Consult: Jonathan Marks, PhD


An Ethics Consultation on

The Psychology and Military Intelligence Casebook on Interrogation Ethics

Jonathan Marks, PhD

July 24, 2008

2-hour teleconference

Reported by Jean Maria Arrigo

Jonathan Marks is Associate Professor of Bioethics, Humanities, and Law at Penn State University and Director of the Bioethics and Medical Humanities Program.  In 2005 he was one of the first to publish on the contributions of physicians to abusive interrogations and has kept close attention on the topic.

Participants:  Jean Maria Arrigo (JMA), Ray Bennett (RB), Jonathan Marks, Brad Olson (BO), Stephen Soldz (SS)

     Dr. Marks asked how much we want to bite off to begin with.  He proposed three options:

     1.  Just present ethics cases to stimulate thought.

     2.  Present cases and invite some people to comment.  Then do we just copy edit or respond in some way?  What

          do we do with responses we don’t like?

     3.  Present cases and analyze them ourselves.  This takes a long time.  Apply some analytic framework.  For

          example, identify the material facts, what we do and do not know, and the stakeholders....  But if we do all the

          analysis ourselves, are we defeating our purpose?   We should help to develop ethical sensitivity and to bring

          the moral imagination into play.

We wrestle with the question of whether to fictionalize the cases or to present them as history, oral history, testimony, and documentary evidence.  Dr. Marks argues strongly for fictionalizing cases.  The bad consequences of nonfictional presentation are:

  1.     Critics contest the facts.  Our energies are devoted to defending our “facts” aso the ethics discussion is lost.

  2.     The writers lose control of the scenario and cannot hypothetically change the facts of the case to illuminate the ethical issue, for example, by posing successive scenarios with different degrees of problematic behavior or complexity of choices or comprehensiveness of knowledge about the situation.

But our Casebook also has political objectives.  SS describes the saga of the APA casebook commitment, from its inception at the June 2005 PENS task force meeting to its current new beginning in the APA Ethics Committee.  The APA’s construal of the military and CIA psychologists as morally autonomous ignores

  1. the system pressures on psychologists,

  2.     the fact that abusive interrogation is not an aberration but programmatic.

We want to delineate all the factors that should be considered. 

RB confirms that military psychologists are unlikely to put loyalty to psychology above military orders and obligations.

Dr. Marks has a gripe with casebooks for ignoring system issues.  They are all about little islands of men and women who operate alone.  He relates the case of the  newborn who will die soon and the demand on hospital resources.  There are two ways to handle the systems issues:

  1. Expressly identify the system issues.

  2. Set up the case study so it looks like a  typical individualistic case study.  Firs ask people to think about it individualistically.  Then ask them to reason about systems issues.

The problem of fictional versus nonfictional presentation style comes up again.  SS and JMA say that we want to expand the realm of ethics discourse from the immediate psychologist-interrogator link to the web of behaviors that support that link.  These include policy decisions by APA leaders, interrogation-related research, clinical treatment of whistle blowers by military clinicians and  so on.  SS describes the Newman-Dunivin-PENS case, which sounds so improbable it could not be approximated by a fictional case.  

To his earlier warnings against nonfictional presentation of cases, Dr. Marks adds vulnerability to legal action from people who are named in the cases, citing the book by his friend Phillipe Sands (Torture Team: Rumsfeld's Memo and The Betrayal of American Values, 2008).

JMA asks how we could pose the Newman-Dunivin-PENS case anonymously, to get at the complex case of organizational ethics.  We discuss which organizations or institutions are primary:  APA, military, government funders of APA.  JMA surmises that the military is not a principal initiator of the torture but an easy tool because of its hierarchical structure.

RB remarks that, “We can refuse an unlawful order, but we can’t refuse an indecent order,” and military personnel don’t have legal consults on the battlefield.

Dr. Marks reminds us of the problems of military structure that RB and JMA described in their Peace & Conflict article on “Organizational Supports for Abusive Interrogations in the ‘War on Terror’.”

RB says that General Miller and other individuals who promoted torture were chosen by the civilian leadership.

SS:  The relationship of our Casebook to the military is different from its relationship to the military.  We can’t affect military ethics but their policy on the use of psychologists.  We can affect psychological ethics.  It’s a different kind of discussion.

RB:  The military profession wants somebody to take this monkey off their back.  The military is a culture of duty and honor.  Torture is not honorable!  People who work with them say the BSCTs cause more trouble than they are worth.

J Marks:  There are some books on organizational issues, namely, ___.  Organizations have duties just as do individuals.  The same analysis applies (stakeholders, interests, etc.).  Also, What are the obligations for future others, known as the problem of “intergenerational others.”

RB:  After seven years of abusive interrogations, now those interrogators will be the instructors for the next generation or two of interrogators. There’s what’s on the PowerPoint slide and then the nudge, wink-wink stuff.

Dr. Marks:  The nudge, wink-wink stuff is about institutional culture.  One sees similar problems with physicians and representatives of the drug industry.  But what is the remedy?  If physicians are forbidden to meet the reps on hospital grounds, they meet in a fancy restaurant somewhere and think they have fulfilled their obligation.  Physicians’ disclosure of their ties to the drug industry has been proposed.  But disclosure appears to license the disclosers to speak and further exaggerate their claims, and other people don’t know what to do with the disclosures.

SS:  Psychologists can help here because we know about self-serving cognitive biases (e.g., through research by George Loewenstein) and the effects of conflicts of interest.

Back to the institutional problems for psychologists. JMA and SS talk about APA and HumRRO (Human Research and Resources Organization) connections. 

We revisit the contest between fictional and nonfictional presentation of cases.

SS proposes a two- part work:  first a nonfictional presentation of cases to validate our concerns, then an ethics casebook. 

Dr. Marks sizes up our multiple goals again.

JMA asks how, in a fictional presentation, we could preserve the credibility and urgency of Sam Provance’s description of his clinical treatment in the army hospital in Germany after Abu Ghraib.  Elsewhere, JMA discusses the Mitchell Berkun combat stress experiments and also paranormal experiments as essential historical cases for credibility of fringe research relating to torture interrogation.

More discussion on the fictional versus nonfictional presentation of cases.  JMA states that all our work and rationales so far have led up to the nonfictional presentation, in spite of our grant proposal for an ethics casebook.  We need more experience with the stage-one cases and more outside expertise and, hopefully, more funding for stage two. 

SS, BO, JMA, and RB agree on a nonfictional presentation of sample cases for the PsySR meetings at the Aug 14 – 17 APA Convention in Boston.