Role Of Psychologists In Developing Torture Techniques

2260 words - 9 pages

The United Nations Convention against Torture (1987) developed the most widely used definition of torture, stating that torture is “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person, information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.”
An Enduring Relationship between Psychology and the United States Government Begins
According to Routh (1997), the field of psychology began to expand enormously after World War II. This is no coincidence, as psychology has been linked to the United States government and the military since the Second World War as a means of symbiotic gain (Summers, 2008).
Several subspecialties of psychology were needed and thus created during World War II (Summers, 2008), and each contributed to the war efforts in a different manner. During the war, psychologists facilitated the success of the Allies by screening and classifying potential servicemen (Mangelsdorff, 2006), searching for a system to break group and individual resistance (Herman, 1995), and conducting research investigations on several topics including leadership, aggression, and gun sight designs (Summers, 2008). Psychologists also wrote a series entitled The American Soldier, which demonstrated that United States servicemen were similar to servicemen in other countries in that they were all trying to avoid physical trauma and attempting to gain promotions in the ranks (Stouffer, 1949). By far, psychologists’ most substantial contribution to the war was their research on captives and analyses of Nazi documents and speeches, all directed at destroying detainees’ spirits (Summers, 2008). Psychologists also conducted the Strategic Bombing Survey (Leighton, 1949) with the breakthrough discovery that physical threats must be accompanied by the use of psychological strategies during interrogations.
In 1945, the Department of Defense began funding psychologists as reimbursement for their efforts during World War II (Summers, 2008). The Office of Naval Research, followed by the National Science Foundation, and soon other major service branches including the Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences began employing psychologists to do research as well as funding the field of psychology, which contributed to its growth in size, both in interest and in research subspecialties (Summers, 2008). The Department of Defense was the largest institutional sponsor of...

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