Torture, Is it the Right’s Direction?

How can America recover her moral compass? Perhaps, this is a start.

Today I received a letter from the American Psychological Association sent out to all its members. After six years of participation by its members, this wise and prestigious club of mental intelligence is at last asking us to vote on what amounts to “just say no to torture.”

The petition resolution states:

“Whereas torture is an abhorrent practice in every way contrary to the APA’s stated mission of advancing psychology as a science, as a profession, and as a means of promoting human welfare.”

Whereas the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Mental Health and the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture have determined that treatment equivalent to torture has been taking place at the United Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Whereas this torture took place in the context of interrogations under the direction and supervision of Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCTs) that included psychologists.

Whereas the Council of Europe has determined that persons held in CIA black sites are subject to interrogation techniques that are also equivalent to torture, and because psychologists helped develop abusive interrogation techniques used at these sites.

Whereas the International Committee of the Red Cross determined in 2003 that the conditions in the US detention facility in Guantanamo Bay are themselves tantamount to torture, and therefore by their presence psychologists are playing a role in maintaining these conditions."

Several years ago I sat in a quiet airport nibbling on a sandwich out of boredom that I had bought in Atlanta before I was bumped up to business class and was luckily served a nice meal. It was late, my next plane was late and I wanted my own bed badly. Most of the airport stores had closed unless you were looking for a double espresso.

A young man, maybe late twenties, slept draped uncomfortably over the armrest designed to force people to sit rather than rest during their trips. It was a troubled sleep, his forehead wrinkled and his face pinched in a scowl even though he was a nice looking guy. His hair was shaved close on the sides and mowed flat on the top in the hideous scalped, just-out-of-prison, style popular with the younger set. I was staring at him when he startled awake and our gazes locked. He snorted a little laugh.

“Guess I fell asleep,” he said apologetically.

“Been traveling long?” I enquired.

“Too long, about twenty-four hours I guess.”

I felt like a wimp with only six hours since I left L. A. I have kids so without much hesitation I offered him the other half of my sandwich. He looked at me intensely for a moment, stretched out a long arm, thanked me enthusiastically and then began to devour the turkey baguette. Clearly, he had not eaten in twenty-four hours either.

“Where have you been?” I asked”

“Iraq…and other places”

“Are you a soldier?”

“I am an interrogator.”

O. K. here I was faced off with one of Them. I had been writing letters to members of congress and senators, writing columns in newspapers and speaking out to anyone that would listen to me about our shameful reality. I was furious with our government that ordered and endorsed bombing innocent civilians, killing babies for nonsense reasons, shock and awe-ing small countries that posed no danger to the powerful USA, and rather than a fair trial in a court of law (American) resorting to torturing people until they lied themselves out of pain (Nazi).

Here I was sitting across from a perpetrator of my worst visions of brutality and Neanderthal thinking munching hungrily on my sandwich like one of my boys. I felt a little conflicted.

Maybe it was the sharing of a sandwich, or his fatigue, or the fact that I have been a psychotherapist for a quarter of a century, I am not sure why. He stopped eating and looked at me with that intense stare again but this time it was strange, like he was somewhere else.

What he said next made my blood run cold.

“When you people find out what we are doing in those places it’s going to be real bad. It’s real bad.” His shoulders fell a few inches and his eyes focused on me again.

For all my bravado and speaking out, these were paranoid times. I fought the temptation to look behind me to see if airport security was listening to this. I was so afraid he was going to tell me gross details that would stay locked in my mind forever, details that would make me a security risk when I was just sitting here minding my own sandwich. He met my eyes one last time, a haunted look, unprotected, as if I knew what he knew. He leaned back in his chair and was asleep again in a few moments.

Yikes! What just happened! I heard the announcement of my plane and gathered my things quickly. How many times has the Bush administration gone on record saying we do not torture. Although the kid did not tell me it was true, that last look between us told me he tortured. I have seen that expression on abandoned children, molest victims and PTSD soldiers enough times to recognize when there is so much damage that it is unbearable for the human psyche.

I have kept this conversation between two strangers secret because I knew that it was a mistake on his part, the boy revealed too much to me. I knew in this atmosphere of unbridled presidential privilege and war mentality that his punishment might be severe. Yet, my well-meaning silence contributed to our society’s permissive stance that allowed each act of murder and torture to continue. Each one that voted for the current administration not once but twice shares the burden of their deeds. Each voice that has remained silent and passive is a loud endorsement of torture, cruelty and above all greed by the corporate and political powerful.

The comics can tell water boarding jokes now and Americans laugh but would they want their children to experience the torture our side is administering to an untried “enemy?” I think not. Should the people ordering such horrific tortures be required to experience it on themselves before denying that it is “torture?” I think yes. In public.

The APA found a tiny voice that attempts to question standard operating procedure at Guantanamo this week. I checked the small box that voted yes to the following:

Be it resolved that psychologists may not work in settings where persons are held outside of, or in violation of, either International Law or the US Constitution, unless they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights.

I wonder if the rest of the shrinks in my profession will vote no (that would be a yes for torture). I pray not.

Do you feel patriotic when you imagine death to Muslims… some of whom are the sweetest people I know? Once American voices shouted out for death to Japanese, the English, the Italians, the Germans, the Koreans, on and on even to US Northerners or Southerners. Do not these battle cries sound hollow and so unbelievably stupid after time has passed? If only diplomacy had trumped bloodthirsty impulsiveness.

If you ask yourself if you are standing up for America by endorsing inhumane treatment and needless war, I think your grandpa may have said it most clearly when he told you two wrongs never make a right. Speak up for America to find her moral high ground again. That is how we became the greatest nation in the world in the first place.

©2009, Molly Barrow

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Dr. Molly Barrow holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and is the author of the new book, Matchlines: A revolutionary New Way of looking at relationships and making the right choices in love. She is an authority on relationship and psychological topics, a member of the American Psychological Association and a licensed mental health counselor. Dr. Molly has appeared as an expert on NBC, PBS, KTLA, and in O Magazine, Psychology Today, Newsday,,, Women's Health and Women's World. Please visit: or Take the new relationship compatibility test, Match Lines Systems for Successful Relationships for Singles, Couples and Business at Molly has a radio program, Your Relationship Answers at

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