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Psychiatrists Protest Pentagon Interrogations

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Psychiatrists Protest Pentagon Interrogations

Health Care

Psychiatrists Protest Pentagon Interrogations

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The nation's psychiatrists and psychologists are upset with the Pentagon about Guantanamo and other detentions centers. Last week, most members of the American Psychological Association voted that military psychologists should no longer serve at detention centers at all. This week, its sister group, the American Psychiatric Association, fired off a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The letter accuses the Pentagon of reneging on an agreement not to use psychiatrists in interrogations. NPR's Richard Knox has this story.

RICHARD KNOX: The use of psychologists and psychiatrists in detainee interrogations has generated strong feelings for several years. Dr. Steven Sharfstein visited Guantanamo when he was president of the American Psychiatric Association three years ago. He was disturbed to see what mental-health professionals actually did there. They were advising interrogators as they asked questions.

Dr. STEVEN SHARFSTEIN (Former President, American Psychiatric Association): They had headsets and microphones, and they would be talking to them as the interrogators were talking to the detainees. I just had lots of problems with the whole process.

KNOX: Sharfstein came home and got the association to oppose psychiatrists' participation in interrogations that was in 2006. The association's current president, Dr. Nada Stotland, says the group thought it had an understanding with the Pentagon back then that it would stop using psychiatrists in interrogations. Then she read the New England Journal of Medicine earlier this month. Researchers had obtained Pentagon documents showing the military has continued to train psychiatrists as so-called behavioral consultants. They also obtained a current U.S. Army policy manual that says behavioral consultants are expected to do psychological profiles of detainees and identify their vulnerabilities.

Dr. NADA STOTLAND (President, American Psychiatric Association): It's not the role of psychiatrists to figure out people's weaknesses and try to prey on them.

KNOX: Stotland complained to Defense Secretary Gates.

Dr. STOTLAND: This isn't just about a rule. This is about the soul of a psychiatrist which is to be dedicated to helping people and healing people. And in order to do that, we need to get, and we need to deserve, their trust.

KNOX: She wants Gates to ensure that psychiatrists will no longer be trained to or asked to participate in detainee interrogations. Military officials say people have the wrong idea about interrogations. Colonel Elspeth Cameron Ritchie is an Army psychiatrist at the Pentagon.

Colonel ELSPETH CAMERON RITCHIE (Psychiatrist, U.S. Army): In the beginning of the war, we acknowledged - we don't try to defend - that there was some not understanding what the rules were.

KNOX: But that was in the past, she says. Military officials maintain that interrogations are no longer abusive. They argue that the presence of psychologists and psychiatrists prevents abuse. Ritchie says the Army did not consider the psychiatric association's policy statement to be an ethical guideline. Violating professional ethics can jeopardize a doctor's license.

Col. RITCHIE: We appreciate their position and we've listened to it and discussed it intensively, but it is important to remember that information obtained from interrogation has been used, for example, to discover weapons caches in Iraq and therefore saved the lives of both Americans and Iraqis.

KNOX: The Army's 2006 policy on the role of mental-health professionals at detention centers expires next month. Ritchie says a new policy will take the current controversy into account. Richard Knox, NPR News.

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