Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Cuckoo's Nest

The military already compromises the integrity of mental health professionals and the principles of ethical encounters with the service delivery system. That's not news. Ask anyone who's ever sought even the least threatening of mental health services and also wanted to join the military. It won't happen. My personal theory is that we should provide -possibly even require- mental health services for all armed services personnel. But that would make too much sense. And, we've just taken yet another turn into the surreal.

Now mental health professionals (and other health professionals as well) can be used as torturers. I'm hardly exaggerating. There's a new Department of Defense directive issued by Assistant Secretary of Health Affairs, William Winkenwerder, Jr, making mental health professionals part of the interrogation teams for detainees in U.S. custody. The new policy explicitly allows mental health information from clinical encounters to be used as part of an interrogation, violating the ethical principle of confidentiality. The new directive also instructs health professionals regarding hunger strikes, requiring force-feeding of prisoners protesting their confinement by denying themselves nutrition. You can find the directive here: DoD directives. Interestingly, they've taken down the revised version. I wonder what that means; the slightly older one is there, however.

And the situation gets even more interesting. Not even a month ago, the American Psychological Association and the World Medical Association (of which the AMA is a member), issued ethical guidelines prohibiting the participation of member professionals in interrogations -period. The idea being that the only way to protect the role of healer is to separate it from inflicting torture. Kind of obvious, really. You can read the APA's statement about participation in torture here: APA. So, what's going to happen? The military will be using professionals who can't be members of the appropriate professional organization? I suppose there are worse things. The professionals will certainly have to choose which authority is the more important one to follow -and it will probably be the one that puts food on the table and clothes their children. And (or?) ethical professionals will leave military service. Leaving... whom???

You can read the Physicians for Human Rights statement denouncing the new policy here: Physicians for Human Rights There's also a petition to Congress to end the participation of mental health professionals in torture. You can read more and sign on, if you like, here: The Ignacio Martin-Baro Fund.

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