, Seligman and colleagues discovered that the conditioning of dogs led to outcomes that opposed the predictions of B.F. Skinner's behaviorism, then a leading psychological theory (Seligman & Maier, 1967; Overmier & Seligman, 1967)

In part one of Seligman and Steve Maier's experiment, three groups of dogs were placed in harnesses. Group One dogs were simply put in the harnesses for a period of time and later released. Groups Two and Three consisted of "yoked pairs." A dog in Group 2 would be intentionally subjected to pain by being given electric shocks, which the dog could end by pressing a lever. A Group 3 dog was wired in parallel with a Group 2 dog, receiving shocks of identical intensity and duration, but his lever didn't stop the electric shocks. To a dog in Group 3, it seemed that the shock ended at random, because it was his paired dog in Group 2 that was causing it to stop. For Group 3 dogs, the shock was apparently "inescapable." Group 1 and Group 2 dogs quickly recovered from the experience, but Group 3 dogs learned to be helpless, and exhibited symptoms similar to chronic clinical depression.

In part two of the Seligman and Maier experiment, these three groups of dogs were tested in a shuttle-box apparatus, in which the dogs could escape electric shocks by jumping over a low partition. For the most part, the Group 3 dogs, who had previously "learned" that nothing they did had any effect on the shocks, simply lay down passively and whined. Even though they could have easily escaped the shocks, the dogs didn't try.

In a second experiment later that year, Overmier and Seligman ruled out the possibility that the Group 3 dogs learned some behavior in part one of the experiment, while they were struggling in the harnesses against the "inescapable shocks," that somehow interfered with what would have been their normal, successful behavior of escaping from the shocks in part two. The Group 3 dogs were immobilized with a paralyzing drug (Curare), and underwent a procedure similar to that in part one of the Seligman and Maier experiment. A similar part two in the shuttle-box was also undertaken in this experiment, and the Group 3 dogs exhibited the same "helpless" response.

However, not all of the dogs in Seligman's experiments became helpless. Of the roughly 150 dogs in experiments in the latter half of the 1960s, about one-third did not become helpless, but instead managed to find a way out of the unpleasant situation despite their past experience with it. The corresponding characteristic in humans has been found to correlate highly with optimism; however, not a naïve Polyannaish optimism, but an explanatory style that views the situation as other than personal, pervasive, or permanent. This distinction between people who adapt and those who break down under long-term psychological pressure was also studied in the 1950s in the context of brainwashing.

Other experiments were performed with different animals with similar results. In all cases, the strongest predictor of a depressive response was lack of control over the negative stimulus. One such later experiment, presented by Finkelstein and Ramey (1977), consisted of two groups of human babies. One group was placed into a crib with a sensory pillow, designed so that the movement of the baby’s head could control the rotation of a mobile. The other group had no control over the movement of the mobile and could only enjoy looking at it. Later, both groups of babies were tested in cribs that allowed the babies to control the mobile. Although all the babies now had the power to control the mobile, only the group that had already learned about the sensory pillow bothered to use it (Finkelstein & Ramey, 1977).

A similar experiment was done with people who performed mental tasks in the presence of distracting noise. If the person could use a switch to turn off the noise, his performance improved, even though he rarely bothered to turn off the noise. Simply being aware of this option was enough to substantially counteract its distracting effect (Hiroto and Seligman, 1975).

A theory put forward by Seligman, based largely on some pretty nasty animal experiments, that the experience of being put in a position in which there is no possibility of escape from harm or pain can lead to an overall fatalism and resignation, in which it is believed that there is no point in trying to improve the situation. More generally, can describe a belief in one's own powerlessness, which renders futile any attempt to learn.

Typical experiments include the demonstration that dogs, confined in a cage where they have no possibility of escaping shocks from an electrified floor, no longer attempt to escape such shocks when the opportunity is presented (this bears a resemblance to the anticipatory-avoidance learning experiment): and that rats, which normally swim for 48 hours before drowning in a tank, only manage eight hours after having been held tightly and long enough to cease struggling before being put in the tank.

Learned helplessness, although explored largely within the behavioural paradigm, is a form of meta-learning, or what Bateson would call learning II (or even III). It sets out a general orientation towards learning rather than an account of how a specific item of knowledge or skill is learned or not.

Its particular relevance has been explored to various forms of depressive illness, but it also provides an elegant account of disaffection among students, who have "given up" on the formal educational process as a way of learning anything. They have lost (or never gained) any sense of the connection between their efforts in school or college and any meaningful achievement, and therefore (from the educational standpoint) the major task for them is to re-establish this link. On a wider front, the principle can be associated with the "culture of poverty" and the idea of a disenfrachised underclass.

Although the models could hardly be more different, there is a link with Mezirow's notion of "transformative learning": participants in adult basic education, for example, need to re-evaluate their whole position about their capabilities to learn, in order to be able to benefit from what is offered.

Seligman has since turned his attention to strategies for overcoming learned helplessness.

Burke attributed the phrase "trained incapacity" to Veblen; however, no one (including him) could locate the phrase in a Veblen text. Burke reasserts his belief that "trained incapacity" is a phrase from Veblen, but concedes
that it could come from Randolph Bourne, whom Burke had also been reading and whom Burke feels "was [also] capable of such a turn."

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[Dec 22, 2014] Torture victims will bear psychological scars long after CIA report scandal fades Law

Dec 14, 2014 | The Guardian

Jabuli prefers solitude indoors, having lost all safety once before. When he does go out he seeks crowded public spaces, so there will be witnesses if his tormentors reappear to kidnap him again. Ten years on, time and distance have not healed the damage that comes from torture.

“You live with the fear that the people who tortured you may come back to torture you again,” he said, “regardless of if you are in a safe country.”

Triggers are everywhere, even a decade later. Armored vans on the street make him think of the station where he was tortured. He fears intimacy, because he doesn’t want someone to see him having nightmares, or to watch him wake up crying. He worries he will not be “good enough to have a family”.

More than a decade ago, Jabuli endured seven months in a torture chamber in a central African country he asked the Guardian not to identify. (Jabuli is a pseudonym he recommended.) He was placed in “stress positions”: his elbows and ankles were bound to each other behind his back as he faced downward, resulting in a pain so consuming that he could barely breathe.

“We lost hope. We gave everything, every decision, to others, to decide for you. Everything you want, you let the other person decide,” Jabuli said.

Jabuli and other torture survivors experienced a chilling process referenced in the US Senate intelligence committee’s report into CIA torture. Two architects of the CIA’s torture program, contractor psychologists Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell, called it by the antiseptic term “learned helplessness”. It means that torturers break down an individual’s self-control, until he or she is emotionally and psychologically unequipped to disobey.

Recovering from learned helplessness, according to psychologists, physicians, aid workers and activists interviewed by the Guardian, is an arduous process, with results as varied as the people who undergo it. It can last a lifetime, and is full of setbacks, if it succeeds at all.

Whatever outrage over CIA torture exists in the US and internationally will eventually fade. John Brennan, the CIA director, pleaded on Thursday for the country to move on. Survivors of torture do not have that luxury.

“These are issues that they’re going to have for the rest of their lives,” said Stephen Xenakis, a psychiatrist and retired US army brigadier general.

Learned helplessness is a term attributed to a 1972 paper by the psychologist Martin Seligman. Seligman noticed a long-term behavioral impact on dogs subjected to electric shocks.

“Uncontrollable” traumas bred “passivity in the face of traumatic events, inability to learn that responding is effective, and emotional stress in animals, and possibly depression in man,” Seligman wrote.

The Senate report, parts of which were released on Tuesday, documented the impact of the learned-helplessness that the CIA sought to inflict. Detainees in Afghanistan would cower when the doors to their cells opened. Some, in the opinion of one CIA interrogator, “literally looked like a dog that had been kenneled”. Abdel Rahman al-Nashiri, who was waterboarded and threatened with a power drill, would tremble at the sight of the interrogations chief, as psychologists discussed instilling within him what they called a “desired level of helplessness”.

Men and women who have experienced torture are most often irrevocably changed, say medical professionals who have treated survivors. Depression, anxiety, personality shifts, hallucinations and suicidal thoughts can manifest and persist years afterward. Freedom itself, with its onslaught of decisions, can overwhelm people whose captors conditioned them to give their lives over to another’s control.

“You become a passive person,” Jabuli said.

Learned helplessness compels people to blame themselves for their treatment. Self-esteem has to be relearned. Guilt can be overwhelming: the guilt of missing out on their families’ lives, or of release from prison while others remain tortured.

Others, like those who resisted or protested in jail, can become angry, or frustrated over the impotence inflicted upon them. Khalid el-Masri, an innocent man whom the CIA tortured, was arrested in 2007 in Germany for setting a supermarket on fire.

William Hopkins, a consulting psychiatrist for the UK-based torture rehabilitation center Freedom From Torture, has treated victims of waterboarding. Many develop extreme hydrophobia, he said.

“One guy told me, ‘I cannot go in water, I cannot go for a swim, I cannot let my head go underwater again, that’s too terrifying, that will bring back the memories,’” Hopkins said.

Years after his waterboarding, Hopkins’s patient couldn’t bear to “pull a jumper over [his] head. He used a cloth to bathe himself, as taking a typical bath or shower was unbearable.”

Every medical professional interviewed by the Guardian said people’s recovery to learned helplessness varies widely. Polly Rossdale, who runs the human-rights group Reprieve’s initiative to help released Guantánamo detainees, said that giving survivors basic choices (“We could go for a walk now or walk later, what would you rather do?”) was critical to restoring a modicum of mental and emotional health.

So is finding people to trust – with whom they can talk safely about their experiences. Yet torture survivors can find themselves shunned, compounding their internalized blame.

“The stigma is huge,” Rossdale said, particularly for Guantánamo detainees. Men released from the US detention facility are often resettled into unfamiliar countries, and struggle to find or hold jobs and to get access to medical care.

“Even in places that have significant Muslim populations, where they may have experienced some degree of discrimination themselves, they don’t want to be tarred with the same brush, they don’t want people to think, ‘Oh, Muslim equals terrorists.’ The stigma is huge, and that’s very difficult for men to overcome,” Rossdale said.

However difficult it is for torture survivors to live their lives after captivity, it is much harder for torture survivors who remain detained.

Not all of the estimated 39 men whom the CIA tortured are now free. Over a dozen of them remain at Guantánamo. Indefinite detention without charge, experts said, compounds the effects of learned helplessness, as people steadily lose control over their fates.

Vincent Iacopino, an internist with Physicians for Human Rights, said torture survivors still in captivity required trusted medical staff for their conditions to improve. Yet the medical staff at Guantánamo, where he has examined detainee Mohamedou Ould Slahi, are “not seen as friendly”, he said.

“They’re viewed as the enemy of the detainees. They’re people who, as far as they’re concerned, participated in their abuse. There’s really not an opportunity for [Guantánamo detainees] to receive a therapeutic environment. The combination of continuing to be detained, having been tortured, and not having health professionals to be helpful almost precludes the possibility of healing,” Iacopino said.

Cheryl Bormann represents Walid bin Attash, whom the CIA hung from the wrists and denied sleep for over five straight days, with only a four-hour rest. He is now facing a military tribunal for the 9/11 attacks, a charge that carries a death sentence.

“How can a man who has been tortured so that he is a victim of ‘learned helplessness’ unlearn that conditioning? How can Mr Bin Attash ever overcome the effects of more than three years of tortured conditioning?” Bormann said.

Jabuli said he doubts he will ever again be the person he was before torture.

“There’s still something missing. I’m still struggling to properly understand, and to build a life,” he said.

Talking to other survivors has helped him heal, Jabuli said. He is about to take his first trip to see his family back home in the decade since his ordeal began.

“If I don’t do anything, then the people who torture me have won. What they did was silence me. That’s what they wanted to do,” he said.

IanB52 14 Dec 2014 02:04

I believe that psychological collapse was an intentional part of the "interrogation", so that the detainees became so catatonic or helpless that they would never be able to reveal to the world what had been done to them. Another evil and heinous way of covering up torture, more torture.

mtracy9 -> Light_and_Liberty 14 Dec 2014 16:07

Bush and Cheney lied America into war. Cheney likely orchestrated the 9/11 attacks to provide an excuse to get the wars going in the Middle East. The smoking gun is the collapse of Building 7.

Cat Mack -> Light_and_Liberty 14 Dec 2014 16:01

What is wrong with you? Is revenge an answer to everything? Someone hurt us so we are going to torture others (mostly people with no involvement in 9/11). This sort of attitude is precisely why the rest of world thinks the U.S. is crap.

ronnewmexico -> Light_and_Liberty 14 Dec 2014 15:50

Which is exactly what Dick Chaney just said on meet the press..

22% of those tortured in this fashion, of this group were found innocent…….so once again how is that not torture???

We suffered the atrocities of the various prior war world war one and two with thousands of our kind killed by heinous means to include mustard gas, and in world war 2 numerous tortures by torturers of the German and Japanese kind….die we torture in kind…no never it would have been un-American. The only tortures that did ever occur on our side were rogue operations by those incensed in the heat of war and never officially sanctioned were those…

It is clear chaney has lost his moral bearings and knows not now what this country for many many years was all about.

Light_and_Liberty 14 Dec 2014 15:31

So much sympathy for the psychological scars of terrorists but none for the family of the 2,752 Americans who died on 9-11.

Can anyone imagine these people having nightmares about their loved one's final minutes? Is that torture? You bet it is.

How about we do whatever it takes so innocent people are not subjected to that kind of torture -- the torture of deciding to jump or burn to death. And the torture of that image playing out in the minds of fathers, mother, brothers and sisters.

ondelette -> WalrusHat 14 Dec 2014 14:52

If more people vote, they become the people the candidates most have to please. Right now, it's a no-brainer that elected officials don't have to pay attention to the vast majority of the citizens, because the vast majority of the citizens don't vote. So they instead pay attention to those who can truly determine whether or not they get to have another term: the moneyed class. That can be stopped by voting and by participating in the nominations process and by protest on the streets where it counts instead of on the internet where it doesn't.

The American system of democracy contains no quorum for elections. Not voting isn't a boycott unless it has clearly defined demands and the ability to deliver the votes if those demands are met. You don't have either. In that case, what your non-vote means is described by the rule for no-quorum elections: Qui tacit consentire videtur, ubi loqui debuit ac potuit. -- Silence implies consent, when one ought to have spoken and was able to.

consciouslyinformed -> consciouslyinformed 14 Dec 2014 12:20

Please take note: I wrote Milgram, in error. The psychologist I meant to write, was Martin Seligman, who developed the construct of learned helplessness.

Dr. Seligman has been affiliated with The University of Pennsylvania for decades. He is now the co-founder of positive psychology, which focuses on how an individual could shape one's thinking is inextricably connected to how one imagines the future both influences both the present and the future thinking of individuals.

Dr. Seligman has written over two hundred professional articles, along with many books, in psychology.

I apologize for any confusion my hastily written comment with the error, may have caused the readers of Cif.

ronnewmexico -> JohnTMaher 14 Dec 2014 12:20

No one deserves to be tortured even the torturers themselves deserve not such pains inflicted in kind upon them.

The consequence of such things in the future….it is PTSD they will suffer though they will not call it such. Doing or seeing the awful things of war it does that invariably and always.
It starts when they put the gun under the bed to sleep. It ends when alcohole or drugs are necessary to sleep at all…and on and on.
It is not pleasant their fate. I do not revel in it…but fate it is theirs to hold. NO studies will be done nor records will be kept as it works agaiinst this thing of torture they are so for…but it will nevertheless be true..

That is theirr unkind fate….restless spirts for every hour of their waking days for the rest of their lives…to that they are sentenced. Those that torture.

The man who by deed killed the most even consequent to STalinism and that thing of evil. He started out sort of OK. He gradually eroded into a thing that could little be said to resemble human. He was a hero and afforded all that that bought in that totalitarian state, many years ago….that was his fate…mindless in the end, totally completely…. insane..killers those who order others to do such thing do not want his story told…but it is and true it is…they know not what webs they weave these torturers.


leochen24551 14 Dec 2014 11:32

I joined the Army in the Sixties, so Vietnam was my war. We lost over 58,000 American Combat Soldiers and Marines in that failed and very tragic effort.

Today, we have corrupted ourselves by committing War Crimes against our prisoners of war. For we are in a war; our War on Terror -- which is truly our War OF Terror.

And if it's anything like our decades War on Drugs, it will not end well for us.

It will not "save lives". It is not making America "safer". It has multiplied -- Multiplied -- the number of folks around the world who now hate us, who now scorn us, who will seek Revenge, who will be as Merciless with us as we have been Merciless with our Prisoners of War.

In WWII, we prosecuted and executed -- by hanging -- our defeated enemies in Nazi Germany and in Japan for torturing and killing their American Prisoners of War.

Today, the CIA Leadership is tap dancing furiously around their unbelievable and depraved torture programs. The CIA says that it was useful and effective.

Really? Details please!

What additional "intelligence" can the CIA get from waterboarding someone 183 times?!

http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2014/dec/09/cia...

Make NO Mistake. We have created a host of implacable enemies who will seek and find ways to extract Revenge upon us, our War on Terror, our CIA, our NSA, our FBI, our Pentagon, our Secret Service all -- all -- not withstanding.

Blame whom we wish, but we Americans will suffer the consequences of what the CIA has done to our prisoners of war in the name of our National Security.

Blame whom we wish, but God help any American Combat Soldiers and Marines who fall into the hands of our enemies -- who become their prisoners of war.

ondelette -> consciouslyinformed 14 Dec 2014 11:03

Milgram's learned helplessness?

The term was Martin Seligman's. The same Seligman who brought together psychologists after September 11th, and shopped the idea of "enhanced interrogation" to the government, resulting in the hiring of Jessen and Mitchell.

Somehow I doubt that someone who researches something in a focused way forgets who's theory they were dealing with.

zelazny -> WatchEm 14 Dec 2014 11:03

"By focusing attention on the CIA, there is a tendency to assume all other parties are 'innocent', which is not the case."

And not only not the case, but the essence of the problem. Obama cannot prosecute W, Cheney or anyone else for torture, because he has engaged in on going torture at Guantanamo and other black sites.

The same problem with war crimes. Since WWII every US president has engaged in massive war crimes in violation of the UN Charter and Geneva Conventions. One war criminal cannot prosecute the prior war criminal, so the war crimes continue administration after administration, in a true demonstration of Arendt's banality of evil.

WatchEm -> IanB52 14 Dec 2014 03:13

IanB52 - I find it really disturbing that not only will the U.S. refuse to prosecute those involved in the torture, but that they refuse any kind of restitution or even apology to the people they harmed. This is the exact opposite of justice.

The problem with prosecutions is again, torture. It is somewhat problematic when the prosecutor (i.e. the nation state), has acknowledged involvement in homicides and torture. This has been the problem for years where there have been attempted trials, albeit 'military trials', with U.S. Army JAG officers acting as defence counsel. Numbers of these officers have refused/resigned as defence counsel when they witnessed the terms imposed by the court and restrictions placed on them while they attempted to represent the accused.
Totally agree, this has nothing to do with justice in any civilised nation and is much on par with Stalin show trials.

Incredibility, there are a few further 'trials' scheduled in the near future. The publication of the recent report will obviously have a bearing on future trials and if there has been a genuine offence committed by the accused, it is probably going to make a conviction even harder and more contentious. Torture regimes gave up the right and are unfit to try anyone - particularly when they admitted being involved in torture, rapes and homicides.

Agree.. real justice is honest, transparent and not malicious. I'd seriously doubt that the Rogue Regime of the West is capable of comprehending real justice - it is not only my opinion, but more relevant, the opinion of U.S. Army JAG Corps officers who appear to have higher moral standards than those of their employers.

Agree, the assumption that the world should now move on, without any accountability, and forget the crimes against humanity of the US, is totally ludicrous and off this planet. The stage has not yet been reached where the full extent of criminality as been acknowledged - at a rough guess, only 8% at most has been addressed by the US legislature. The CIA alone are not the only guilty parties - add the "justice department", US military, FBI, outsourced criminals and of course, the principle instigators of a policy of state sponsored torture.

Regardless of any utterances from the USG, a number of their crimes are still continuing today and they are in no position to being talking about 'moving on'.

Overall, forget 'moving on' - this saga will still be rolling on for 10-30 years or more until justice has been served.

Psychologists pan CIA interrogation techniques as ineffective by Marisa Taylor

December 11, 2014 | Al Jazeera America

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report revealed earlier this week that the CIA’s techniques — which included waterboarding, staging mock burials of detainees and caging them in coffin-size boxes — were designed by two former Air Force psychologists.

The men, identified as Bruce Jessen and Jim Mitchell, had no experience with interrogations or counterterrorism, according to the report. They had, though, taught special forces how to resist torture through the Department of Defense’s SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance Escape) schools.

The duo developed the CIA's interrogation program based on the learned helplessness psychological theory, inspired by experiments performed during the 1960s by psychologists Martin Seligman and Stephen Maier at the University of Pennsylvania (PDF).

In the experiments, dogs that were repeatedly given mild electric shocks eventually became inert and did not attempt to escape them. Evidently, Seligman and Maier theorized, the dogs had learned to be helpless because they discovered their actions did not prevent the shocks.

For humans, this would be coming to believe that no matter what a person does, he or she cannot change a situation.

Seligman went on to use that theory on human reaction to adversity, and today he is considered a top expert on happiness and learned optimism.

But Jessen and Mitchell, according to the Senate report, quoted Seligman’s theories as useful in breaking CIA detainees into a state of helplessness, apparently with the aim of getting them to reveal information.

Guantánamo detainee Zain Abidin Mohammed Husain Abu Zabaydah, for example, became so helpless that he “slowly walked on his own to the water table and sat down.” When his interrogator snapped his fingers twice, he “would lie on the water board,” according to the report.

Seligman told Al Jazeera in an email message that while he does not consider himself an expert on interrogation, he feels that the objective should be “to get at the truth, not at what the interrogator wants to hear.”

“I think learned helplessness would make someone more passive, less defiant and more compliant, but I know of no evidence that it leads reliably to more truth-telling,” said Seligman, currently the director of University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center.

“I am grieved and horrified that good science, which has helped so many people overcome depression, may have been used for such dubious purposes,” said Seligman. “Most importantly, I have never and would never provide assistance in torture. I strongly disapprove of it.”

How psychologists formerly involved in SERE training decided to co-opt this research as official CIA interrogation strategy isn’t fully understood.

New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer said that Seligman told her he gave a talk at a Navy SERE school in San Diego in 2002, but that it focused on helping U.S. soldiers resist torture. Seligman’s learned helplessness theories “were cited admiringly soon after by James Mitchell, the psychologist whom the CIA put on contract to advise on its secret interrogation protocol,” she told Harper’s magazine.

The American Psychological Association recently told Reuters that, while Mitchell and Jessen were not APA members and therefore outside the association’s disciplinary process, they should be held “fully accountable” for human rights violations. The APA called their techniques “sickening and reprehensible.”

Mitchell, for his part, told Reuters that the CIA report was "a bunch of hooey." Jessen did not respond to Al Jazeera requests for comment.

It 'just doesn't work'

Dr. Steven Miles, a professor at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Bioethics and and a board member at the Center for Victims of Torture said the U.S. government has known for decades that techniques such as those devised by Mitchell and Jessen are ineffective.

“The use of interrogative abuse had been comprehensively studied by every major regime, East and West, going back to World War II,” he said. “And it’s been repeatedly been found to not work. It just doesn’t work.”

Dr. Stephen Xenakis, a retired brigadier general and Army medical corps officer who now serves as a torture expert for Physicians for Human Rights, has interviewed several Guantánamo Bay detainees during his lobbying efforts to close down the U.S. prison.

While he has signed protective orders not to speak about any of the cases, he told Al Jazeera that research has shown that the CIA’s techniques “would lead to serious psychiatric problems, depression, PTSD, that these men would suffer, that the effects would be chronic.”

“We said that, even though it leaves no marks, it constitutes torture,” he said.

Miles says that beyond the traumatizing effects, interrogational torture eventually causes a detainee to lie to stop the pain — and it also eliminates any ability to recruit him or her for future intelligence.

“It seems like almost out of the hat, they [Jessen and Mitchell] drew learned helplessness without even looking at the fact that this is a proven failed method for interrogation,” he said. “And then they set up a secret interrogation system built out of inexperienced interrogators, told them this was the way to go, and then got the green light.”

These techniques also inspire the countries of the tortured detainees to torture U.S. captives, Miles said, as retaliation for the violation of the Geneva Conventions and other human rights pacts.

“Basically what we’ve said is, an executive order can essentially waive these [treaties], which is music to the ears of Kim Yong Un, [Zimbabwean President Robert] Mugabe, and [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad,” said Miles.

[Dec 10, 2014] Architects of C.I.A. Interrogation Drew on Psychology to Induce ‘Helplessness’ By BENEDICT CAREY

Dec 10, 2014 | NYTimes.com

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.

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.

A History of the C.I.A.’s Secret Interrogation Program

The Central Intelligence Agency used waterboarding, sleep deprivation and other techniques on dozens of the men it detained in secret prisons between 2002 and 2008.

OPEN Graphic

“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 E. P. 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 Psychological 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.

OPEN Graphic

Graphic: 7 Key Points From the C.I.A. Torture Report

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.

Correction: December 15, 2014

An article on Thursday about psychology experiments that architects of the Central Intelligence Agency’s interrogation program drew on as the basis for brutal techniques misstated the name of an association of psychologists. It is The American Psychological Association (not Psychology). And the article misstated the middle initial of a psychologist who conducted early studies on “learned helplessness” in dogs. He is Martin E. P. Seligman, not Martin J.

Americans Involved in Torture Can Be Prosecuted Abroad, Analysts Say - NYTimes.com

The United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein, said in a statement on Wednesday that while he welcomed the release of the Senate report, he hoped it would lead to accountability of those who ordered, enabled, or carried out torture. “The convention lets no one off the hook — neither the torturers themselves, nor the policy-makers, nor the public officials who define the policy or give the orders.”

Second, can the International Criminal Court prosecute these cases?

In principle, yes, though the prospects of a prosecution, experts say, are exceedingly slim and a political hot potato. Even though the United States has not signed the treaty that created the tribunal, the court can prosecute the most serious crimes in countries that have signed it, like Afghanistan, where some of the torture was said to have occurred.

Indeed, in early December, the court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, for the first time confirmed that she was “assessing available information” on the American military’s “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

“While continuing to assess the seriousness and reliability of such allegations, the office is analyzing the relevance and genuineness of national proceedings by the competent national authorities for the alleged conduct described above as well as the gravity of the alleged crimes,” the prosecutor said in a report summarizing the work of her office.

Graphic: A History of the C.I.A.’s Secret Interrogation Program

Poland, long suspected of having an American-run “black site” for terror suspects, also falls under the court’s jurisdiction. A former Polish president, Aleksander Kwasniewski, on Wednesday confirmed the existence of the secret prison on his country’s territory, saying that it was part of an effort to build Polish-American trust.

Jordan J. Paust, professor of international law at the University of Houston, said that any of the 122 countries that have submitted themselves to the authority of the I.C.C. could arrest a torture suspect and then turn him or her over to The Hague-based tribunal. The prospect of a prosecution overseas, he said, could be even more likely, because of the Obama administration’s reluctance to prosecute, which he called a major disappointment.

But for Ms. Bensouda, who has had enormous difficulty even gaining custody of some of her most high-profile defendants, let alone winning convictions, the prospect of going after Americans could prove especially tricky. The court is still new, and fragile, said one of her former colleagues, Alex Whiting, and picking a fight with the United States could be “damaging” to the court’s standing in the world.

“On the other hand the legitimacy of the court depends on it reaching a point where it treats countries alike,” said Mr. Whiting, who was the prosecution coordinator in The Hague from 2010 until last year and now teaches law at Harvard University. “The court is in a very difficult position on this.”

Besides, trying a case that involves torture, especially in a place like Afghanistan, is likely to be difficult, he and others said, especially if the United States refuses to cooperate in furnishing evidence of who did what and who gave orders. A case against the Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta, fell apart, Ms. Bensouda said, because she could not muster sufficient evidence to proceed.

The third and final question: Can a C.I.A. officer suspected of torture — or even the former C.I.A. boss, Michael V. Hayden — be arrested while visiting Europe, under universal jurisdiction laws? Again, in principle yes, though diplomatically, that seems unlikely anytime soon. Several countries have laws on the books that allow them to try those accused of human rights abuses. Spain in 1998 sought to prosecute the former Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet, on these grounds.

Diane Orentlicher, a law professor at American University, said that countries that pursued cross-border justice most aggressively have since limited the reach of their laws. “That said, efforts to invoke universal jurisdiction or to persuade states where torture occurred to prosecute those responsible are likely to continue as long as the United States is seen as falling short of meeting its own responsibilities to ensure accountability,” she argued.

[Dec 09, 2014] A History of the C.I.A.’s Secret Interrogation Program

Dec 09, 2014 | NYTimes.com

2001, September

Days after the Sept. 11 attacks, President George W. Bush gives the C.I.A. authority to capture, detain and kill Qaeda operatives around the world.

2002, February

Mr. Bush signs an executive order that says Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibits “mutilation, cruel treatment and torture,” does not apply to Qaeda or Taliban captives.

March

Abu Zubaydah becomes the first detainee in C.I.A. custody, and his interrogations are videotaped. The C.I.A. initially thought him to be a Qaeda official but later retracted that view, according to the Senate report.

August

A memo issued by Jay S. Bybee, the head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, gives the C.I.A. after-the-fact authority to use harsh interrogation techniques.

August

C.I.A. officers use waterboarding at least 83 times against Abu Zubaydah. The Senate report says he provided more information in the first months of his interrogation — before the enhanced techniques — than in the months when enhanced techniques were used.

September

Leaders of the House Intelligence Committee are briefed on the C.I.A.'s enhanced interrogation techniques. Later in the month, leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee are briefed on the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah. The Senate report says that the C.I.A. ignored requests for additional information by Senator Bob Graham, Democrat of Florida.

November

Coercive interrogations, including waterboarding, of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a detainee, are videotaped.

November

Gul Rahman, another detainee in a separate facility, dies while being held and interrogated.

End of the year

Videotaping of interrogations ends.

2003

January

C.I.A. inspector general begins an investigation of the program.

January

After 40 men had already been detained, formal guidelines for interrogations and detention sites are issued by George J. Tenet, the C.I.A. director, according to the Senate report.

February

The top lawyer at the C.I.A. informs the leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees about the interrogation tapes. Committee leaders advise against destroying the tapes.

March

The C.I.A. uses waterboarding at least 183 times against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-described planner of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The last official report of waterboarding was in March 2003, but CIA documents suggest other waterboarding may have taken place.

September

Secretary of State Colin PowelI and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are briefed for the first time on the specifics of the C.I.A.'s interrogation program.

2004

May

The C.I.A. inspector general completes a report that challenges the legality of some interrogation methods. He finds that interrogators were exceeding the rules imposed by the Justice Department and questions the effectiveness of the program. Mr. Tenet, the C.I.A. director, orders a temporary halt to the harshest methods.

May

The top lawyer for the C.I.A. discusses the tapes with Justice Department officials and White House lawyers. What the lawyers tell him is in dispute, but they do not explicitly prohibit the destruction of the tapes.

June

The 2002 Justice Department memo is rescinded by the new head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, Jack Goldsmith. He resigns that day.

December

Daniel Levin, the acting head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, issues a new memo denouncing torture and broadening its definition. He is soon replaced.

Through 2004

According to the Senate report, at least 113 men were detained through 2004; after that, only six additional detainees were held under the program.

2005

May

The newly appointed head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, Steven G. Bradbury, issues classified memos that endorse the harshest interrogation techniques used by the C.I.A.

November

The Washington Post reports on the existence of the secret prison program.

November

Interrogation tapes are destroyed.

December

The House approves a Senate measure to outlaw cruel and inhumane treatment of prisoners in American custody. The C.I.A. director writes a memo to the White House saying that the agency would carry out no harsh interrogations without new approval from the Justice Department.

2006

April

Mr. Bush receives his first C.I.A. briefing on the enhanced interrogation techniques, according to the Senate report. The agency's records state that he expressed discomfort with the "image of a detainee, chained to the ceiling, clothed in a diaper and forced to go to the bathroom on himself."

June

The Supreme Court rules that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions applies to all American detainees.

September

Members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence other than the chairman and vice chairman are briefed on the program on the day Mr. Bush reveals it to the public in a speech.

September

Mr. Bush reveals the existence of the program and says it led to information on Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and others who were eventually captured. He announces the transfer of detainees to the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. After that, the C.I.A. holds a small number of detainees in secret at a different facility for several months at a time before also moving them to Guantánamo Bay.

October

Mr. Bush signs the Military Commissions Act, which creates new rules for prosecuting and interrogating terror suspects. He says the rules would enable the C.I.A. to resume the once-secret program.

2007

July

Mr. Bush issues an executive order allowing the C.I.A. to use some interrogation methods that are banned for military interrogations but that the Justice Department has determined do not violate the Geneva structures. A legal memo is released in conjunction with the order.

November

According to the Senate report, the C.I.A. does not use enhanced interrogation techniques after Nov. 8, 2007.

December

The New York Times reports on the destruction of the interrogation video tapes.

2008

April

According to the Senate report, no detainee is held by the C.I.A. after April 2008.

2009

January

Soon after being sworn into office, President Obama signs orders to close the detention at Guantánamo Bay, end the secret prisons and ban methods of physical pressure still used by C.I.A. interrogators overseas.

April

Justice Department memos written in 2002 and 2005 are released.

August

The 2004 C.I.A. inspector general report is released.

2012

April

Senate committee leaders reject claims that enhanced interrogation methods helped the C.I.A. find Osama bin Laden.

Report Portrays a Broken C.I.A. Devoted to a Failed Approach

NYTimes.com

The bitter infighting in the C.I.A. interrogation program was only one symptom of the dysfunction, disorganization, incompetence, greed and deception described in a summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report. In more than 500 pages, the summary, released on Tuesday, paints a devastating picture of an agency that was ill equipped to take on the task of questioning Al Qaeda suspects, bungled the job and then misrepresented the results.

... ... ...

On the other side were James E. Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, two former military psychologists who had advised the agency to use waterboarding and other coercive methods. With the support of C.I.A. headquarters, they insisted that Mr. Nashiri and other prisoners were still withholding crucial information, and that the application of sufficient pain and disorientation would eventually force them to disclose it. They thought the other faction was “running a ‘sissified’ interrogation program,” the report says.

If those questioning Mr. Nashiri just had “the latitude to use the full range of enhanced exploitation and interrogation measures,” including waterboarding, Dr. Jessen wrote, they would be able to get more information. Such treatment, he wrote, after the two previous months of extremely harsh handling of Mr. Nashiri, would produce “the desired level of helplessness.”

The report said the agency had evidently forgotten its own conclusion, sent to Congress in 1989, that “inhumane physical or psychological techniques are counterproductive because they do not produce intelligence and will probably result in false answers.” The Democratic Senate staff members who studied the post-Sept. 11 program came up with an identical assessment: that waterboarding, wall-slamming, nudity, cold and other ill treatment produced little information of value in preventing terrorism.

Learned helplessness in action at Guantanamo Bay by Jules Evans

February 18, 2010 | Philosophy for Life

It makes me sick to read about some of the interrogation techniques used at Guantanamo Bay, where the CIA applied Martin Seligman’s theory of ‘learned helplessness’ to try and break the spirit of the inmates (most of whom have still yet to be charged with any crime).

Seligman didn’t know his ideas were being applied there. Ironically, his theory of ‘learned optimism’ is now being imparted to every US soldier through the Pentagon’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness programme, this time with Seligman’s active participation. Build us up, break them down. That’s the spirit.

Here is a Huffington Post article by Peter Jan Honigsberg, professor of law at the University of San Francisco, and the author of Our Nation Unhinged: The Human Consequences of the War on Terror:

“The first day I was at Guantanamo, they put me in a little cage. There was a toilet hole and I thought this is the bathroom and they will then take me to my cell. Later, they brought me food. ‘Why food?’ I thought, ‘This is a bathroom.’ Only the next day did I realize this was my cell where I was to stay.” — Ayub Muhammed

On August 22, 2009, the Witness to Guantanamo Project completed its first round of 16 in-depth filmed interviews of former Guantanamo detainees in five countries: Albania, Bosnia, France, Germany and England. Each in-depth interview was 2+ hours in length. Three men did not want their faces shown. We hope to film hundreds of interviews of former Guantanamo detainees. We are determined to document the systematic human rights abuses and rule of law violations at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The empirical evidence we gathered during this journey confirmed information found in the recently released CIA Inspector General’s Report and memos regarding CIA’s strategies and techniques of torturing and otherwise mistreating detainees.

It was very difficult to hear each man’s story. The narratives were mesmerizing, powerful, compelling, unnerving and heartbreaking.

The CIA’s intention to create a climate of “learned helplessness,” that is, of shattering the men’s spirits, emerged throughout the interviews. For example, the guards and interrogators did their best to try to break a detainee who was a fourth level black belt karate expert and another detainee who was a former boxer. The US personnel forced a hose down the throat of the karate expert and poured water into the hose. They hung the former boxer by his wrists for five days. On the other hand, a detainee who “went with the flow” and was not a “physical threat,” had a relatively easier experience. He had already learned the value of “helplessness.”

The complicity of the medical profession was a reoccurring theme. The boxer who was hung by his wrists for five days was let down periodically to be examined by a doctor. Then he was hoisted up again. He passed out on the third day, but they continued to hoist him up for two more days. Two other men described how they were interrogated during surgery. Each man was under a local anesthetic. Any detainee who wanted medical care needed to go through his interrogator. One man refused to ask for dental work because he did not want to ask a favor from his interrogator. Some prisoners who expected to have cavities filled, had their teeth pulled instead.

While brutal treatment was always intense at Bagram and Kandahar air bases, Guantanamo was described by many of the men as a “psychological prison.” Some men were held in isolation for nearly the full time that they were at Guantanamo — over four years in isolation for one man. Initially, prisoners were placed in isolation for five days. But, when the military learned that people could easily tolerate the relatively short periods of isolation, the military increased the length to weeks, months and even years. One man, who was afraid of isolation and willing to say anything that the interrogators wanted to hear, was advised by other inmates that isolation became less frightening with each return visit.

The prisoners responded to the treatment that they received in different ways. Some resisted. One beat up a guard, others spit at guards. Still others threw feces. One prisoner told us that when he was treated unfairly he resisted in order to make himself feel better. There was a community of spirit among some prisoners. If one person was mistreated, others would refuse to eat or strike in support of him. Several detainees used the word “solidarity” to describe their relationship with other prisoners.

Some men endured detainment in Guantanamo by reflecting on their families, their religion, stories in the Koran, and the value of patience. Others accepted their “fate,” believing that they could not change it. Still others relied on “hope,” expecting that they would ultimately be released because they knew they were innocent.

When we asked people to describe their worst experiences, we were surprised by several of the responses. Two people told us that their worst experience was observing others beaten while they could do nothing about it. Another person’s worst experience was the unknowing of what would happen in the future. A Uyghur described his feeling of betrayal by the United States. The Americans had assured him that any information he gave to U.S. officials would not be passed on to the Chinese. When he was later interviewed by Chinese officials in Guantanamo, the Chinese diplomats repeated to him all that he had told the Americans.

The men did not only lose years of their lives while being held in Guantanamo. Their lives going forward are also, for many, similarly lost. Many of the detainees told us that they have been unable to obtain employment. Once a prospective employer hears that the men are former detainees, the opportunity for employment disappears. In addition to not finding work, the Uyghurs in Albania are also facing the prospect of losing their homes. Albania, with a grant from the U.S., has been paying their rents for the past two years. However, the payments are up in October, and it is not clear whether Albania will continue to pay their rents. If not, the Uyghurs may be out on the street or back at the refugee center.

The men agreed to be interviewed for different reasons. The reasons included speaking for history (that is, assisting us in creating an archive) and hoping that others who are still in Guantanamo will soon be released. One man participated because he wanted to “plant a tree for the next generation.” He also told me that “the world is one hand with many fingers.”

If there is a term that best describes the experience of interviewing these men, it is witnessing their humanity. Guantanamo is about people. Their humanity is what I will remember best.

Psychologists involved in torture: Martin Seligman’s unwitting contribution?

July 27, 2008 | quixotism.wordpress.com

The role that Martin Seligman personally played in this process is somewhat unclear (despite the reaction of some of the blogosphere). He has stated that the allegation that he provided assistance in the process of torture is completely false, and that his only involvement with the psychologists who developed the torture methods was when he gave a lecture to the military in a different context:

“I gave a three hour lecture sponsored by SERE (the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape branch of the American armed forces) at the San Diego Naval Base in May 2002. My topic was how American troops and American personnel could use what is known about learned helplessness and related findings to resist torture and evade successful interrogation by their captors. I was told then that since I was (and am) a civilian with no security clearance that they could not discuss American methods of interrogation with me. I have not had contact with SERE since that meeting.”

Whatever the truth is, post-September 11 has been a dark period for human rights, democracy and psychology. It appears that psychological models for understanding human distress have been used by the unscrupulous to devise methods to harm and terrorise those deemed to be “the enemy”.

Martin Seligman may not have been involved in this, but sadly it seems that the fruit of his intellectual efforts have been, in a manner contrary to their stated purpose.

Carol Smaldino, August 30, 2010 at 3:25 pm

Hello, I’m a social work therapist interested in the underbelly of the beast so to speak and write for the Huffington Post. I’ve been meaning to write on Resilience and Resilience and I’m in the process of writing a book and doing therapy. Part time here and part time in Italia, love to collaborate, and share, how odd, am speaking a bit on bullying from the inside out…

uggh the Seligson stuff makes me nauseous and he is quoted big time in September Harper’s Bazaar…..would love to converse with you if it seems right….

[Dec 13, 2014] The Culture Of Poverty by Robert J. Samuelson

April 30 1997 | washingtonpost.com
...But Mayer's study also shakes the reassuring conservative assumption that, if pushed, the poor can become self-sufficient through work. Precisely because many long-term welfare recipients aren't as competent or disciplined as middle-class parents, they may not find and keep jobs, let alone well-paying ones. The thrust of Mayer's grim analysis is to support the existence of a permanent "culture of poverty," an argument first advanced in the modern American context by political scientist Edward Banfield in a 1970 book.

Banfield split the poor into two groups. Some simply lacked money. These included many disabled and unemployed people, and some single mothers who had been widowed, divorced or abandoned. These people had middle-class values and could benefit from government income support. They could usually recover from a setback (job loss, divorce). Then there was the true "lower class," who would "live in squalor . . . even if their incomes were doubled," Banfield wrote, because they had a "radically present-oriented" outlook that "attaches no value to work, sacrifice, self-improvement, or service to family, friends or community."

[Dec 13, 2014] Speculation Makes Torture Even More Ineffective

August 24, 2009 | The Good Democrat

From the IG report on the CIA’s use of torture, page 83:

According to a number of those interviewed for this Review, the Agency’s intelligence on Al-Qa’ida was limited prior to the initiation of the CTC Interrogation Program. The Agency lacked adequate linguists or subject matter experts and had very little hard knowledge of what particular Al-Qa’ida leaders–who later became detainees–knw. This lack of knowledge led analysts to speculate about what a detainee “should know,” vice information the analyst could objectively demonstrate the detainee did know.

You are at a disadvantage with your enemy detainee if you

1. lack his language skills
2. lack his subject matter
3. lack knowledge of the detainee himself

The detainee in question will tell you what he thinks you want to hear. The worst part? You will never know if you fully extracted all you wanted out of the detainee, and as such, you will continue torturing him until you finally feel satisfied he has nothing else of value for you. This, however, could go on for a long time, because each time you press more, the detainee will tell you even wilder tales hoping the next tale will finally get you to stop torturing him. Of course, with each new tale, since you don’t actually know what else the detainee is holding back, with each new tale he tells, you press even further. Finally, of course, the detainee’s psyche collapses into learned helplessness and is now completely useless, for information and as a human being. You’ve destroyed him. Since you came into this without actually knowing what the detainee knows, all you’ve ended up doing is destroying the mind of another human being.

Congratulations torturer.

The Culture of Poverty and Learned Helplessness A Social Psychological Perspective - Rabow - 2007 - Sociological Inquiry - Wil

This paper links the sociological work of Ball on the analgesic subculture-a subculture of Appalachian poverty-with the sociological research of Merton on adaptation, the social psychological research of Seeman on alienation, and the psychological research of Seligman on learned helplessness. We suggest that

(1) Ball's cultural explanation work has not been pursued because it has not been integrated with relevant structural and relevant psychological theory and

(2) the analgesic subculture of Appalachia is an extreme intensification of the consequences of alienation resulting in a psychology of learned helplessness.

Re Torture and Learned Helplessness

From: Andrew Phelps <no-action@cwnet.com>

To: SOCIALJUSTICE@LISTS.APA.ORG

Subject: Re: [SOCIAL] Fwd: Torture and the Strategic Helplessness...

Date: Tue, 22 Jul 2008 10:56:43 -0700

Cc: Www, Bbb

Indeed.

This writing exposes the contradiction in the APA. There's an interesting direction regarding "learned helplessness" not being addressed here, however.

I suggest people look at the work of Tom Scheff on how to engage "shame." E.g. his new book Goffman Unbound.

The APA leadership has shamed us and our profession with its strategic helplessness.

Unacknowledged shameful behavior such as unethical support for interrogation torture involvement by [some] psychologists has been "brought to the surface" by the good work of the "Ethical APA" group. But the article raises a new layer of the "resistance" involved.

It is time for the APA to clarify that psychologists may not ethically support in any way abusive or coercive interrogation tactics in any settings.

Still, in a climate of "unacknowledged shame" and a rich history of developing "positive psychology" to oppose "learned helplessness" in a clinical/treatment framework, I submit Seligman in 2002 was entitled to take the protestations of the CIA/SERE people "at face value," pending seeing what they meant. If he'd continued on that path, then the blogger complaints about him as "2nd APA Pres. on the torture track" might have merit.

It is also time to identify and hold publicly responsible the individual psychologists who have created the institution that the APA has now become.

Yes.

It is time to hold these psychologists accountable for developing the widespread and systematic moral failures in the organization�s current infrastructure.

To do so would seem to require looking at the "clinical gaze" practicum embraced by the APA Practice Organization and see how behavior management - far from supporting creative maladjustment as Martin Luther King, Jr. advocated to the APA - often supports deliberately or incidentally practices accommodating "normality" by training 'clients' to "learned helplessness."

Where is the boundary with "reverse SERE?" These discussions (so far) have not addressed nor defined that as a problem, to the extent required. And I question that the institutional protections needed are in place.

Indeed, if we do not do this, then we, too, are complicit with torture.

Exactly. And then it's necessary to regain the trust of the "client/survivor" people who have had the acquaintance/experience of "treatment can be torture."

Italian Democratic Psychiatry has been looking this question "in the eye" for decades.

Andrew Phelps, Ph.D. (mathematics)

Berkeley, CA

Trained Incapacity Thorstein Veblen and Kenneth Burke KBJournal by Erin Wais, University of Minnesota

Abstract: Recently, a leading sociologist claimed that the phrase “trained incapacity” does not appear in the works of Thorstein Veblen. Kenneth Burke, who attributed the phrase to Veblen in Permanence and Change, was later unsure of its origins. This essay shows that, indeed, Veblen did coin the term, using it particularly in reference to problematic tendencies in business. Burke, on the other hand, gave the term an expansive application to human symbol-using generally.

IN A 2003 PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS to the American Sociological Association, Robert Stallings challenged conventional wisdom and charged that the widespread attribution of the term "trained incapacity" to Thorstein Veblen is erroneous. Stallings reported that he himself had spent a significant amount of time searching for the term in Veblen's works, to no avail; thus, he was comfortable in challenging anyone to "find the term 'trained incapacity' in any of the published works of Thorstein Veblen." Given his certainty that the term could not be located, he suggested that the connection of "trained incapacity" with Veblen was an example of misattribution in sociology (Stallings 1).

Kenneth Burke made good use of the term "trained incapacity," devoting an entire section to it in his book Permanence and Change. Here he typically attributed the phrase to Veblen, although he later admitted uncertainty as to its origins. As early as a 1946 letter to David Cox, Burke noted that he had tried to remember where he had first heard the phrase "trained incapacity," and even returned to Veblen's books, but was unable to determine where he had originally found the term (“Letter to David Cox” 1). Asked in the 1983 "Counter-Gridlock" interview about the term, Burke stated that he either took the term from Veblen or from Randolph Bourne, who Burke states he was reading at the time he was also reading Veblen (Burke, On Human Nature 336).

Veblen did in fact coin the phrase "trained incapacity."1 In this essay, I clarify its genealogy and explain Veblen's particular use of the phrase. I then compare Veblen's use of the phrase in discussing problems in business and organizations with Burke’s own use, which explored the concept within the broader context of symbol using generally. I argue that Burke drew upon Veblen’s initial idea, but teased out its larger implications for human symbol users much more thoroughly than Veblen.

Veblen’s Use of Trained Incapacity

Despite Stallings’ assurance that the term “trained incapacity” cannot be found in any of Veblen’s published works, Veblen did indeed coin the phrase. It appears first in his 1914 book, The Instinct of Workmanship and the Industrial Arts (IWIA), though the roots of the concept in Veblen’s thinking go back at least as far as his 1898 essay in the American Journal of Sociology. This essay, with the similar title of “The Instinct of Workmanship and The Irksomeness of Labor” (“IWIL”), was largely incorporated into his 1914 book. The essay considers whether humans are predisposed to loathe or to enjoy work. Veblen notes that most economists of his time assumed the former (187), while his essay makes a case for the latter.

Veblen’s argument draws upon evolution theory to suggest that it would hurt the survival of the species if humans loathed and avoided work. He attempts to explain how purposes of survival, goal-directed behavior supporting that survival, and habits of mind and thought have shaped humans as creatures with an “instinct of workmanship.” One of the consequences of this shaping is that humans have evolved to think easily and habitually about things that support this instinct of workmanship (and, thereby, our survival). The implications of this evolutionary imperative, Veblen argues, are significant for human action, thought, and social judgment:

What men can do easily is what they do habitually, and this decides what they can think and know easily. They feel at home in the range of ideas which is familiar through their everyday line of action. A habitual line of action constitutes a habitual line of thought, and gives the point of view from which facts and events are apprehended and reduced to a body of knowledge. What is consistent with the habitual course of action is consistent with the habitual line of thought, and gives the definitive ground of knowledge as well as the conventional standard of complacency or approval in any community. (“IWIL” 195)

On this last point, Veblen makes ethical judgment a product of this evolutionary process, insisting that “[w]hat is apprehended with facility and is consistent with the process of life and knowledge is thereby apprehended as right and good” (195).

Business people develop their own particular habitual lines of thought and action, leading to problems in their focus on business purposes, as Veblen shows sixteen years late i>The Instinct of Workmanship and the Industrial Arts. He notes: “It is but a slight exaggeration to say that [business] transactions, which govern the course of industry, are carried out with an eye single to pecuniary gain,—the industrial consequences, and their bearing on the community's welfare, being matters incidental to the transaction of business” (351). Veblen insists that “an eye single to pecuniary gain” puts workers, the community, and business people at cross purposes. It is not simply that different interests are at stake; it is that businesspeople are trained to ignore larger concerns associated with “the industrial situation.” As Veblen explains it, coining the new phrase:

Of course, all this working at cross purposes is not altogether due to trained incapacity on the part of the several contestants to appreciate the large and general requirements of the industrial situation; perhaps it is not even chiefly due to such inability, but rather to an habitual, and conventionally righteous disregard of other than pecuniary considerations. (IWIA 347)

Here “trained incapacity” is distinguished from the “righteous disregard of other than pecuniary considerations,” but they actually function as two sides of the same coin, as the focus on pecuniary interests leads business people to ignore other concerns, such as “the large and general requirements of the industrial situation.”

That the singular focus on pecuniary interest is a type of trained incapacity is confirmed in the comments that follow this passage, where Veblen insists that even workers who are employed in modern factories may suffer from this pecuniary “blindness”—which he also calls “a trained inability”—though not quite as badly as their bosses:

It would doubtless appear that a trained inability to apprehend any other than the immediate pecuniary bearing of their manoeuvres accounts for a larger share in the conduct of the businessmen who control industrial affairs than it does in that of their workmen, since the habitual employment of the former holds them more rigorously and consistently to the pecuniary valuation of whatever passes, under their hands; and the like should be true only in a higher degree of those who have to do exclusively with the financial side of business. (347-48)

Four years later, in Higher Learning in America (HLA), Veblen complains about one kind of training that leads to blindnesses through the overall focus and specialization of business schools:

[These schools’] specialization on commerce is like other specializations in that it draws off attention and interest from other lines than those in which the specialization falls, thereby widening the candidate's field of ignorance while it intensifies his effectiveness within his specialty. The effect, as touches the community's interest in the matter, should be an enhancement of the candidate's proficiency in all the futile ways and means of salesmanship and "conspiracy in restraint of trade" together with a heightened incapacity and ignorance bearing on such work as is of material use. (HLA 152)

This concern over business students’ “widening…field of ignorance” is discussed in a footnote in a chapter concerning the larger, inherent problems with business schools being housed in universities. Although Veblen does not use the phrase that he coined four years earlier, he appears to be dealing with the same problem as the trend toward specialization in business schools sacrifices the breadth of knowledge that more traditional colleges attempt to impart, creating a kind of blindness in business school graduates that has negative consequences.

Although Veblen discusses trained incapacity as a way to account for problems in the modern industrial organization, Veblen’s concerns point beyond an interest in business. In part, this is because he perceives the impact of business practices as wide-ranging, since he holds that business is “a modern force upon cultural growth” (Theory of Business Enterprise vii). Additionally, Veblen’s sociological and cultural investigations led him to explore concepts related to or drawing upon trained incapacity. For example, Veblen’s discussion of human nature in The Theory of the Leisure Class (TLC) offers a broader theoretical backdrop for understanding how business people’s focus on pecuniary interests becomes a kind of trained incapacity. He argues that humans are agents “seeking in every act the accomplishment of some concrete, objective, impersonal end” (TLC 15). Veblen describes this need for accomplishment as a driving force underlying trained incapacity. It is the focus on a specific goal or end that causes the worker to perceive only what directly affects the specific goal. It is this “end focused” part of every human psyche that allows for humans to have goals, and also makes it possible for such a focus to become an incapacitation. More simply, if a population did not have a specific end to be trained to accomplish, it could not suffer from trained incapacity.

In addition to this need to work toward a goal, Veblen asserts that such goals are parts of a larger complex present in humans. The need for an end to work toward is not socially constructed or culturally imposed; a need for a goal is part of the human need for a “sense of purpose,” which Veblen highlights in Instinct of Workmanship. This sense of purpose is the part of the human condition that Veblen refers to as the “instinct of workmanship” (IWIA 27). This sense of purpose, which underlies human goal seeking, provides the impetus for “trained incapacity.” Because Veblen establishes purpose as something that is innately part of the human condition, he implies that incapacity, which is attendant to that sense of purpose, is also something tied to being human.

Veblen further attaches action (behavior) to instinct (thought) by stating that man has a purpose that is innate, and that this purpose is reflected in man’s behavior. For Veblen, recurring instinctual thoughts are reflected in recurring or habitual actions. This link between thought and action is key to “trained incapacity”; humans may be trained to value certain ideas which are then acted upon. As I noted earlier, Veblen’s “Instinct of Workmanship and the Irksomeness of Labor” argues that “a line of action constitutes a line of thought” (195). Frequent repetition of an action leads to a lack of thought in undertaking that action—a kind of incapacitation. A worker’s training includes ensuring his or her acceptance of preferred goals, leading that worker to take action in support of those preferred goals. It is those actions (and therefore those thoughts), to the exclusion of others, that causes incapacitation. Thus, for Veblen, human nature provides an impetus toward goal-seeking behavior, while specific training regimens (as in business schools) can build on those impulses to make particular goals and values preeminent in guiding human action. Such training, in turn, is the root of trained incapacity.

This thought-behavior link highlights the place of habit in trained incapacity. Without the initial thoughts, the behavior would never take place, but once these thoughts have been ingrained, behavior can cease being the result of a carefully considered process and instead occur automatically. Veblen states that “man is a creature of habits and propensities” (IWIA 193). Since a habitual action is easier and faster, it is preferred by both the trainer and the trainee, but, in switching from thoughtful action to action out of habit, incapacitation may insinuate itself. Action prompted by habit may be faster, but it does not take into consideration other incidents or actions that are not allowed for in the training.

A move away from habit is a move toward inefficiency. Once a regimen is learned, less thought is required to perform the task and less time is required to complete the task. The more thought that goes into an action, the more time the action will take. Whereas efficiency increases as the amount of thought and questioning decreases, there is also a concomitant increase in rate of incapacitation. Not only is inefficiency bad for assembly line work, for example, it is also “innately distasteful” according to Veblen (HLA 197). In fact, inefficiency goes against what it means to be human; according to Veblen, humans recoil from inefficiency. Thus, Veblen asserts, humans both seek accomplishment and shun inefficiency. As humans and human organizations become more successful at achieving efficiency, they become less aware of the unintended and unsought consequences of their actions. To the extent that “training” (e.g., education, work experience, socialization) supports this efficiency, it supports a blindness to broader concerns, a “trained incapacity.” Veblen, offers no solution to this problem, but he notes how it influences modern culture (Spindler 49). In fact, in keeping with his typical worldview, Veblen seems resigned to the fact that this training phenomenon is a problem that will always plague humankind.

The next section considers Burke’s references to “trained incapacity” and to Veblen, establishing how and when Burke gives Veblen credit for his ideas, and discussing how Burke works to take Veblen’s initial concept and to extend and adapt it to his own sociological theory.

Burke’s Extension of Trained Incapacity

Kenneth Burke speaks about trained incapacity in an entire section in Permanence and Change appropriately titled “Veblen’s Concept of ‘Trained Incapacity’” (7). While the phrase trained incapacity is mentioned only in Burke’s Permanence and Change, references to its author, Thorstein Veblen, occur throughout Burke’s many texts. Permanence and Change is the first place Burke refers to Veblen. Here Burke speaks of “trained incapacity” as a phrase he believes was coined by Veblen (7). Burke does not give a specific source or page citation, but instead simply attributes the phrase to Veblen. Burke defines the phrase as “that state of affairs whereby one’s very abilities can function as blindnesses” (7). Burke illustrates this concept with a modified Pavlovian example of training chickens, showing how training can “work against” any trainable animal. He notes that chickens trained to come for food upon hearing a bell may suffer trained incapacity when the same bell is used to call them for punishment (7).

Burke notes that Veblen “generally restricts the concept to the care of business men who, through long training in competitive finance, have so built their scheme of orientation . . . they cannot see serious possibilities in any other system of production and distribution” (7). Because he is exploring the concept, rather than simply deploying it to explain one aspect of business culture, Burke is more explicit than Veblen in asserting that trained incapacity “properly applies to all men,” not just those in business. Burke notes that this phenomenon is so predictable and evident throughout the population that it even “seems to be experimentally verifiable” (10).

Burke argues that trained incapacity is also a way to discuss “matters of orientation” without using the terms escape and avoidance (9). That is, Burke says that there is no need to assume that the chickens in his example “refuse to face reality” or that they are using an “escape mechanism,” if their illogical behavior can be explained as a form of trained incapacity (10). Finally, Burke notes that trained incapacity is identical to John Dewey’s notion of “occupational psychosis,” insisting that the terms are “interchangeable” (48-49).

While the term trained incapacity is only cited in Permanence and Change, Veblen and his philosophy appear in two other texts of Burke’s—Philosophy of Literary Form (PLF) and Rhetoric of Motives (RM). Burke refers to Veblen in his book, Philosophy of Literary Form, urging that Veblen, along with Marx and Bentham, consider “material interests” of both “private and class structure” (111). Burke notes that such interests are a part of the “contexts of situation.” These contexts significantly shape action, yet they are constantly in flux, giving rise to paradoxes. Thus, following Veblen, Burke asserts that contexts are “opportunities to get ahead [and] are also opportunities to fall behind” (PLF 247). Burke suggests adopting different perspectives on a situation to see the opportunities and pitfalls that various contexts offer.

By the time a more mature Burke wrote Rhetoric of Motives in 1950, he had moved beyond Veblen’s observations and was looking to construct a more comprehensive theory. At this point Burke insists that Veblen’s “terminology of motives” is too limited in scope, and that his tendency to rationalize wide areas of human relationships is a mistake (RM 127). More specific to our concerns here, Burke insists that Veblen’s distinction between pecuniary motive and instinct of workmanship is “neither pliant nor comprehensive enough” (RM 127). Burke sees Veblen’s “pecuniary motive” not as dramatistic, but instead as a “special case of linguistic motive” (RM 129). He also describes Veblen’s work as “a superficial rhetoric in human relations” (RM 129). Veblen’s psychology, according to Burke, is “not so much dramatistic, as dramatized” (RM 127). Finally, Burke urges that Veblen is “rhetorically bland,” using “satire masked as science.” Veblen uses partisan words, according to Burke, but then wants there to be “no partisan connotations,” something that Burke finds ludicrous (RM 132).

If Veblen failed to develop a comprehensive theory of human culture, he nonetheless laid important groundwork for Burke’s own work. And Burke gives him credit, though he is vague (and later, forgetful) about the sources from which “trained incapacity” was drawn. Specifically, Burke gives authorial credit to Veblen throughout the “trained incapacity” section in Permanence and Change. Not only does the title of the section indicate Veblen is the source of the idea of trained incapacity; the section begins with the statement “Veblen had a concept of ‘trained incapacity’” (7). However, since Burke failed to cite any specific page number or even a particular text of Veblen’s, we must reconstruct his sources.

When Burke discussed the concept of trained incapacity in his “Counter-Gridlock” interview, he obviously had in mind Veblen’s discussion of the concept in HigherLearning in America. As I noted above, Veblen discusses the situation of the education of business students in America in a footnote in Higher Learning. Veblen urges that because these students are taught business methods and are taught to be exclusively economically motivated, the students are unable to see larger social concerns (HLA 152). Veblen sees these students as unable to think beyond their training as business people.

Burke is also discussing Veblen’s Higher Learning example when he writes about “business men” in Permanence and Change (7). Burke’s reference to Veblen is not specific, but the content he discusses is unique to a footnote in Veblen’s Higher Learning. Additionally, Burke must have either read or been exposed to The Instinct of Workmanship and the Industrial Arts, where Veblen first used the phrase trained incapacity in 1914. Again, Veblen was describing the behaviors of those operating in the business community and industry, noting their failure “to appreciate the large and general requirements of the industrial situation” (IWIA 347).

One reason Burke might have been unclear about the origins of the term is that the source of Burke’s own notion of the meaning of trained incapacity is derived from Higher Learning, where Veblen does not use the phrase, but discusses the concept. It is likely then that after reading the Higher Learning passage Burke connected it with the phrase that he had read earlier in Instinct of Workmanship and the Industrial Arts.

In any case, Burke quickly leaves Veblen’s narrow use of the phrase behind, expanding it to include broad sociological and cultural implications. Veblen’s singular use of the phrase trained incapacity in The Instinct of Workmanship and the State of the Industrial Arts did not indicate that it carried more than a concern for business, business students, and a culture that relies on them. Likewise, his reference to the concept of trained incapacity in Higher Learning in America also appears to restrict the term to businesses and business students. Veblen’s larger body of work, however, while not using the term trained incapacity specifically, does support a broader application of the term. What is of value here to Burke scholars is that Burke manages to take this one phrase and one description and understand it in terms of Veblen’s larger sociological research, drawing his own conclusions about the broad potential for the concept.

Burke’s reference to chickens suffering from trained incapacity may sound absurd, but it clearly makes the point that trained incapacity is not restricted to business students, industrial workers, or even humans in general. Indeed, it follows on Burke’s opening example of a trout that learns a valuable distinction between “food” and “bait,” examining critical distinctions at the most basic level of meaning. Burke’s use of trained incapacity not only expands Veblen’s use of that term, but provides a fecund concept that probably contributed to Burke’s thinking about orientation, perspective by incongruity, terministic screens, and other concepts that make up Burke’s theory of the symbol-using animal.

The article is one of the results of a master's thesis completed at the University Of Minnesota Department Of Rhetoric under the advisement of Dr. Art Walzer. A related paper was presented at the Triennial Kenneth Burke Conference in 2005. The author would like to thank the editors and reviewers of KB Journal—particularly Clarke Rountree—for their aid in taking this manuscript from a bulky thesis to its present state.

Note

1 That Veblen did indeed use this phrase was verified by John Gagnon, who successfully tracked it down in The Instinct of Workmanship and the State of the Industrial Arts after its "absence" was discussed on the Kenneth Burke discussion list.

Works Cited

Burke, Kenneth. Attitudes Toward History. 1935. Berkeley: California UP, 1984.

---. Counter-Statement. 1931. Berkeley: California UP, 1968.

---. Grammar of Motives. 1945. Berkeley: California UP, 1969.

---. Language as Symbolic Action. Berkeley: California UP, 1966.

---. Letter to David Cox. 14 Aug. 1946. (Hugh Dalziel Duncan Papers, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, Special Collections, Collection #17-25-F1 Special Collections/Morris Library) http://www.lib.siu.edu/spcol/inventory/part1.htm

---. On Human Nature: A Gathering While Everything Flows 1967-1984. Ed. William Rueckert and Angelo Bonadonna. Berkeley: California UP, 2003.

---. Permanence and Change. 1935. Berkeley: California UP, 1984.

---. Rhetoric of Motives. 1950. Berkeley: California UP, 1969.

Spindler, Michael. Veblen and Modern America: Revolutionary Iconoclast. Sterling: Pluto Press, 2002.

Stallings, Robert. ”President’s Column.” UnScheduled Events: International Committee on Disasters. 21.N2 (2003): 9 pars. 4 Jan. 2004

Veblen, Thorstein. The Higher Learning in America. 1918. New York: Sagamore Press, 1957.

---. The Instinct of Workmanship and the State of the Industrial Arts . New York: Macmillian, 1914.

---. “The Instinct of Workmanship and the Irksomeness of Labor.” American Journal of Sociology 4 (1898).

---. The Theory of Business Enterprise. New York: Scribner’s, 1904. http://de.geocities.com/veblenite/txt/tbe.txt

---. The Theory of the Leisure Class. New York: MacMillian, 1899.

LEARNED HOPELESSNESS

There is a wealth of unsorted info and articles on this topics out there; please editors or somebody with power start the learned helplessnes page so I can help build it up. I think I hav eproben my point enough with this info.

Please help add this vital and missing concept via getting the references and distinctions in the right format and contrasts with learned helplessness. I can't do this alone as not a a wikipedia expert in references and not a psychologists. —Preceding unsigned comment added by talk) 21:24, 30 November 2010 (UTC)

Besides the obvious linguistic similarity why is "learned hopelessness" related to learned helplessness as a distinct topic worthy of its own section, much less article? In the only half-way notable source I looked up they called "learned hopelessness" an extreme form of helplessness, eg: here and called "learned pessimism" a mild case of learned helplessness. It doesn't appear to be a distinct condition but, rather, a clever play on words for variations of degrees of learned helplessness (and uncommonly used as such.) One source I found accreditted the term to Martin Seligman, the source for the theory on learned helplessness. Indeed many of the sources I saw, poor as they were, seem to use hopelessness as a synonym for helplessness. Perhaps learned hopelessness should redirect to Cybermud (talk) 01:56, 11 December 2010 (UTC)

This man should be persecuted for crimes against nature. — Preceding unsigned comment added by talk) 04:06, 16 June 2014 (UTC)

Animal cruelty[edit]

I have reinserted the statement that the experiments were animal cruelty over Doc's objection. It seems fairly obvious to me that the infliction of pain that will in no way benefit the animal itself is clearly cruel (if it was done to a human it would clearly be considered cruel, so doing it to an animal is obviously "animal" cruelty.) I realize not all accept that inflicting pain on animals during testing is animal cruelty, but many do and we can have that criticism of the experiment included in the article. If you seek citation, for starters here is a NYT editorial arguing to that effect. Roy Brumback 23:14, 13 November 2007 (UTC)

I'm deleting the references to animal cruelty; they constitute a value judgment that is not germane to the article and manifestly violate WP:NPOV. If you'd like to discuss the cruelty aspect of the experiments, start a new subsection called "allegations of animal cruelty" and specify what published source (i.e. not yourself, WP:NOR) makes those arguments. The most we could say about the experiments while still being npov is the factual description, viz, that the experiments intentionally caused pain to animals, not for their own benefit, but for purposes of research which has produced results recognized as scientifically useful.JSoules (talk) 22:53, 22 December 2007 (UTC)
We can certainly say that various people have criticized these experiments as animal cruelty. talk) 10:53, 30 December 2007 (UTC)

As a compromise, I'm leaving the first reference to "animal cruelty" although I disagree with it. However, the line in the next paragraph, "In part two of the Seligman and Maier cruelty experiment..." is too much. If you referred to 'the cruel Seligman and Maier experiment', that would be grammatically correct, but it was not an experiment in cruelty. They were not inflicting pain on these dogs for giggles and grins. We innoculate human babies and I had my dog spayed. The infants and puppies didn't ask for the pain, nor do they understand why it was inflicted upon them, but that does not make it cruel. It is done for a purpose. Seligman's dogs did not benefit, but it was done for a purpose. In 1967 nobody knew what the psychological outcome would be. The editorial you reference (which is mainly concerned with food animals) says at one point "'Learned helplessness' is the psychological term,". THIS is the experiment where that term comes from! talk) 03:39, 17 November 2007 (UTC)

It was clearly an experiment to see what happened when you did cruel things to these dogs to see how they reacted based on what they believed they could do about stopping the pain that was being inflicted on them. How can you say that inflicting pain on something just to see what happens is not cruel? Because it had a purpose? Nazi experiments had a purpose and gained scientific knowledge, but they were still cruel. And just because you are not inflicting the pain for amusement does not mean its not cruel. And the author of the editorial clearly lists these specific experiments as cruel, as do several other sources, which I can cite if you wish. talk) 04:36, 17 November 2007 (UTC)
There's quite a difference between inflicting pain just to see what would happen, and inflicting pain as part of a controlled scientific experiment. "Cruelty" suggests that the experimenters received pleasure from the mere infliction of harm, which I doubt is the case. They'd probably be thrilled if there was a way to get the data without inflicting any pain. I think a better description might be "inhumane," or perhaps even "barbaric," as these words can describe the process of the experiments without implying any malicious intent from the experimenters.
""Cruelty" suggests that the experimenters received pleasure from the mere infliction of harm" No it doesn't; you're confusing 'sadism' with 'cruelty'. Cruelty according to the Collins English dictionary: "1. deliberate infliction of pain or suffering. 2. the quality or characteristic of being cruel." 'Cruel', however, is defined as inflicting pain/suffering without pity, so it depends whether the experimenters felt any pity for the animals, or were just cold automata when inflicting the pain (which would be sociopathic). —Preceding unsigned comment added by 89.243.49.144 (talk) 18:12, 11 September 2009 (UTC)

I can't deny the potential benefits to experiments on learned helplessness but share the concerns mentioned above when it comes to the lack of humanity of learned helplessness experiments without consent. Animals cant, don't and wouldn't consent to experiments where they are repeatedly tortured until and after they lose hope and feel helpless. I oppose censorship and would never support restricting information on this subject but torturing animals should be banned regardless of potential benefits. Torturing intelligent animals such as dogs, cats and apes should be banned at the very least, if a blanket ban on torturing mammals or animals in general seems excessive or unrealistic at this time. Changing the status of drugs such as hydroxyzine from prescription to over the counter could reduce the demand for animal experiments as this antihistamine is far safer and better tolerated than any of the antihistamines currently sold OTC. [1] NicholaiXD (talk) 18:50, 8 March 2013 (UTC)

Helplessness in People and their Health & Social Problem and Immunization[edit]

These sections are poorly written and even seem to draw the wrong conclusions from the research that they cite.

They're also very biased in favour of those wielding social power in cruel fashion, aiding and abetting the blaming of the individual for causing her/his own consequences post-cruelty, and thereby allowing those with social power to escape not only responsibility for what they've done, but the necessary actions to repair the damage they've caused to individuals, groups, nations, and the world. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 89.243.49.144 (talk) 18:17, 11 September 2009 (UTC)

Can I just say "yes" to this entire discussion, especially the comment above? The entire idea of so-called "learned helplessness" is incredibly offensive. — Preceding unsigned comment added by talk) 11:44, 7 September 2014

Torture, and the Strategic Helplessness of the American Psychological Association by Stephen Soldz

July 24, 2008 | ZCommunication

Jane Mayer’s new book, The Dark Side, has refocused attention on psychologists’ participation in Bush administration torture and detainee abuse. In one chapter Mayer provides previously undisclosed details about psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen’s role in the CIA’s brutal, "enhanced interrogation" techniques. These techniques apparently drew heavily on the theory of "learned helplessness" developed by former American Psychological Association President Martin Seligman. (Seligman’s work involved tormenting dogs with electrical shocks until they became totally unable or unwilling to extract themselves from the painful situation. Hence the phrase "learned helplessness.").

Mayer reports and Seligman has confirmed that, in 2002, Seligman gave a three-hour lecture to the Navy SERE school in San Diego. SERE is the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape program, which attempts to inoculate pilots, special forces, and other potential high-value captives against torture, should they be captured by a power that does not respect the Geneva Conventions. For reasons that are not clear, Seligman reportedly was not invited to the presentation by the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) that runs this program, but directly by the Central Intelligence Agency itself.

In responding to reports of his lecture to SERE psychologist, Dr. Seligman has confirmed the presence of both Mitchell and Jessen at his lecture. He also apparently asked his hosts if the lecture would be used for designing interrogation techniques. Seligman reports that they refused to answer his inquiry on the grounds of military security. Despite the reply, Seligman concluded that his presentation was intended solely to help SERE psychologists protect US troops. He also states unequivocally that he is personally opposed to torture.

The American Psychological Association (APA), the organization of which Seligman was president in 1999, echoed Dr. Seligman’s statement in a press release. The release denied allegations that Dr. Seligman knowingly contributed to the design of torture techniques. The APA, in its recent statements, neither denied nor addressed any of the other reports suggesting that the work of psychologists – including that of Seligman, Jessen, and Mitchellwas used to torture detainees. The only comment APA made about Jessen and Mitchell was that because they are not APA members they are not within the purview of the APA’s ethics committee.

What we do now know, from a report issued by the Defense Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and from documents released during recent hearings by the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), is that these SERE techniques, designed to ameliorate the effects of torture, were "reverse engineered," transformed from ensuring the safety of our own soldiers, to orchestrating the abuse of detainees in Guantánamo, Afghanistan and Iraq. These documents reveal, further, that certain SERE psychologists shifted roles from supervising protective SERE programs to overseeing SERE-inspired abusive interrogations. Several reporters have named Mitchell and Jessen (former SERE psychologists under contract) as responsible for this "reverse-engineering" that was used at secret CIA "black sites". The Senate Armed Senate Committee reported that other psychologists played a role in the "reverse-engineering" of SERE techniques for the Department of Defense at Guantánamo Bay and in Iraq. Senator Carl Levin, in his introductory comments to the hearings stated:

"a… senior CIA lawyer, Jonathan Fredman, who was chief counsel to the CIA’s CounterTerrorism Center, went to [Guantanamo] attended a meeting of GTMO staff and discussed a memo proposing the use of aggressive interrogation techniques. That memo had been drafted by a psychologist and psychiatrist from [Guantanamo] who, a couple of weeks earlier, had attended the training given at Fort Bragg by instructors from the JPRA SERE school…While the memo remains classified, minutes from the meeting where it was discussed are not. Those minutes … clearly show that the focus of the discussion was aggressive techniques for use against detainees."

The psychologist referred to in Levin’s opening remarks was APA member, Maj. John Leso, whose recommendations at that meeting included "sleep deprivation, withholding food, isolation, loss of time…[to] foster dependence and compliance". Also reported in the hearings was that psychologist Col. Morgan Banks had provided training in abusive SERE techniques to Guantánamo interrogators. Col. Banks, while not an APA member, was appointed to the APA’s Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS) task force on interrogations. APA has yet to comment upon the startling revelations of psychologist complicity from these committee hearings.

According to Maye em>The Dark Side, and other reporters over the past three years, in the weeks following Seligman’s lecture, Mitchell made liberal use of the "learned helplessness" paradigm in the harsh tactics he designed to interrogate prisoners held by the CIA. One prisoner was repeatedly locked in a fetal position; in a cage too tiny for him to do anything, other than to lie still in a fetal position. The cage was evidently designed not only to restrict movement, but also to make breathing difficult. In periods where the detainee was outside of the cage, the torture mechanism always remained in plain view so the detainee was constantly aware of his pending return to the device.

Another detainee was suspended on his toes with his wrists manacled above his head. This detainee, however, had a prosthesis that agents removed so that he either balanced on one foot for hours on end or hung suspended from his wrists.

Most detainees were subjected to long periods of isolation, often in total darkness, and often while naked. Human contact in these periods was minimized. In one case, the only human contact for a detainee occurred from a single daily visit when a masked man would show up to state, "You know what I want," and then disappear.

Based on these media reports and government documents, it seems likely that Dr. Seligman’s work on "learned helplessness" was used to aid the development of these torture techniques following his presentation at the SERE school.

APA’s response to the Seligman matter is perplexing. If Dr. Seligman’s report is accurate, and he was kept from knowing how the CIA would be using his material because he did not have security clearance, Seligman was evidently duped. At a minimum, one would hope the APA would be concerned enough about this deception to sound a cautionary alarm against psychologists’ naive engagement with government programs potentially involved in interrogation abuses.

Instead, the APA has put extraordinary effort into maintaining and expanding opportunities for psychologists to serve US intelligence and security institutions. As the APA’s Science Policy Insider News (SPIN) proudly announced in January 2005, "Since 9/11 psychologists have searched for opportunities to contribute to the nation’s counter terrorism and homeland security agenda."

These efforts included cosponsoring a conference with the CIA to investigate the efficacy of enhanced interrogation techniques, including the use of drugs and sensory bombardment. Among the reported organizers of that conference was APA member Kirk Hubbard, Chief of the Research & Analysis Branch, Operational Assessment Division of the CIA. Hubbard recruited the "operational expertise" for that conference. Among the attendees to this "by-invitation-only" conference were Mitchell and Jessen. (Hubbard also helped organize the event at which Seligman spoke and to which Mitchell and Jessen were invited.)

In addition, the APA co-sponsored a conference with the FBI during which it was suggested that therapists report to law-enforcement officials information obtained during therapy sessions regarding "national security risk." And just this past June, APA’s efforts included lobbying for the retention of "invaluable behavioral science programs within DoD’s Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA) as it reorganizes and loses personnel strength." For those who are not familiar with this issue, the CIFA program was closed down because of numerous scandals, including: misuse of national security letters to gain access to private citizen’s financial information without warrants, the resignation of a Congressman accused of accepting bribes in exchange for CIFA contracts, and, according to the New York Times, the collection of a wide-reaching domestic "database that included information about antiwar protests planned at churches, schools and Quaker meeting halls." The CIFA psychology directorate, although a top secret operation, was known for its risk assessments of Guantánamo detainees, including feeding questions to interrogators.

The issues of psychologist involvement in "national security" efforts are complex. Although there may be appropriate and ethically acceptable ways for psychologists to participate in such activities, even a cursory historical awareness indicates that such involvement is often ethically problematic. Whether for good or for ill, the CIA has a long record of tapping academic scientists as witting and unwitting consultants and researchers, and of providing protection through cover stories and secrecy. For example, the 1977 Senate investigation of the CIA Behavioral Modification Project (called MKULTRA) disclosed that the CIA had contracted with researchers at over 80 universities, hospitals, and other research-based institutions through a front funding agency. In the Senate hearing, the Director of Central Intelligence stated: "I believe we all owe a moral obligation to these researchers and institutions to protect them from any unjustified embarrassment or damage to their reputations which revelations of their identities might bring."[i] But these are not just ploys of the past. Recently, Dr. Belinda Canton, a long-time CIA intelligence manager and a member of the 2005 President’s Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, recommended opportunistic use of scientists as an approach to management of uncertainty: "Identify academics and scientists who may have insights" and note where "opportunities exist to exploit scientific cadre."[ii]

This history, along with the current, well-documented authorizations for detainee abuse, should have provided sufficient warning to APA leaders and to individual psychologists about the moral risks in aiding the national security apparatus, especially under the present U.S. administration. But the APA has not taken the lead in helping psychologists confront these dangerous ethical situations. To the contrary, the APA has been insensitive to the use of psychological techniques in torture and to the role of psychologists in aiding that torture. This insensitivity itself has shocked many psychologists here and abroad.

In 2006, Time magazine released the interrogation log of Guantanamo detainee 063, Mohammed al-Qahtani. This log demonstrated that al-Qahtani had been systematically tortured for six weeks in late 2002 and 2003. The log also alleged that psychologist and APA member Maj. John Leso was present at least several times during these episodes. The APA said nothing about this alleged participation of an APA member in documented torture. It is at least 23 months since ethics complaints were filed against Dr. Leso and still the APA has remained silent.

In May 2007, the Defense Department declassified the Office of Inspector General report, documenting the role of SERE psychologists in training military and CIA personnel in techniques of abuse that "violated the Geneva Conventions." The APA responded with silence. When we inquired about the APA’s reaction, we were told that the organization needed time to "carefully study" the report. It has been 14 months, and to date no APA leader has commented upon the Report.

The APA leadership has failed psychologists and failed the profession of psychology. It has also failed the country. When ethical guidance was required, the APA put its ethical authority in the hands of those involved in the questionable practices that needed investigation. When the evidence became overwhelming that psychologists helped design, implement, and standardize a U.S. torture regime, the APA remained silent. When it was reported that the use of psychological paradigms such as ‘learned helplessness’ have guided psychologists’ manipulation of detainee conditions, the APA continues to ignore or discount these reports. They instead assert that psychologists presence’ at CIA black sites and detention camps "assures safety." When it became clear that the APA should offer a strong voice and a clear policy prohibiting psychologists’ participation in operations that systematically violate the Geneva conventions and international law, the APA leadership raised concern that a "restraint of trade" lawsuit might be brought against them. These arguments, of course, do not pass the red face test in any discerning forum of world opinion.

These are not our values. The APA leadership has shamed us and our profession with its strategic helplessness. It is time for the APA to clarify that psychologists may not ethically support in any way abusive or coercive interrogation tactics in any settings. It is also time to identify and hold publicly responsible the individual psychologists who have created the institution that the APA has now become. It is time to hold these psychologists accountable for developing the widespread and systematic moral failures in the organization’s current infrastructure. Indeed, if we do not do this, then we, too, are complicit with torture.

References

[i] U.S. Senate, Select Committee on Intelligence and Subcommittee on Health and Scientific Research of the Committee on Human Resources. (1977) Project MKULTRA: the CIA’s program of research in behavioral modification. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC. Pp. 7, 12-13, 123 & 148-149.

[ii] [Canton, Belinda. (2008). The active management of uncertainty. International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, 21 (3): 487-518.]

Psychologists, Guantanamo and Torture » CounterPunch Tells the Facts, Names the Names by STEPHEN SOLDZ

For years, the varied mental health professions in the United States have been fighting turf wars. Psychiatrists tried to keep psychologists from being able to conduct therapy or, more recently, from prescribing psychotropic medications. Psychologists fought for rights to conduct these treatments. Psychologists, in turn, fought the attempts of their Masters-level colleagues for professional recognition. Social workers, mental health counselors, and psychoanalysts each fight for recognition against opposition from others.

These battles are fought out through traditional legislative lobbying and pressure. They are, however, also fought through showing one group’s value in furthering the interests of the powerful and through organized representatives of each profession maintaining access to non-legislative corridors of power. Thus, keeping in favor with the powerful and not alienating them can be a central aspect of a profession’s strategy of advancement.

In this decades-long struggle, the profession of psychology has tried to distinguish itself in various ways. One of these ways is through emphasizing its scientific character. Thus, representatives of organized psychology have been at pains to demonstrate the value of the "science of psychology" to the powerful in industry and in government, including the military and the national security establishment. In addition, psychology’s value to the education establishment has been emphasized, as has its value in industrial relations and marketing. World War II provided many opportunities for psychology to demonstrate its value to the war effort including through the screening of soldiers, the development of propaganda techniques to motivate the home front and to undermine enemy morale, the use of human factors engineering to improve airplanes, and the treatment of psychological casualties from the war.

The post-World War II development of a militarized national security state provided many further opportunities for psychology to garner attention to its contributions to the art of propaganda and the development of useable high-tech weapons through human factors engineering, among numerous others.

One particularly disturbing area where psychologists were attempting to demonstrate their value was in the development of sophisticated techniques of interrogation that could obtain information from unwilling captives through the application of behavior modification techniques based on psychological science. Historian Alfred W. McCoy has shed light in this area in his recent book A Question of Torture and in numerous articles and interviews. He documents the decades-long CIA effort to utilized psychological expertise to develop forms of torture that could break down the personality of detainees, rendering them, it was hoped, incapable of withholding desired information. Many of these technique were utilized during the Vietnam conflict and in the various brutal U.S.-supported counterinsurgency campaigns in Latin American in the 1970s and 1980s.

Such applications of psychological knowledge posed thorny issues for organized psychology, always on the lookout for new ways of demonstrating psychology’s value to the powerful. While their morally objectionable quality made direct endorsement impossible, to straightforwardly condemn these applications would run the risk of alienating precisely those decision-makers who might be impressed with the potential contributions of psychology as a science and as a profession. Thus, silence about such abuses of psychology is what one would expect from the American Psychological Association, the country’s largest representative of organized psychology and silence is what was observed.

The Global War on Terror, launched after 9-11, provided yet another opportunity to experiment with these behavioral science-based torture techniques. The establishment of a detention center at Guantánamo for those detained during the Afghanistan war and other battles in the "Global War on Terrorism" provided a particularly favorable environment. A total institution was created who inmates, the detainees, have, at least in the administration’s opinion, absolutely no rights and where all aspects of their daily life can be monitored and controlled. The administration’s legal doctrine emphasized that essentially anything short of direct murder was legally acceptable.

Various "behavioral scientists" from psychology and psychiatry were brought in to help the development of this total institution devoted to complete destruction of the personality. In 2005 it was revealed by the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) and the New York Times that mental health professionals were serving as consultants on Behavioral Science Consultation Teams, BSCT (colloquially referred to as "biscuit" teams) at Guantánamo, designed to advise interrogators. These teams consult in every aspect of interrogation. As the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer told Democracy Now!, one psychiatrist determined that a particular inmate would be allowed seven toilet paper squares a day, while another inmate who was afraid of the dark was deliberately kept almost totally in the dark. Another consultant behavioral scientist, psychologist James Mitchell, recommended that interrogators treat a detainee in such a way as to generate a form of helplessness known as "learned helplessness."

Authors M. Gregg Bloche and Jonathan H. Marks noted in their 2005 NEJM article that interrogations at Guantánamo are often designed to increase stress by means verging on, or even constituting torture:

"Military interrogators at Guantánamo Bay have used aggressive counter-resistance measures in systematic fashion to pressure detainees to cooperate. These measures have reportedly included sleep deprivation, prolonged isolation, painful body positions, feigned suffocation, and beatings. Other stress-inducing tactics have allegedly included sexual provocation and displays of contempt for Islamic symbols."

They go on to note that:

"Since late 2002, psychiatrists and psychologists have been part of a strategy that employs extreme stress, combined with behavior-shaping rewards, to extract actionable intelligence from resistant captives."

Recently, the United Nations Committee against Torture went further and stated that "detaining persons indefinitely without charge, constitutes per se a violation of the Convention" Against Torture. Thus, according to this official body, the existence of Guantánamo in its present form is itself illegal. They went on to join the many organizations and institutions, including most recently, the European Parliament, to call for Guantánamo’s closing.

[More information on the interrogation techniques used by American forces at Guantánamo and elsewhere, as well as on their effects on the psychological well-being of those subjected to them, can be found in the Physicians for Human Rights report: Break Them Down: Systematic Use of Psychological Torture by US Forces.]

Even leaving aside the general issue of whether interrogations of the kind conducted at Guantánamo are ever morally acceptable, the participation of mental health professionals in them is potentially in conflict with the ethics codes governing the psychiatric and psychological professions, those of the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association. The Abu Ghraib scandal with its graphic photographic evidence shone a bright spotlight on the abuses that occurred in American detention facilities in this Global War, and after the horrors occurring at Guantánamo and the role of mental health professionals in them were widely reported on, silence by the psychological Association became more difficult to maintain. Pressure mounted for both the Psychological and Psychiatric Associations to do something about psychologists and psychiatrists aiding the torturous interrogations occurring at Guantánamo.

After an extended period of discussion and debate, on May 22, 2006, the American Psychiatric Association endorsed a policy statement that unambiguously stated that under no circumstances should psychiatrists take part in interrogations, at Guantánamo or elsewhere. The crucial section states:

"No psychiatrist should participate directly in the interrogation of persons held in custody by military or civilian investigative or law enforcement authorities, whether in the United States or elsewhere. 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."

The American Psychological Association, in contrast, has adamantly refused to endorse any such statement, saying only that psychologists should behave ethically. Initially, the organization did what organizations often do when embroiled in unwanted controversy: they appointed a Task Force. The Task Force was given a broad mandate to look into what position the Association should take regarding psychologist involvement in national security interrogations in general. This mandate may have had the effect of diluting the Task Force’s focus on the abuse at Guantánamo and psychologists’ involvement in them.

This Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security included members of the Peace Psychology division of the Association, but it also included psychologists engaged in national security and military activities. (One source claims that four members, out of about eight, were connected to the military. Another source believe a smaller number of members had military or national security connections. A third source, a published article by an Association Division President, states that 6 of 10 members "had ties to the Department of Defense."

Oddly, the membership of the Task Force was kept private, "because of concerns expressed about their personal safety," as it was explained by a former member who refused to elaborate further. However, it has been established that the Task Force included Colonel Louie (Morgan) Banks, identified by Jane Mayer in the July 7, 2005 New Yorker as a psychologist involved the Pentagon’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) program which trains military personnel considered likely to be captured in resisting extreme abuse by their captors. Strangely, for one serving on a policy-recommending body, Col. Banks is not even a member of the Association. Frank Summers, an activist in attempts to change Association policy, succinctly stated the problem with Banks being on the Task Force when he recently wrote in an email "Isn’t putting him on the TF equivalent to Cheney being in charge of energy policy? " In addition to Banks, some accounts state that at least one other Task Force member had connections to Guantánamo, but I have been unable to get unambiguous confirmation of this.

Like the membership and its process of appointment, information about the deliberations of the Task Force was also kept private; members agreed to let the Task Force’s report stand on its own and not to discuss its deliberations. The report does indicate that agreement was not reached on several issues. Other accounts indicate that a weak initial draft was strengthened by pressure from unhappy Association members.

In June, 2005 this Task Force issued its final report. In a highly unusual procedure, the Association’s Board of Directors immediately formally adopted the report without the usual discussion and approval by the broader-based Council of Representatives. This report explicitly stated that it is ethical for psychologists to engage in national security interrogations:

"It is consistent with the APA Ethics Code for psychologists to serve in consultative roles to interrogation and information-gathering processes for national security-related purposes."

While the report reiterated that psychologists should not be involved in any way in "torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment," the Task Force stated that it was not charged to conduct any type of investigation, and thus formed no opinion as to whether any unethical behaviors had occurred.

The Task Force further concluded that no modifications to the Association’s Ethics Code were required to deal with the issues of psychologists serving in the various national security roles. Strangely, given the origins of the task force in the controversy about abuse (aka torture) at Guantánamo, the report makes no mention of that or any other specific facility.

It appears that the non-military well-meaning members of the Task Force were outmaneuvered by APA officials who gave it such a wide charge involving all types of national security roles that members did not dare say that psychologists should abstain completely from involvement in national security related activities. Once put in this position, the members ended up stating platitudes akin to the reassurances from the U.S. government that the United States would never engage in torture. Like the Bush administration, the APA leadership has refused to define "torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment," giving the Task Force’s edicts no force to actually shape policy.

At a late stage in the Task Force’s existence, after their report was issued, as they were to turn to clarifying some details in an Ethics Casebook entry, one of the non-military members, Mike Wessells resigned, stating :

"continuing work with the Task Force tacitly legitimates the wider silence and inaction of the APA on the crucial issues at hand. At the highest levels, the APA has not made a strong, concerted, comprehensive, public and internal response of the kind warranted by the severe human rights violations at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay."

Wessells explained that he was not complaining directly about the Task Force, which:

"had a very limited mandate and was not structured in a manner that would provide the kind of comprehensive response or representative process needed."

Needed, rather, was:

"a strong, proactive, comprehensive response affirming our professional commitment to human well-being and sounding a ringing condemnation of psychologists’ participation not only in torture but in all forms of cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of detainees, including the use or support of tactics such as sleep deprivation."

Of course, such a "strong, proactive, comprehensive response" has never come from the Association.

As a further indication that the Task Force report did not mean that the Association was actually interested in doing anything real about psychologists’ participation in torture, and as a sign of support for George Bush’s National Security State, then APA President Ronald F. Levant traveled to Guantánamo in October, 2005. The Press Release announcing the trip indicated how far the Association was willing to go to support the camp that Amnesty International calls "the gulag of our time." It made clear that the Association leadership never intended to put a stop to psychologists’ involvement in Guantánamo. To the contrary, President Levant was quoted as saying:

"’I accepted this offer to visit Guantánamo because I saw the invitation as an important opportunity to continue to provide our expertise and guidance for how psychologists can play an appropriate and ethical role in national security investigations. Our goals are to ensure that psychologists add value and safeguards to such investigations and that they are done in an ethical and effective manner that protects the safety of all involved.’"

Eighteen months after the Abu Ghraib scandal brought the horrors occurring in American detention facilities to the world’s attention, after even the mainstream press had numerous articles about how Gen. Miller of Guantánamo brought his special breed of brutality to Iraq with recommendations to "Gitmoize" Abu Ghraib, the Association Press Release contained no acknowledgement that anything out of the ordinary was going on at Guantánamo. As President Levant gushed:

"’This trip gave me an opportunity to ask questions and observe a brief snapshot of the Guantánamo facility first hand,’ Levant stated. ‘As APA’s work in studying the issues presented by our country’s national security needs continues, this trip was another opportunity for the Association to inform and advise the process.’"

The Association’s campaign to defend Guantánamo and psychologists’ participation there continued under the next Association President, Gerald Koocher. One month after assuming office, President Koocher devoted his monthly Presidential column in the Association’s APA Monitor to defending the organization and its refusal to do anything in response to the horrors well-documented as occurring at Guantánamo. In Orwellian fashion, he entitled his defense of inaction in the face of barbarity: "Speaking against torture." In this column he attacked Association critics while trying to change the subject:

"A number of opportunistic commentators masquerading as scholars have continued to report on alleged abuses by mental health professionals. However, when solicited in person to provide APA with names and circumstances in support of such claims, no data have been forthcoming from these same critics and no APA members have been linked to unprofessional behaviors. The traditional journalistic dictum of reporting who, what, where and when seems notably absent."

Thus, the ethical policy issue of participation of psychologists in the illegal activities at Guantánamo was changed to one of personal culpability. Could it be proven that a given named psychologist engaged in a particular proscribed behavior. Through this ruse the Association tried to negate all press, United Nations, and NGO criticism. In the absence of an explicit ethics complaint against an individual, the Association would do nothing. As the Association officials knew well, the names of most psychologists offering their "services" at Guantánamo, as well as details on what those services are is a closely guarded secret.

In this same article President Koocher then used a common technique of embattled leaders as he implicitly attempted to rally the psychologist community against the hated other, the psychiatrists:

"Many of our psychiatric colleagues have offered interpretive criticism, although their professional association has yet to agree on an official position. One proposed draft before the psychiatric association includes an itemization of specific prohibited tactics they deem as torture. When carefully scrutinized, their draft bears a remarkable resemblance to our position, although no journalist has yet commented on this point. Likewise, no journalist­including those critical of the PENS report­has commented upon an interesting irony: Despite psychiatrists’ opposition to prescription privileges for psychologists, the psychiatric association’s list of forbidden coercive techniques omits any mention of the use of drugs, implicitly allowing such practices."

In a recent debate with critics, Koocher utilized yet another defense that seems destined for greater use now that pressure is growing on the Association to act. He made a distinction between those psychologists providing health services to detainees, who, he claimed, were forbidden from using information thus gained to aid interrogators, and those behavioral scientist consultants who are not there to tend to detainees and are therefore free to aid interrogation. However, even Koocher had to admit that all psychologists are bound by the principle of "do no harm." He, of course, failed to explain how participation in the workings of an institution designed to destroy the personalities of those incarcerated there could ever meet the "do no harm" principle."

The campaign of the American Psychological Association to deflect criticism of psychologists’ involvement at Guantánamo has been unrelenting. Concerned members pressed for an independent investigation to clarify what psychologists actually did at Guantánamo, but the Association refused. Members pushed for a change to the ethics code stating that psychologists did not follow laws or orders when to do so would violate basic human rights, but were met with the argument that such a statement could be used against psychologist practitioners in lawsuits. Critics attempted to have the Association explicitly state that international law should be consulted in addition to United States law on such issues as the definitions of human rights and their violation or the definition of torture and inhuman behavior; they failed. The Association leadership announced that they would develop an ethics casebook entry clarifying acceptable and unacceptable behavior in psychologist-assisted interrogations, but have so far not followed through.

There matters stood when the June 7, 2006, New York Times brought word that the Association’s position was carefully noted by the Pentagon, and that, from now on, the military would prefer psychologists over psychiatrists:

"Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, told reporters that the new policy favoring the use of psychologists over psychiatrists was a recognition of differing positions taken by their respective professional groups.

The military had been using psychiatrists and psychologists alike on behavioral science consultation teams, called ‘biscuit’ teams because of the acronym, to advise interrogators on how best to obtain information from prisoners.

But Dr. Steven S. Sharfstein, recent past president of the American Psychiatric Association, noted in an interview that the group adopted a policy in May unequivocally stating that its members should not be part of the teams.

The counterpart group for psychologists, the American Psychological Association, has endorsed a different policy. It said last July that its members serving as consultants to interrogations involving national security should be ‘mindful of factors unique to these roles and contexts that require special ethical consideration.’"

For many activist psychologists in the Association who had patiently played the organization’s game of Task Force, Board discussion, input here, input there, while no substantive change in Association policy occurred, this news was the proverbial straw that broke the camels back. Members who had been urging caution and a one-step-at-a-time approach for months suddenly found themselves urging withholding dues. Within days, an email campaign to the Association’s President Koocher was launched and 300 emails were sent in 48 hours. Koocher responded with derision and condescension, while explicitly endorsing psychologists’ duty to aid the National Security State. One version of the letter he sent:

"You are dead wrong.

The APA has not been silent.

The APA Board of Directors understands and appreciates that its members have strong opinions about psychologists’ involvement in interrogations, and that their opinions are not uniform. Please recognize that interrogation does not equate to torture and that many civilian and military contexts exist in which psychologists ethically participate in information gathering in the public interest without harming anyone or violating our ethical code. Please also examine press reports with healthy skepticism and seek facts, rather than reflexively engaging in letter-writing campaigns predicated on inadequate access to the data.

The Board has adopted as APA policy a Task Force Report, which unequivocally prohibits psychologists from engaging in, participating, or countenancing torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. As the basis for its position, the Task Force looked first to Principle A in the Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct, "Do No Harm," and then to Principle B, which addresses psychologists’ responsibilities to society. Both ethical responsibilities are central to the profession of psychology. By virtue of Principle A, psychologists do no harm. By virtue of Principle B, psychologists use their expertise in, and understanding of, human behavior to aid in the prevention of harm.

In both domestic and national security-related contexts, these ethical principles converge as psychologists are mandated to take affirmative steps to prevent harm to individuals being questioned and, at the same time, to assist in eliciting reliable information that may prevent harm to others.

It is critical to note that in addressing these issues through a Task Force report, the American Psychological Association was responding to psychologists in national security settings who had approached APA seeking guidance in the most ethical course of action. The Board views as its responsibility supporting our colleagues and members who are striving to do the right thing. The Board encourages its members who have different points of view on this or any issue to make their positions known, and welcomes the opportunity for further discussion of this issue at the August Council meeting."

Ignoring the "you are dead wrong," an introduction that was even more tasteless when used just a few days after the suicide of three hopeless inmates in the Guantánamo hell-hole, the note made clear to wavering members that the Association leadership intends to continue business as usual, that no action on the moral challenge of our time will come unless the members force it.

At this moment leadership in opposition was taken by the Social Justice section (Section 9) of the Division of Psychoanalysis (Division 9; truth in packaging warning: I’m a member of this Section). Within hours of Section members receiving the Koocher email, members who had been willing to work within the Association structure decided that as one member put it in an email on the Section’s listserv, "It’s time for us to accept . [the] view that the APA leadership is fully participatory in the problem of using obfuscation and propaganda to justify current military aims and methods."

Quickly Section members to launch a petition drive demanding a change in Association policy. A Petition was quickly written and launched on June 15th [at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/483607021] and attempts began to spread the word to members throughout the diverse Association. [Another truth in packaging warning: I am one of the authors of the petition and am listed as its sponsor.]

In the weeks since then a range of organizations, including the Divisions of Social Justice of various Association divisions and others outside the Association, including Physicians for Human Rights and the Ignacio Martín-Baró Fund have initiated discussions on a coordinated strategy to change Association policy. Initial agreement was obtained on supporting attempts to have the Association, at its August convention, reiterate its statements that members should not participate in torture or abusive interrogations. There seems to be nothing in this statement that would be opposed by the Association leadership, who likely will claim this is already Association policy. The question remains open whether this group will go further and try and get the Association to state that members may not participate in interrogations of detainees from the Global War on Terrorism in any capacity and under any circumstances. It seems unlikely that this group will take the additional step of demanding the Association call for the closing of Guantánamo and similar institutions.

I suspect that changing Association policy will require modification of the tactics thus far used by critics. To date, most objections from within the Association have been framed fairly narrowly in terms of the details of the ethics code and what it says, or should say, about psychologist’s participation in coercive interrogations. This approach gets one into the realm of legal reasoning and detailed interpretation of texts. As hundreds of years of legal argument demonstrated, such reasoning can lead to many different conclusions, depending on where the reasoner is trying to go. And Association officials have demonstrated their ability, even their genius, to bend moral reasoning to support their position that psychologists’ have a right, perhaps even a duty, to serve at Guantánamo and similar facilities. [See, for example, the decidedly different, but both well-presented arguments by President Koocher in a Democracy Now! interview on June 16: , and by Association Director of Ethics Stephen Behnke, posted at around the same time: http://www.apa.org/releases/PENSfinal_061606.pdf] While critics need to rebut these detailed arguments, the battle will not be won at that level, just as major social changes are seldom decisively won in court without accompanying social changes occurring outside the courtroom.

Association members critical of current policy have been highly resistant to openly denouncing Guantánamo for the concentration camp that it is. They have by and large so far not joined in any organized fashion those, such as the U.N. Committee Against Torture, who state clearly that a total institution imprisoning people "indefinitely without charge", where the inmates have no rights, no protections, virtually no ability to control any aspect of their environment, is itself torture. Psychologists, indeed moral human beings, simply have no role in such an institution. To be there in any capacity is to do harm. The arguments so far have been akin to a Nazi-era medical society objecting solely to doctors serving in the death camps, and not to the existence of the death camps themselves. I believe that this is a mistake.

The participation of psychologists at Guantánamo is not simply a professional issue. It is a major moral challenge for the very concept of using knowledge for good and not for evil. If this participation continues, psychology will have lost its soul, just as our entire country is in danger of loosing its soul as we turn away from these evils being committed in our name.

As Association members, and non-members, develop a more aggressive approach to changing Association policy, they should keep in mind this history. It makes clear that the commitment of Association leaders to demonstrating the value of psychology through furthering some of the most sordid aspects of the national security state is deep and long-standing. The last couple of days have brought further evidence of the close ties between the Association and the military; critics have learned that only one only one person was invited to address the August Association convention on the Guantánamo issue, General Kiley, the Surgeon General of the army who drafted the report that recommends using only psychologists for interrogations. Geberal Kiley will only respond to questions submitted in advance. Given the close ties between the psychological Association and the military, it clear Association that will not be changed easily. Change will require extended pressure, using a wide range of tools, in order to impact such a deep seated policy. It remains to be seen if the activist members will be able to maintain the energy and passion aroused by recent news and events, or whether they will again lapse into that state of "learned helplessness" that Association behavior appears designed to induce.

STEPHEN SOLDZ, a researcher and psychoanalyst, is Director of the Center for Research, Evaluation, and Program Development at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. He is a member of Roslindale Neighbors for Peace and Justice and founder of Psychoanalysts for Peace and Justice. He maintains the Iraq Occupation and Resistance Report web page. He can be reached at: ssoldz@bgsp.edu.

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Last updated: March 20, 2016