Consult: “Chaplain A”


Military Chaplaincy Consultation on

“Psychological Treatment of an Abu Ghraib Whistle Blower”

Retired U.S. Army Chaplain

November 10, 2008

80-minute teleconference

Transcribed by Jean Maria Arrigo

Edited and anonymized by Ray Bennett

Corrected and amended by Consultant on January 8, 2009

Teleconference Participants:  “Consultant” (anonymized upon request), Jean Maria Arrigo, Martha Davis, Joe Gorin, and Jancis Long

Note:  the transcript has been streamlined a bit.

Teleconference Consultation with a Retired Military Chaplain on

“Psychological Treatment of an Abu Ghraib Whistle Blower”

CONSULTANT: I retired from the Army as a senior field grade officer.  I served as a chaplain for most of that time, retired as colonel.  My last duty assignment was as an installation [i.e., military post] chaplain. 

     While I have the floor, let me say, thank you, Jean Maria, for inviting me to participate. 

ARRIGO:  You might tell us what denomination you are with.

CONSULTANT:  I am endorsed as a minister and as a chaplain by the Southern Baptist Convention.

DAVIS:  Did you do battlefield work as well?

CONSULTANT:  No, regretfully I was not deployed in the Iraq or Afghanistan Southwest Asia zones.

ARRIGO:  Okay, Martha, why don’t you go ahead and introduce yourself.

DAVIS:  I’m Martha Davis.  I’m a clinical psychologist, and also I did research on criminal confessions.  That work led me to concern about the involvement of psychologists in detainee interrogations, which has been a couple-of-years-plus  coming.  And I’ve been involved with WithholdAPAdues.   Also, I’ve just completed a documentary called Interrogation Psychologists, which is on the internet now.

LONG:  I’m a clinical psychologist, currently the President of Psychologists for Social Responsibility.  I am a part of the team for the Casebook. 

     I’ve been very interested in the consultations we’ve been having, and I’m looking forward to hearing yours, because I’ve never before had conversations with people who’ve been at the heart of things in the Army.

GORIN:  I’m Joe Gorin, also a clinical psychologist, in DC.   I do a line of work with people applying for asylum, who’ve been tortured, imprisoned, that sort of stuff.   Also spent a couple of years in Central America doing human rights-related work.   That informs a lot of what I do as a psychologist.

CONSULTANT:  Tell me again the word “asylum.”  You mean, people seeking political asylum in the United States? 

GORIN:  Exactly.

SOLDZ:  I’m Stephen Soldz.  I’m a psychologist in Boston and have been very involved in, written a lot about psychologists in interrogations, and have been working with Jean Maria on the Casebook since we started.

CONSULTANT:  Very good.

SOLDZ:  I wrote the Provance case.  Sam was at our meeting in June in DC.  He was interviewed there and also talked at some of the meetings.  The case narrative was primarily based upon those interviews, with a little bit from public sources that had other interviews.  It was wide ranging in raising issues.

ARRIGO:  [Describes teleconference procedure.] 

     Chaplain, I think we have some questions left over from our consultation with another military chaplain.  And then we’ll be very interested in any insight you can give us into whistleblower cases like Sam Provance’s.  I’m going to open up with one of the questions we had left over.

CONSULTANT:  Let me stop here.  For your information, I did talk to the other chaplain last week.  He shared with me information from the consultation he had with the team previously.  And I’ve had a chance to review some of that material.

ARRIGO:  Okay, great.

     One of the themes that the APA, American Psychological Association, is struggling with is:  if psychologists see something they think is morally wrong, should they stay as a moral presence — presuming they don’t have absolute authority over the situation — of should they leave, so as not to lend legitimacy?  I know that this is a theme that chaplains have worked over for a while, so I wonder if you can tell us anything about that.

CONSULTANT:  My first reaction would be to encourage them to stay.  I understand the danger of that.  But in what capacity would they be there?  Could you clarify that aspect?  How would they be participating?  What would they be doing?

ARRIGO:  Stephen, do you want to carry that one?

SOLDZ:  In interrogations, the psychologists have been central to them.  There’s been some controversy.  But our best understanding is that they consult to interrogators, sometimes to the extent that they’ve been described as supervising interrogations.  So they play a critical role.  We know that when the Bush administration moved toward abusive SERE-based techniques, it was largely psychologists who they used to teach those techniques and to implement them.  It’s not just being passive—

     Now the American Psychological Association has taken the position that psychologists have a vital role to play in keeping interrogations “safe, legal, ethical, and effective.”  So they’re claiming that the psychologists are keeping the detainees safe, among other things.  The historical record, as we interpret it, is rather different.  But, even in the case of the APA’s claim, they’re part of the interrogation system at places like Guantanamo, where there are systematic abuses.

CONSULTANT:  I see. My thought, before you explained that, was along the lines of the official explanation, that the presence of the psychologist could assist in keeping things “safe, legal, and ethical.”  I’m not sure that the interrogation techniques would be all that effective if the other three components were achieved.  But it sounds from your description that the psychologists are actually creating the techniques or consulting on the techniques that are being used in the interrogation process.  Is that correct?

SOLDZ:  Well, that’s to the best of our understanding.  They would dispute it.

DAVIS:  But the Senate hearings have confirmed it.  It’s pretty wide-spread information now.

ARRIGO:  There are a lot of psychologists.  Some could be doing one thing, and some could be doing another.  And I don’t think that there is a parallel to that in the chaplaincy.

DAVIS:  The question could pertain to the medical people who may indirectly, or not so indirectly, see things, not that they’re actually participating in them.  There’s all gradations, apparently, of involvement or witnessing.

CONSULTANT:  Yes.  Thank you for that explanation.  Since I’m not intimately familiar with the interrogation process or interrogation techniques, what you’ve just said has helped me to understand a little bit more.  But, just as chaplains are part of a system that doesn’t always get it right, certainly strives to do so, I don’t see where the chaplains being in the system legitimize the bad stuff but rather serve as the conscience to the organization, to try to keep things on the ethical side.  I’m assuming that that line of thinking would apply from the psychologists as well.

DAVIS:  We certainly assumed so.  But it seems to have shifted.

CONSULTANT:  Of course, you can always — I don’t want to make any lawyer jokes, but if you don’t get the legal opinion you like, you find another lawyer.  And you could do the same thing with a religious figure or a psychologist.  Even though the APA has a particular standard or guideline, that doesn’t mean that every psychologist will follow it.

ARRIGO:  Are chaplains played off against each other the way psychologists are?

CONSULTANT:  You would have to explain that.  You mean the command against the chaplains or chaplains against each other?

ARRIGO:  Well, just what you were saying.  If you don’t get the opinion you want from the first one, you go on to the second one.

CONSULTANT:  That could happen, I’m sure, unless the chaplains are in consult with each other.  But, being in a hierarchical system, someone at a certain level could choose an individual anywhere along the chain to consult with.  I won’t rule out the possibility.  The checks and balances are supposed to be in place so the wrong thing does not get done.  

ARRIGO:  Can chaplains at different ranks discuss these things among themselves?

CONSULTANT:  Oh, yes.  As a matter of fact, many times we are encouraged to consult with other chaplains on counseling cases, in things that are far less serious than the interrogation scenarios that you all have been studying.  It’s not uncommon for chaplains to talk with one another to get an outside opinion or to see guidance from a supervisor or from a skilled individual.

     For example, if I had a family life issue and I was counseling with a family, there are a number of family life consultants who are chaplains, all the way up to the Chief of Chaplains Office, with whom I could confer.  It’s not uncommon for chaplains to talk about cases.

     There may be some restrictions that would prohibit or limit that conversation.  Chaplains have various degrees of security clearances, just like other soldiers.  They may be some things that chaplains of a certain security clearance could not discuss with chaplains of a lesser security clearance.

DAVIS:  How do you know what security clearance chaplains have?

CONSULTANT: Usually there’s a level of trust where that kind of information is exchanged.  You could always ask, or check with someone else.   What I’m saying is that kind of information can be discovered, asked for, or verified.

LONG:  If you’re consulting with a new soldier, as a chaplain,  how do you know whether what he’s got to tell you is something that you need a clearance for?

CONSULTANT:  Let me think about that for a moment....  Generally speaking, those soldiers who are in units or positions that have those classifications, there are also chaplain in those units or those agencies that also have the same classification.  That’s the chaplain that the individual soldier is expected to go see.   But, of course, there are other chaplains that are available, and it might become less clear-cut.

LONG:  Was this ever a problem for you, what you were hearing in terms of what you should be hearing?

CONSULTANT:  With regard to security clearances?  No.

     There are non-disclosure statements that are associated with higher security clearances.  Folks know what they can and cannot discuss with people of a lesser security clearance. 

     To answer your question, no, I have not had any difficulty with that.  But if I discovered that situation, I would be looking for a chaplain of suitable clearance to assist this particular soldier.  I doubt very seriously if the soldier would come to me.  But it all depends on what’s going on.

ARRIGO:  I have another question from our conversation with the other military chaplain we consulted.  We were talking with him about some experiments in which soldiers were led to believe that they might die or seriously injure someone who was a colleague,  not an enemy.  Our question was whether these kinds of experiments, involving [a perception of impending] death, which people have sometimes strong spiritual feelings about, whether a chaplain should be involved in Institutional Review Boards.  And he was suggesting that it might be good to have a chaplain with an ethics specialty.  I just want to run that by you for maybe another perspective on that.

CONSULTANT:  By review,  do you mean a board that would be reviewing the scenario the soldier will be placed in before it happens?  As opposed to after it happens?


CONSULTANT:  Yes, I think that’s a viable idea.  Chaplains have the respect of the command.   As you’ve mentioned, those that are in the ethical field have specific training to assist them in making recommendations and determinations.  So, yes, sounds like a great idea.

ARRIGO:  Do you have any idea how one might present this?  I’m sure you’re used to presenting religious principles to nonreligious people.  [laughter]  How one might argue for something like that?

CONSULTANT:  Well, if you’re talking about the moral and the ethical,  that leads me and many others immediately to the transcendent.  So we’re going to introduce God into the conversation.  That would be the role of the chaplain.  There are other people who are trained in ethical determinations, but the chaplain should be bringing his uniquely religious or spiritual perspective to the discussion.  That would be expected if he or she were participating in a review board of the nature you’ve mentioned.

ARRIGO:  Okay.  So we might say, in a way, that the ethics review was incomplete without having that perspective on it?

CONSULTANT:  I might say that.  I don’t know if the Army would say that.  The reason I make that comment is that a lot of times, nowadays, ethics has a legal connotation, as opposed to a moral or a religious connotation.  So the ethicists are frequently found in the lawyers’ office.  So they are making determinations which are certainly legal and hopefully ethical.  Sometimes the chaplain doesn’t get in the door.  But your question was whether I would recommend the chaplain being on those boards, and “yes” is my answer.

DAVIS:  There’s another thought about this, if I may.  In ’96, [President Bill] Clinton, in response to the research on using soldiers in radiation experiments, required that any research that was classified would have at least one civilian on the Institutional Review Board that reviews the efficacy of the design of the project.   But that’s only one of about five or six.  Usually IRB groups are about five or seven.  It occurs to me that it would be inspired to somehow frame this that one of those must be a chaplain because a chaplain is both in the military and has some modicum — Actually, Chaplain, I would like to ask you this, what modicum of independence you have from the chain of command.  That’s a thought, that if it has to be an Army person, isn’t that an appropriate person to be on the IRBs of these classified projects?

CONSULTANT:  Are all the other members in the military, or are they from different fields?

DAVIS: According to this rule about classified research that involves human subjects, they only require that one member of the Institutional Review Board be civilian.

GORIN:  How big is that Institutional Review Board.  Is that one person out of three or —

DAVIS:  I think they differ in size.  My understanding is that there are about five to seven.   Certainly one person would be outnumbered.  Depending on how they determined things, one person is not really very much.  Forgive me.  I’m assuming a conflict of interest of the military. But the idea of specifying who the military [personnel on the board] should be is an intriguing one, apropos of your question, Jean Maria, how to frame this.

SOLDZ:  What this discussion suggests to me is that actually it may be more important to have those military people be from a different chain of command.

DAVIS:  Actually it’s very hard to find out how they do those.  I suspect there’s tremendous variety.  But it’s very important because there’s now so much being done that’s either quasi-classified or semi-classified or limited or something.  To get information on the IRB group, as to what they’re actually doing, is going to be a challenge.  But I think I agree with Stephen that there could be several ways to approach that, to deal with the problem of conflict of interest.

ARRIGO:  Let’s go back to your question to our guest, about independence.

DAVIS:  Chaplain, let’s take something like confidentiality.  Military psychologists have a problem with confidentiality because there’s a certain limit to it for them.  Is there a limit to confidentiality for you if you’re counseling someone?

CONSULTANT:  The official policy for chaplains is that the chaplain keeps the information confidential unless he is released by the client or the penitent to release that information. 

     I’m glad you brought up that question because it was one of my notes as I was reading through the Sam Provance  case.   I don’t know the nature of his discomfort or the reason why he felt that the counseling he was getting from mental health specialists was insensitive or inappropriate.  But if he knew that the doctor or the medical specialist had a responsibility to report certain things that Provance may have said, I’d feel uncomfortable being there, too.  So I think that that is an important distinction that you’ve made.  I understand that doctors do have a responsibility to report certain things where chaplains do not have the same responsibility.

DAVIS:  Let’s say a soldier came to you and said they were really very distraught and they were playing with their gun and they were really furious with their commanding officer, that they were really on the edge, would you have an obligation to break confidentiality over the wishes of the soldier?

SOLDZ:  Would you have an obligation or would you be allowed to do that?

CONSULTANT:  Excellent point.  And all that is under discussion right now.  And the answer is that the official position of the United States Army for its chaplains is that they maintain confidentiality.

DAVIS:  Really!  Wow!

CONSULTANT:  In most situations, a soldier will come to me or another chaplain and talk about events that are in the past.  So that’s pretty easy to keep that communication privileged and not released.  A lot of times the chaplain wouldn’t release it anyway.  Even if the penitent said, “Oh, Chaplain, you can tell somebody,” the chaplain would not do that.

     The hot-button issue, or the real ethical quandary, is if the individual raises a potentially harmful situation to himself or to others that is in the future.   In the past, I’ve always told the individual that if there was a future act of harm, then I would or could not necessarily keep that to myself.  That is not the official position.  That’s my personal, religious, ethical position.  That’s easy to say over the telephone, but when you’re talking to the individual there’s a lot more tension.  But the official position is that the chaplain will not disclose.  And, of course, that sets the soldier free to say a lot of things that he may not previously.   But it’s an ethical difficulty for the chaplain if there’s any future act of harm being threatened. 

     Chaplains sometimes make the difficult decision to follow their conscience, even though they know they may pay a price with regard to their career.

SOLDZ:  Do you think they pay a price?

CONSULTANT:  They can, yes.  Absolutely.  Every situation would be reviewed.   It’s not automatic.   But they are liable, if they break the policy — Well, that’s how Provance got demoted.  He was told not to talk to the media, from what I could tell, a perfectly legal order, that he chose to ignore.  Now he may have chosen to ignore it for good reasons.  I’m not saying that isn’t true.  I’m just saying that the system is such that the individual has to make a decision about whether or not they’re going to follow the letter of the law or do something else. 

     The chaplains have a rule.  One of our regulations says that we cannot bear arms.  If a chaplain in Iraq is in the middle of a firefight and we’re down to the last few people and the position is about to be overrun, technically he is not permitted to fight back with any kind of weapons.  If he does, he’s liable for punishment. 

DAVIS:  It would appear that the soldiers would come to you much more readily than psychologists or psychiatrists in a lot of situations.

CONSULTANT:  Because of the confidentiality issue —

DAVIS:  And because of less stigma.

CONSULTANT:  Yes, very good point.  Your other consulting military chaplain has done a good job in the last consultation. 

     That’s one of the things that I have to decide as a counselor when I refer a soldier who needs additional help, and that is, who to send him to, because of the issues of stigma — far, far less stigma in talking to a chaplain — and also because of who and what has to be reported.

ARRIGO:  Maybe we should move on to the Provance case now and hear anything you can tell us about that very sad situation.

CONSULTANT:  Anything I can tell you or did you have a question?

ARRIGO:  If you can illuminate any of that for us, you know, a soldier in that position what his recourses might be.

CONSULTANT:  Let me preface whatever I say with these remarks.  I read through the material that you sent me and I looked through the web site to follow up some other stuff.  At this point, the particular case that you may be considering with regard to, did he do the right or the wrong thing at the time, is far less important to me now than how we can help this individual in his current situation in November of 2008.

ARRIGO:  Yes!  That’s exactly what’s before us.  He was not able to make this call, but we’re in contact with him and very concerned about him.

CONSULTANT:  Yes, I would be, too. 

     Going back to the historical case, I had lots of questions about his role and what he was responsible for and what he wasn’t responsible for.  But the bottom line was he tried to inform the chain of command of the abuses that were going on.  Either he was not satisfied with their response or their response was inadequate in some way, and so he chose, against orders, to speak to the media.  I don’t know what other official channels he may have sought before going to the media, but the command was certainly within its rights to order him not to do that.  But he chose, at some point, to speak to the media to bring out the story of the abuse.

SOLDZ:  As I understand it, it’s not really the story of the abuse.  It’s what he views as a cover-up of the abuse.

CONSULTANT:  Thanks for making that distinction. In his mind, his conscience led him to do that.  It certainly brought the abuses to light.

ARRIGO:  I don’t know whether you got this from his background anywhere,  but Sam had gone to a Bible college for a while.  He’s a religious person.

SOLDZ:  Not anymore.

ARRIGO:  Not anymore?  Well....

LONG:  I would be interested in your thoughts, Chaplain, on the kind of suffering and the psychological damage to himself, that he felt he suffered both from what he saw and from what he perceived as the cover-up, and, of course, from the treatment that he then received.  And I wonder, for either of those three things, what is the appropriate thing in your view for the soldier to do.  Say he had taken a different course?  Or was this the best course he could take, given his feelings?

CONSULTANT:  I think that the entire situation is one that is very unfortunate and very traumatic for him and the others involved.  Reading through the material, one of the diagnoses was that he had mild PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder].  It’s probably more than mild.  But I can certainly see where the conditions were set for a future PTSD candidate. 

     What I don’t know — and I am looking at this from an organizational point of view — what I don’t know is what other Army avenues, official channels, that he went to in dealing with any of these issues.  Whether it was the abuse that he may have known about or suspected, or the cover-up by the investigations, or anything in between.  Generally speaking, a soldier does not go from talking to one agency and then talking to the media.  There’s a variety of other agencies within the military that he should use first, and the media would be the last resort.

SOLDZ:  It would seem that it’s a difficult situation when you have, as you had here, a major — perhaps the major scandal — and you’ve got an investigating general who you feel is basically doing a cover-up.  If one assumes that, that’s a very high-ranking and official person who’s been appointed in Washington, it’s not simply your local chain of command that you’re trying to — It makes it more difficult to know what the choices would be.   The investigating general would be precisely the one you should go to, whom he did [go to], as he tells the story.

CONSULTANT:  I understand that.  But, as you probably know, the chain of command certainly wants to and needs to be involved in these kinds of situations.  The outside-the-chain-of-command channels that the Army provides are there because the Army recognizes the conflicts of interest that can arise between the soldier and the command.  So that’s why soldiers have the opportunities.  You go to chaplains or to doctors or to the Inspector General or to the legal, to the JAG office.

SOLDZ:  There are different accounts of the Inspector General, because that did come up.  His claim was that if you go to the Inspector General, the first thing the Inspector General does is go to your commander and say, “There’s a problem here.”  And so, if your problem is with your commander, you’re in deeper water at that point.

CONSULTANT:  Well, that’s true.

ARRIGO:  Well, I’m going to go to another place with this problem.

CONSULTANT:  I’m not sure I answered the original question.  Was there anything else, ma’am, that you were asking about?

LONG:  Well, I was interested in, what are the possibilities for a man like Provance at that moment and what you’ve seen other soldiers do?  You have partly answered it.  It sounds as though there’s a very strong culture that says you shouldn’t be bothering about it.  Now it can’t be fully so, so I’d like you to comment, if you could, on how strong is the culture that a soldier who wants to blow a whistle on something that shouldn’t happen, that he shouldn’t do it, or that he should go to some very private source?   I’m just very interested in what would have been an approved path for Provance to have taken.

CONSULTANT:  Yes.  The distinction in my mind is working within the military channels that are already provided and going outside the military channels, which, I was about to say, created more difficulty — I don’t see how more difficulty could be created for Sergeant Provance —

LONG:  But he did go to the general who was doing the investigation!

CONSULTANT:  Did he volunteer to do that or did they call him up?

ARRIGO:  They called him up.

SOLDZ:  His account is that he indicated that the problems were more widespread, at which point he was essentially threatened.  His account was:  “I tried to tell them what was going on,” and he [the investigator] said, “Well, then, I’m going to have to refer you for charges because you didn’t bring this up earlier, so it’s all your fault.”

CONSULTANT:  That certainly sounds like blaming the victim.  Once again, I don’t have the historical background to know the key points like, what were Sergeant Provance’s responsibilities.  Was he a supervisor of those people who were doing the — whether they were MPs [military police] or MI [military intelligence]?

SOLDZ:  He was in a different unit.  He was running the computer system for the —

CONSULTANT:  Let me generalize by saying the soldier should exhaust all official channels before going outside the army organization.  I’m not saying that they would never go to the media, because that might be ultimately the answer.  But one does so knowing that, if a commander has told you not to do that and it’s a legitimate order, then you’re going to be punished for it.  There’s a likelihood that you’ll be punished.  I would say that the psychological effect would be to cause people to think more than twice about what they would say and who they would say it to.

DAVIS:  Chaplain, I think one of the themes here is the concern for the well-being and the mental health of the whistle blowers.


DAVIS:  And to seek where there is any kind of care for them all the way through.  If he’s in his most vulnerable point when it’s coming out, do you think that the chaplains of his unit would have been at least a sounding board that was safe for him?  Or would that chaplain have to divulge?

CONSULTANT:  Then answer to the latter is that the chaplain would not have to divulge.  And yes — I don’t even know if there was a chaplain in the unit.

DAVIS:  Not all units have chaplains?  He might not have had somebody available?

CONSULTANT:  Not all units have chaplains.  At some point, a chaplain would be available.  So, for example, the chaplain may be at a base camp, and he may be responsible for a hundred square-mile area.  That would be his area of responsibility.  At some point, he would get around to each of the units or facilities in that area.  But he may not be immediately available. 

DAVIS:  They’re stretched pretty thin then, in places like Iraq?

CONSULTANT:  Yes.  A very, very strong attempt was made to have a chaplain assigned to every field unit in the army.  I’m talking about the Army as opposed to the other services.  But there’s no way to have 100% coverage over either every unit or every geographical area.  There are not enough chaplains for that.

ARRIGO:  A point of information here. I think it’s been established that there were not chaplains at Abu Ghraib, first point.  And, second point, I did talk to Sam Provance about going to chaplains.


ARRIGO:  This is sort of a sensitive matter, because after I spent a day with the TRADOC chaplains I was tremendously impressed with their capacity to come to grips with really difficult issues, to care for the soldier.  However, when I ran this by some soldiers, they said something to the effect:  “Oh, yes, that was just the guys in the room with you,” in other words, people at the  [TRADOC] level,  “but the people we see in the field” – and this is what Sam Provance said — “were just yes-men,.”  And he didn’t feel that they would give any support in a situation like this.  So, it’s kind of cynical, but that is what they said to me.


     Of course, chaplains are human beings, and I’m not going to say that that could not happen.  But the training of the chaplains, both from the Army training system, in our chaplains schools, as well as the religious training that the chaplain receives in the seminary,  Bible college, or divinity school, speaks against doing what you just said.  Like I said, onesies and twosies, it could happen, but it should not.  The commander knows that the chaplain is not bound to simply be a yes-man to the chain of command, that the chaplain can represent either the abused person, he could represent the abuser, or he could represent the chain of command.  Now that does create tension in the individual chaplain.  No question about it.

GORIN:  Are there any pressures, unspoken pressures on the chaplains?

CONSULTANT:  Oh, I’m sure there are.  The command could put some pressure on any individual in his unit.  But the command knows that the chaplain has his technical chain of command to whom he can go speak.  And it is not a wise commander who tries to play that kind of game.

DAVIS:  How independent is your chain of command for your chaplaincy?  Or let me ask you this:  is there a difference between, say, the chain of command and your relationship to the Army chain of command when you’re in the stateside work as opposed to a battlefield situation?  Does the battlefield commander have more say over you?

CONSULTANT:  Generally there is not a change there because we try to have the chaplain embedded in the unit, assigned to the unit, to train up and prepare with the unit before it deploys, as opposed to having a unit move to Iraq and then the chaplain come later.  In order for the chaplain to establish the relationship of trust and confidence with both the chain of command and the soldier, the Chaplain Corps tries to get the chaplain to that unit well before the soldier gets on the airplane to fly overseas.  It’s having the trust and confidence of both the commander and the soldier that allows the chaplain to operate the most effectively in the unit, particularly with difficult ethical situations.

DAVIS:  But the commanding officer cannot order you to do something that’s against your chaplaincy.

CONSULTANT:  Yes.  Your statement is true.  Now the devil is always in the details.  One has to be careful to distinguish between what is a legal, viable order that has to do with the Army organization, as opposed to something that is a matter of conscience or spiritual matter.   You have to be careful in making that distinction.

ARRIGO:  Suppose we go now to Germany, where Sam Provance experienced this therapy problem.  After Iraq, Sam Provance was sent to Germany, and that’s where he was hoping to get some PTSD counseling from the psychologists.  This is really a question about the relationship between psychologists and chaplains.  Suppose that Sam comes to the chaplain and says, “Look, I need to talk to a psychologist about PTSD and what I’ve been going through, but the only thing they’ll do for me is either drug me up or put me in a group,” which, you know, is very hard on whistle blowers.  Does a chaplain have any recourse there on his behalf, or can you just counsel him yourself?

CONSULTANT:  The chaplain can speak up on behalf of the soldier to make recommendations to the chain of command.   However, if the soldier has PTSD, and it is diagnosed as PTSD, then that is primarily a medical concern.  And so he goes into the medical system.  The chaplain can intervene.  He can make recommendations, but it is really the responsibility of the medical channels to handle it at that time. 

     To add some additional information, I don’t know where he went to get his mental health treatment, but there are chaplains in hospitals as well.   And I might add, we had talked about chaplains who are ethicists, but the chaplains who work in hospitals and in prisons go through the Clinical Pastoral Education program [CPE] before being assigned — or at least that’s the goal.  The goal is for hospital and prison chaplains to be CPE-qualified before they get those assignments, because the army recognizes that they’re going to have difficult issues to deal with.  One day they may be talking to the prisoner in the prison, and the next day they may be talking to the guard.  So that kind of specialized training is preferred before the chaplain goes there.   So there could be, depending on where Provance was, there could be a chaplain in the hospital to assist him with some of these issues.

     With regard to the group therapy, I don’t enough about the medical approach to say that it’s appropriate or not appropriate.  It would not be appropriate if the rank structure or the medical issues did not match in that group.  If the peers in that group did not have the same kind of problems — I’m talking about PTSD, not being a whistle blower —

ARRIGO:  No, it was the whistle blower [category] that was the problem.  They hated him.

CONSULTANT:  I see.  Doesn’t sound like an effective therapeutic method.   If he is identified as the whistle blower and he is ostracized from the group because of that, that’s ineffective and something else needs to be done.

LONG:  I would be interested in whether any of the places where you have served, if there’s been enemy prisoners held?

CONSULTANT:  No.  The places where I have served, there have not been enemy prisoners.

LONG:  So either the relationship is between prison guards and prisoners or — I didn’t know whether chaplains are available to consult with prisoners, if they can speak the language.

CONSULTANT:  No, Army chaplains are assigned to Army units to shepherd Army soldiers or military personnel or those who are associated with the military.  They are not specifically assigned to prisons or to units to look after prisoners of war, or prisoners who are not American military. 

     Now that doesn’t mean that they don’t do it.  The Army has made the conscious effort to have Muslims chaplains, of which we have very few, seven in total, to be in certain places like Gunatanamo Bay or in Southwest Asia, where there is an America Muslim chaplain who is dealing in some way with the enemy prisoners.  But generally speaking the chaplain is not assigned to deal with the prisoners directly.

     Now, of course, there’s the moral responsibility if they see abuse, or if the prisoner’s not being treated properly, that kind of thing.  It’s the chaplain’s responsibility to report that.

LONG:  But that, too, sometimes gets the same treatment that Provance got.  Highly suspicious.  I’ve been hearing John [sic] Yee talk about his experience in Guantanamo.  It felt very similar to the Provance case in terms of — except that he didn’t have the continued loss of career.

CONSULTANT:  There’s no question that doing the right thing does not always make you popular.

SOLDZ:  What is your understanding of the treatment of James Yee?

CONSULTANT:  Gosh, I don’t know all the facts to really make a judgment.  The information I have is mostly public, what was published in the newspaper, and I don’t always take that at face value.  It sounds like he made some errors of judgment or misconduct and eventually chose to resign rather than have that pursued.

ARRIGO:  I think that we’re at the period of last questions and comments here.  Why don’t we try this order:  Joe, Martha, Jancis, Stephen.

GORIN:  I’m still interested in the decision making a chaplain would go through, how he would make certain ethical decisions, if there were pressures on him, if he were going to anger his higher-ups in the chain of command, how those pressures would be experienced concretely and how he or she work with that, make ethical decisions.  For example, if somebody wanted to know the content of the session and would pressure the chaplain.  You’d be made to feel disloyal or a bad chaplain or bad American.  If that every happened, how you would deal with that.

CONSULTANT:  As I’m sure your other consulting chaplain pointed out, that tension exists all the time.  If the commander is chaplain-friendly, particularly if he is a religious person who supports the religious program, then there’s a greater understanding or acceptance.   I think there’s a clear acceptance of that role and understanding such that the kinds of command pressure that you’re talking about are not very significant. 

     With regard to myself, I recognize that there could be times — well, there have been — when my recommendations to the command are not going to be popular.  But, generally speaking, if the commander knows that the chaplain is working for the benefit of the soldier and for the command as a whole, then the chaplain has a hearing.  Once again, it’s based on the trust and confidence that the chaplain has created with that command.  There’s no question, as I’ve said previously, the chaplain knows that what he says will sometimes not be popular.  It may some effect with regard to his career, and it may not. 

     One of the things that’s important for the chaplain in making those decisions is to remember that he is not alone.  Not only is prayer and appealing to the Lord God important, but the chaplain has a technical chain to which he can freely go to consult with more senior chaplains, or specialized chaplains, to assist him in making some of these decisions.  Of course, it would be more difficult if the chaplain were isolated and by himself, but that is not the case, generally speaking.

DAVIS:  Yes, my question was in relation to what you just said, Chaplain.  You said a “technical, not a chain of command”?  You call it something else?

CONSULTANT:  It’s a technical chain, meaning that a chaplain is still assigned to a unit, he still has a commander who writes his officer evaluation report, but he has the technical chain to advise him, and to provide a lot of the stuff that he needs to provide religious support for the soldiers, but also to advise him on spiritual matters, on spiritual development, for example, to advise him on counseling issues, to advise him on ethical issues.

DAVIS:  We’ve heard that from [retired U.S. Army counterintelligence operative David] DeBatto and other interrogators that the medical services can be countermanded quite frequently.  Their medical orders can be countermanded if they are not in the interests of the commander because of larger concerns that the commander has.  This is a hard question to ask.  Do the chaplains have the greatest independence from that, in your opinion?

CONSULTANT:  We have greater independence, but not complete.  Although we do have the technical chain, although we have some access to the command that other soldiers would clearly not have, even other agencies, it’s still up to the commander to make the call.  The chaplain can recommend, he can cajole, he can do whatever he can, but ultimately it’s the commander who does make that decision.

LONG:  I wonder if you had any thoughts as to what change in structure could protect the individual soldier from doing unethical treatment themselves or being able to report or feeling their conscience cleared.  Could you think of any structure that would make the ethical culture of the Army better?  I’m thinking of the stress on the individual soldier now, not on the prisoner.  But that, of course, is part of the story if an individual soldier is part of a culture that misuses prisoners. 

CONSULTANT:  I would say that in a hierarchical structure like the military, the lines of authority or ethical decision-making will be clear cut.  Part of the issue is, the lower the level you go, the less you have of the big picture.  And there are many other things that are going on around you that you just don’t know about.  The higher you go up the chain of command, the more those people know.  We’re all trusting and praying they’re making the right decisions based upon the greater knowledge that they have.

     But to answer you question, ma’am, there is a lot in place that provides the checks and balances that you’re asking for.  First of all, in every situation the expectations must be clear.  So the chain of command needs to know what is the mission, what is expected to be accomplished, how it is expected to be accomplished, and also to inform the soldiers within the command of those same things, so that the expectations are clear.  As Provance commented in part of the case study, he said that he didn’t know what was legal.  The rules were unclear and in flux.  That can’t be.  You can’t allow that to happen.  It is the command’s responsibility to define the limits, to define the boundaries, and to make the expectations clear.  If they don’t, then you have more likelihood of something going wrong.   Also, the military, in each mission or scenario, tries to establish the rules of engagement so at least, legally speaking, soldiers know what they can and cannot do.  And, of course, throughout the training of the soldier, whether you’re talking about a chaplain, an officer, or an enlisted person, there is a block of ethical instructions, all along throughout the Army education system, that frequently chaplains teach, to try to anticipate what some of these situations are going to be like and to train the soldier on them, so that when they get in the situation, they know what’s the right thing to do and what the Army expects them to do.  As I said, the counterbalance to the command — which is not as powerful, I understand that, but it’s still there, those official channels, such as the Inspector General, the Staff Judge Advocate, sometimes it’s the medical channels, the chaplain would certainly be one of those, a number of those agencies like that to which a soldier can appeal if he knows that the chain of command is unresponsive.

ARRIGO:  Have you ever seen any of those work?

CONSULTANT:  Oh, yes!  Yes, I have.  That’s why soldiers come to me sometimes, or they go to Equal Opportunity, or some of these other agencies.  I can only truly speak for myself.  But soldiers have brought issues to me that I’ve raised in the chain of command, sometimes over at the next level of the chain of command that the soldier is at.  So if he’s at the platoon level, I may go to the company commander or to the battalion commander or to the brigade commander to get it resolved.

SOLDZ:  I was  wondering if you could give us an example of a chaplain doing something about an abuse.  We’ve talked about the policies or what can be done, but I was wondering if there’s any example that comes to mind.

CONSULTANT:  Well, you’re speaking directly to the issue that Provance is involved in.

SOLDZ:  Not necessarily detainee abuse but an abusive action as opposed to —

CONSULTANT:  The reason I ask that questions is because chaplains frequently get involved in domestic abuse situations.

SOLDZ:  No, I’m not meaning something like domestic abuse, but something being done wrong by the command.

CONSULTANT:  Ummm.  I’m trying to think rapidly of anything I’ve been directly involved with —

DAVIS:  Could I suggest, like something where the training is too rigorous and it’s dangerous to the soldiers or something like that?

CONSULTANT:  That is a possibility.

     I was just trying to think about the drill sergeant abuses as Aberdeen Proving Ground a few years ago and how that came to light.  I can’t remember all the details.  But a chaplain is assigned to the training unit to try to assist in those kinds of issues.  [___ which incident?  “blood pinning”?]  Once again, it’s up to the commander to say:  “Yes, chaplain, I understand what you’re saying, but here’s the rest of that story.  We’ll continue to treat the soldier this way,” or “We will cut back on this, “or, particularly if the chaplain has some new information that he can add to the decision matrix, he’s more likely to be successful in convincing the command to change what they’re doing.

ARRIGO:  Before we close, Chaplain, I’d like to ask you about what level of confidentiality we should hold this to.  I would like to post a summary of some sort.  For some people Ray Bennett has anonymized them.

CONSULTANT:  Oh, yes, I would recommend that.  

ARRIGO:  This has been enormously helpful.  I think the reason we have appealed to you and our other consulting military chaplain is that we perceive there is a lot of overlap with psychologists’ issues and that chaplains seem to be further along in handling these.

CONSULTANT:  From what you’ve said this evening, I think that I would agree with that.

     Let me say this, because I wanted to add this.  I don’t know Sam Provance and what kind of issues he has faced prior to coming into the Army.  Certainly some of the terrible issues that he has faced since being in the Army have been publicized.  But, still, as a chaplain, I see that a large part of the issue is spiritual in nature.  The susceptibility to PTSD may be very well be tied to “unresolved life wounds.”  As one speaker described it, “The things that have happened to us in the past and our ability, or lack of ability, to cope with the stress, can make us more susceptible to the PTSD or make it more damaging to us.” And so many times, those issues are spiritual in nature.  They deal with shame and guilt and forgiveness and sin and issues of God and issues of evil.  So my recommendation to Sam is, go see the chaplain or a religious person like a chaplain that he can trust and confide in.

PARTICIPANTS:  Thank you very much, Chaplain.

CONSULTANT:  It’s been very stimulating.  I hope it’s been helpful. 

     Thank you, and God bless you.


1.  Consultant takes attitude if a military person disobeys orders out of conscience, then he  must pay the price.  We psychologists  want to change the rules or the consequences to make it easier to act on conscience.  [See Ethics July 08, Brownlee, p. 711.]

Comment from Consultant on January 8, 2009:

It would be more accurate to say that, I take the attitude that if a military person disobeys orders out of conscience, then he must "be willing to" pay the price.  There are times when the military system will not punish the soldier for disobedience, usually if that disobedience turns out to be the right thing to do.  But the soldier can not know the final outcome at the time of his decision, so he must at least be willing to accept negative consequences if he disobeys the order.  I also believe that if the soldier knows he's doing the right thing before he disobeys, then that knowledge will strengthen him spiritually and  psychologically to face the difficulty that may lie ahead.

2.  There’s a variety of other agencies within the military that he should use....”  Can he get outside of his chain of command though?

3.  “Army chaplains are assigned to army units to shepherd army soldiers or military personnel or those who are associated with the military.”  So chaplains don’t have the problematic relations with enemy detainees that psychologists face.

4.  “Once again, it’s based on the trust and confidence that the chaplain has created with that command “— the delicate nature of the chaplain’s access to the commander

5.  “But the chaplain has a technical chain to which he can freely go to consult with more senior chaplains, or specialized chaplains, to assist him in making some of these decisions.  Of course, it would be more difficult if the chaplain were isolated and by himself “— importance of ethics consults.

6.  “Part of the issue is, the lower the level you go, the less you have of the big picture.  And there are many other things that are going on around you that you just don’t know about.  The higher you go up the chain of command, the more those people know.  We’re all trusting and praying they’re making the right decisions based upon the greater knowledge that they have.” — This may make sense for military professionals but not for scientists.