Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Protecting Psychologists Who Harm: The APA's Latest Wrong Turn

040712-eidelson

Camp Delta, where detainees on the war on terrorism are kept, at the U.S. Naval base in Guantanamo, October 9, 2003. (Photo: Angel Franco / The New York Times)

Shortly after learning about the American Psychological Association's (APA) late February announcement of its new Member-Initiated Task Force to Reconcile Policies Related to Psychologists' Involvement in National Security Settings, I found my thoughts turning to the School of the Americas, Blackwater and perhaps even more surprisingly, the Patagonian toothfish. Those may seem like a strange threesome, but they share one important thing in common. All have undergone a thorough repackaging and renaming in a marketing effort aimed at obscuring - but not altering - some ugly truth.

The School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia, became infamous for training Latin American soldiers who returned home and engaged in repressive campaigns involving rape, torture and murder of political dissidents. To combat its negative image, the school was renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, but the nature of its activities remain largely unchanged. During the Iraq War, Blackwater, a private military company supported by hundreds of millions of dollars in US government contracts, gained international notoriety on many counts, including its use of excessive and often deadly force against Iraqi civilians. The company therefore renamed itself - twice - first as Xe Services and then again as Academi, with essentially the same core businesses. As for the Patagonian toothfish, it's wrong to blame the fish itself. But in an effort to spur sales, merchants renamed it Chilean sea bass (for similar reasons, the slimehead fish is now known as orange roughy instead)...