History repeats itself, Marx famously warned, first as tragedy and then as farce. In the case of U.S. torture psychologists, the “tragedy” occurred half a century ago when CIA-funded psychological research on electroshock treatment, sensory deprivation, and the like found its way into the Agency’s counterintelligence interrogation manual. The 1963 KUBARK Manual and its later iterations were used widely by U.S. intelligence and disseminated to other governments in Latin America and Southeast Asia.
The “farce” was played post-9/11, as psychologists became involved once again in aiding counterintelligence interrogators. Although some of the material in KUBARK remained in use, psychologists augmented already-existing material with newer techniques, some of which had been developed from torture resistance protocols used to train U.S. military personnel to survive capture and interrogation themselves. Thus, as Katherine Eban has reported, discoveries initially applied to help possible torture victims were later used to break interrogation subjects held in U.S. custody. Psychologists were complicit in designing and using techniques to break subjects rather than aid them, and in so doing they made a mockery of their ethical obligation to “do no harm.”
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