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Monster Hospital: Former SERE Psychologist Defends Torture Team

Alix Spiegel from NPR found a former SERE psychologist willing to defend James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, two psychologists intimately involved in transforming techniques used to teach U.S. special forces to withstand torture into techniques used to torture detainees. His argument is simple: you should thank them for what they did.

From [Bryce] Lefever’s perspective, the notion that psychologists behaved in an unethical manner is absurd; a product, he believes, of a fundamental misunderstanding of the psychologists’ true ethical obligations. Because psychologists are supposed to be do-gooders, Lefever says, "the idea that they would be involved in producing some pain just seems at first blush to be something that would be wrong, because we ‘do no harm.’ "

But in fact, says Lefever, "the ethical consideration is always to do the most good for the most people."

But this is obviously untrue. Suppose there are five children, each of whom needed a transplanted organ to live. You possess each of the organs needed. Providing the greatest good for the greatest number would require me to strap you down and start cutting until each child had a piece of your vital organs. If you die, it’s unfortunate, but the greater good required me to become an organ redistributionist.

Still, some people don’t believe in inviolable rights, or will see a goal so overwhelmingly important that it allows for desperate measures. Here it’s necessary to remember that Ali Soufan of the FBI was exactly what Jessen and Mitchell and this gentleman Lefever isn’t, which is to say a trained interrogator. His testimony — both what’s out now and what’s forthcoming — is about how the inexperienced interrogators moved toward brutality out of ignorance. Lefever, in other words, is in no position to know what he’s stipulating, which is that "the most good for the most people" required torture.

Then there’s this:

And from Lefever’s perspective, it would actually have been unethical for them not to suggest the use of these tactics on the few individuals who might be in a position to provide information that could potentially save thousands of American lives.

"America is my client; Americans are who I care about," says Lefever. "I have no fondness for the enemy, and I don’t feel like I need to take care of their mental health needs."

It requires not an ounce of "fondness" for al-Qaeda detainees to reject torturing them. It requires a sense of ethics and a sense that brutality is counterproductive against an enemy that thrives by portraying America as brutal. "What sets us apart from our enemies in this fight… is how we behave. In everything we do, we must observe the standards and values that dictate that we treat noncombatants and detainees with dignity and respect." I suppose Lefever would say David Petraeus is just fond of the enemy.

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Spencer Ackerman

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