The Dark Side of “Comprehensive Soldier Fitness”

Roy Eidelson, Marc Pilisuk and Stephen Soldz

Why is the world's largest organization of psychologists so aggressively promoting a new, massive, and untested military program? The APA's enthusiasm for mandatory "resilience training" for all US soldiers is troubling on many counts.

The January 2011 issue of the American Psychologist, the American Psychological Association's (APA) flagship journal, is devoted entirely to 13 articles that detail and celebrate the virtues of a new US Army-APA collaboration. Built around positive psychology and with key contributions from former APA President Martin Seligman and his colleagues, Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF) is a $125 million resilience training initiative designed to reduce and prevent the adverse psychological consequences of combat for our soldiers and veterans. While these are undoubtedly worthy aspirations, the special issue is nevertheless troubling in several important respects: the authors of the articles, all of whom are involved in the CSF program, offer very little discussion of conceptual and ethical considerations; the special issue does not provide a forum for any independent critical or cautionary voices whatsoever; and through this format, the APA itself has adopted a jingoistic cheerleading stance toward a research project about which many crucial questions should be posed. We discuss these and related concerns below.

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Why the U.S. Wants Military Commission Show Trials for 9/11 Suspects

Jeff Kaye

A number of commentators have replied to Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement today that five suspects in the 9/11 attacks, including alleged Al Qaeda mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, will not be tried in civilian courts for the terrorist attacks almost ten years ago, but will be tried by President Obama’s revamped military commissions tribunals. What no commentator has stated thus far is the plain truth that the commissions’ main purpose is to produce government propaganda, not justice. These are meant to be show trials, part of an overarching plan of “exploitation” of prisoners, which includes, besides a misguided attempt by some to gain intelligence data, the inducement of false confessions and the recruitment of informants via torture. The aim behind all this is political: to mobilize the U.S. population for imperialist war adventures abroad, and political repression and economic austerity at home.

Holder claims he wanted civilian trials that would “prove the defendants’ guilt while adhering to the bedrock traditions and values of our laws.” The Attorney General blamed Congress for passing restrictions on bringing Guantanamo prisoners to the United States for making civilian trials inside the United States impossible. Marcy Wheeler has noted that the Congressional restrictions related to the Department of Defense, not the Department of Justice, and there is plenty of reason to believe the Obama administration could have pressed politicians on this issue, but chose not to. (Others see it differently.)

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Spend Money on Negotiation and Development — Avoid More War: Open Letter to Congress

Anne Anderson

As a member of Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PsySR), an international organization dedicated to bringing psychology to the service of peace and social justice, I am most concerned about the recent suggestions to “zero-out” the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and cut State Department Funds. These agencies are on the front lines of providing for our national security through their efforts through negotiations to promote the interests of the United States of America, manage conflict non-violently, watch for future threats, and build more peaceful and open societies that will be good for democracy, economic development, and the well-being of their peoples.

In PsySR’s recent message on supporting democratic change in the Middle East (February 1, 2011), the organization noted that:

“From events like these [in Egypt] – driven by the collective power and pent up frustrations of a long-suffering citizenry – emerge outcomes that are often tenuous and unexpected. Sudden change brings with it both opportunities and dangers. Popular revolts can lead to more just and democratic societies. However, history shows that the dethroning of tyrants does not guarantee a quick transformation to democratic rule, and sometimes instead sets the stage for new autocracies. Lasting democratic progress depends upon continued broad participation, and the relationships and structures that encourage it.” [emphasis added].

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12 Most Frustrating Moments of “Waiting for Superman”

Josh Eidelson

- The way Davis Guggenheim used the kids’ stories. Each of the kids was sympathetic, and they dramatized the deep inequality of opportunity in America. But neither the kids nor their parents got much chance to talk about what they thought would make their school better or worse. Instead we got Guggenheim intoning that if this girl didn’t get into a charter school, her life would basically be hopeless. If Guggenheim believes that these kids are suffering because too many of their teachers should be fired but won’t be, why not let the kids say so? If he believes these kids are suffering because teachers or administrators have low expectations for them, why not let the kids say that? And if the kids instead talked about classes that were too big, or teachers that were overwhelmed or undertrained, or being hungry in class, that would have been interesting too.

- Something that sounded like Darth Vader’s Imperial March played over slow motion shots of Democrats appearing with members of teachers’ unions. This was especially agitating watching the movie as the Governor of Wisconsin is trying to permanently eliminate teachers’ bargaining rights in the name of closing a deficit he created with corporate tax cuts.

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Wake Up Call

Gloria Gordon

Jon Stewart broke the news recently that the Daily Show will throw a “Rally to Restore Sanity” on Saturday, October 30th on the Washington Mall. He exhorted viewers to come and “Take It Down A Notch For America.” Going beyond a parody of the Glenn Beck Restoring Honor Rally in August, Stewart builds on the “sanity” theme—and invites all of us folks who haven’t been out there yelling stupidities to show up. “Think of our event as Woodstock, but with the nudity and drugs replaced by respectful disagreement.” Stewart’s rally will meet a dueling “March to Keep Fear Alive,” led by his Comedy Central ally Stephen Colbert.

Hearing of the Stewart-Colbert plans is the tonic I’ve needed ever since watching the video of an address by Chris Hedges at the annual convention of Veterans for Peace (VFP) in August. Hedges, a former war correspondent, reviewed recent and current U.S. political and economic behavior and drew a chilling picture of what he sees for the future—a dark-age period that it is too late to prevent.

Hedges talk was a wake-up call for me. His observations fit what I have been noticing, but I had not connected the dots to face the full grip that corporate America has on our status as a democracy. At the same time, neither I nor my friends in the VFP audience agree with his opinion that it is too late for citizen action to turn things around.

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Mental Health in Haiti

Yosef Brody

Even before the earthquake of January 12th — before the physical, psychological, and social catastrophe that killed as many people as the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki— the psychosocial state of Haiti was extremely fragile. The living ghosts of slavery, terror and exploitation by foreign and domestic powers, political violence in the streets, destructive hurricanes, lack of social infrastructure, near famine conditions…the majority of the Haitian people have been dealing with chronic, elevated life stress for many years. Haitians have undergone a particularly traumatic social history, a collective experience lived out over the course of centuries.

Today, the basics of everyday life are either hard to come by or are simply not available: shelter, food, school, doctors, and clean water cannot be taken for granted. The stress that comes with living under these conditions—traumatic events aside—increases the likelihood that a human being will lose her ability to function as effectively as possible. When a massive disaster such as the 2010 earthquake, which had both natural and man-made causes, is added in to the mix, psychological problems spike. Mental health care in Port-au-Prince today is practically non-existent, a fact that has dire implications not only for current suffering, but one that also increases the probability that psychological problems will be passed down to future generations.

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Seeking Answers from Social and Personality Psychologists: 10 Research Questions in the Torture/Interrogation Debate

Bradley Olson

As someone trained in personality and social psychology—and now also working as a community psychologist—it’s clear to me that social and personality theory and research make essential contributions to understanding social justice issues.

I’ve long been an activist on the American Psychological Association (APA) torture issue and a member of Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PsySR). This led to an invitation to participate in a session chaired by Chris Crandall at the 2009 Society for Experimental Social Psychology conference in Portland, Maine. The session involved presentations of several excellent studies related to U.S. torture and interrogation. My role was to act as a discussant and to suggest what other areas, as an activist, I thought should be studied empirically.

For several decades, the horrors of WWII and the racism that led to the civil rights movement inspired the work of U.S. social and personality psychologists. As several participants mentioned at the session in Portland, the Global War on Terror (GWOT) and Guantanamo can have similar influences on the discipline in the years ahead. I agree. From my perspective as an activist, here are 10 questions I would love social and personality researchers to help answer:

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The CIA’s Torture Research Program

Stephen Soldz

In the aftermath of World War II the Nuremberg Code and other standards established that all research on people should be based upon two fundamental principles: voluntary informed consent and minimization of harm. “The voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential,” begins that Code. The principles of the Nuremberg Code were widely incorporated, including in the United States, into professional ethical rules and laws governing human research. New evidence suggests that, not only did the CIA torture the detainees in their custody, but they also conducted illegal and unethical research on them.

Experiments in Torture

A new report of which I am a coauthor, Experiments in Torture: Evidence of Human Subject Research and Experimentation in the “Enhanced” Interrogation Program, just released by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) provides the first strong evidence that the CIA was indeed engaged in research on detainees in its custody. The report, the result of six months of detailed work, analyzes now-public documents, including the “torture memos” from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) and the CIA’s Inspector General Report and the accompanying CIA Office of Medical Services (OMS) guidelines for monitoring of detainees.

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The Conditions for Human Health and Well Being Reside within the Psychosocial Contexts of Human Life

Anthony Marsella

As our concern for human health and well being grows with each day, we find ourselves too often looking to solutions within limitations of the health care system. We speak of the need for more medical services, lower medical costs, more health professionals, better medical technologies, improvements in medical records, greater access to health care, and more research.

While all of these factors are important, they distract us from recognizing and addressing the very psychosocial causes that ultimately limit human health and well being – causes that could be addressed directly and immediately and that would significantly reduce dysfunction, disorder, and disease, and promote human health and well being.

We are infatuated with the physical. We pursue reductionism endlessly, going from limb, to organ, to cell, to gene, to atom and molecular space. All of these pursuits are warranted for they have helped illuminate the substrates and structures of illness. But they cannot in and of themselves address the tolls on human health and well being that are exacted within the psychosocial contexts of our lives. For example, can anyone deny that a reduction in poverty would limit scores of illnesses associated with the deprivations of poverty?

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A Prevention Model for Reducing the Federal Debt While Doing Social Good

Neil Wollman

The growing federal debt has become such a looming problem that President Obama appointed a National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform to tackle it. So far, the public discourse has focused on two painful but seemingly necessary solutions — raising taxes and cutting current government programs. If instead, far more funds were put toward preventing problems before they arise, future spending would be reduced, along with the need for as many tax hikes and program cuts. This prevention model is primarily associated with health care (it is cheaper to prevent than treat an illness), but it could be applied across diverse budget sectors. What if all budget administrators were instructed to consider funding preventive measures that might save money in the future? Here are some examples.

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