Casebook Writers’ Policy Decisions


Casebook writers discussion of actual versus fictional cases for

The Psychology and Military Intelligence Casebook on Interrogation Ethics

August 7, 2008

2-hour teleconference

Reported by Jean Maria Arrigo

Participants:  Jean Maria Arrigo, Ray Bennett, Brad Olson, Stephen Soldz

     We considered whether the Casebook goals would be better served by  fictionalizing and abstracting case narratives (fictional cases) or by presenting case narratives as accurately as possible with documentation as available (actual cases).   Fictional cases can be edited to address the principle issues and stripped of extraneous detail.  The “facts” can be varied for instructive moral thought experiments to demonstrate the significance of  various factors and stimulate the moral imagination of the reader.  Most importantly, fictional cases keep the focus on the ethical issues by eliminating arguments about actual fact. 

     Nevertheless, we decided in favor of actual cases.  Our overriding rationale is that meaningful moral inquiry into the contributions of psychologists to abusive interrogations requires acknowledgment of events whose existence or significance is largely ignored or denied.  One example is a secret mock-death stress experiment on soldiers by a military contract psychologist, which was ancillary to tamer, published experiments (in 1962).  Such cases are easily dismissed as far-flung acts of imagination rather than exhibits of natural consequences of mainline institutional forces.  Unlike most other ethics casebooks, we are in the position of first proving the existence, prevalence, and seriousness of the moral problems we wish to address. 

     In regard to pedagogy, we are writing primarily for health professionals and scientists involved with national security programs, for members of professional associations that interface with national security programs, for national security professionals themselves and their agencies.  The “hard realist” approach of national security professionals inclines to the actual presentation of cases.  Security professionals study detailed actual cases, after-action reports, lessons-learned reports, and ethics cases with thick description.  When possible they train through example and imitation, through rich simulations (e.g., maneuvers with live ammunition), through mentorship, and through sink-or-swim experience.  There is little tolerance for the stripped-down representations of events and the speculative thought experiments of scientists and philosophers. 

     The commitment to actual cases though brings hardships to the Casebook project. Because of the secrecy and deception attending current events in the War on Terror, in many instances we could not present objective narratives but only more-or-less corroborated subjective narratives from the biased sample of those willing to speak publicly.