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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Obama’s Afghan Torture Center and the American Psychological Association

Stephen Soldz

A recent pair of articles by Marc Ambinder of the Atlantic has shed new light upon activities in the secret so-called "black jail" on the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Among other aspects, these new revelations suggest that psychologists may be playing a major role inside the facility, raising questions about the reasons for American Psychological Association (APA) lobbying activities in support of the agency that Ambinder reports is running the detention center.

In recent months the Washington Post, New York Times, and BBC reported on a secret prison on the fringes of the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Referred to by former prisoners as the "black jail," this institution is reportedly a site where prisoner abuse is regular and systematic. The BBC reported that all nine former prisoners they interviewed

told consistent stories of being held in isolation in cold cells where a light is on all day and night.

The men said they had been deprived of sleep by US military personnel there.

Thus, we can assume that psychological torture techniques of isolation, sleep deprivation, and hypothermia are routine aspects of treatment inside the facility.

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Psychologists in An Age of Torture: An Open Letter to Dr. Carol Goodheart

Trudy Bond

“We’ve seen a lot of negative e-mail discourse in recent years as APA has made decisions and released reports that have triggered controversy among our members . . . We also saw heated disputes over APA’s stance on the role of psychologists in interrogations . . . The difference is that in the new age of outrage, criticism on these issues quickly escalated to unwarranted heights. In 24/7 instant communications, extreme voices dominate . . .I see four elements converging online to strain the collegiality within APA . . .viral distortion (a small number perpetuate shocking misrepresentations about APA’s actions, policies and procedures). The effect on APA is damaging when members and the public believe the distortions . . . Let’s turn down the temperature on outrage.”

APA in the Age of Outrage
by Dr. Carol D. Goodheart
President, American Psychological Association

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PsySR Statement on APA Convention and Manchester Grand Hyatt


PsySR Urges the American Psychological Association to Change Course and Not Hold Events at the Manchester Grand Hyatt


The 2010 annual convention of the American Psychological Association (APA) will be held in August in San Diego, California, and the Manchester Grand Hyatt has been designated as the convention’s primary headquarters hotel.

Last year the hotel’s owner Doug Manchester contributed $125,000 to qualify Proposition 8 for the November 2008 ballot, an initiative that abolished the right of same-sex couples to marry in California. In response, a coalition of LGBT and labor groups instituted a boycott of the Manchester Grand Hyatt. This boycott has now entered its second year, and many organizations, in support of the boycott, have moved their scheduled meetings out of the hotel to other locations.

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The “Ethical Interrogation”: The Myth of Michael Gelles and the al-Qahtani Interrogation

Stephen Soldz

Several public accounts of abusive interrogations at Guantanamo have praised psychologist Dr. Michael Gelles for his opposition to these abuses. Similarly, the American Psychological Association (APA) has repeatedly pointed to actions of Dr. Gelles to instantiate their claim that psychologists played a crucial role in opposing abuses and protecting detainees. Gelles also has been a regular public presence, discussing the errors at Guantanamo while advocating for the APA’s “policy of participation” in interrogations. The APA policy encourages psychologists to aid interrogations to keep them “safe, legal, ethical, and effective.” But a recently released Defense Department document challenges Dr. Gelles’s role as an exemplar of psychological ethics in interrogations.

As reported by Bill Dedman, Phillipe Sands, and Jane Mayer, Gelles objected to the “harsh” interrogation tactics being used at Guantanamo. In particular, he strenuously objected to the plans to “reverse engineer” the tactics used by the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) program to inculcate strategies for resistance to torture in US service members at high risk for capture.

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A Call for Change in APA’s Position on the Boycott at the Manchester Grand Hyatt

Brad Olson and Roy Eidelson

manchester_demoThis open letter calls for the immediate reconsideration of the American Psychological Association’s (APA’s) current plan to use the Manchester Grand Hyatt as a headquarters hotel for the 2010 Annual Convention in San Diego. In particular, we respond here to what we view as a highly troubling September 26, 2009 letter sent by APA president-elect Carol Goodheart to APA Council members.

In November 2008, California’s Proposition 8 abolished same-sex marriage in the state, setting back our nation’s progress toward equality for all. Prior to the vote, Doug Manchester, owner of the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego, contributed $125,000 to help fund the campaign – a campaign that relied on deceptive ads, appeals to prejudice, and fear-mongering to ultimately overturn equal rights for same-sex couples in California.

Following Manchester’s contribution, local GLBT and labor rights supporters united as a coalition and called for a boycott of Manchester’s Hyatt. This boycott has now entered its second year, and it continues to grow. In September of 2009, the Courage Campaign and Equality California signed on to the boycott effort, joining Californians Against Hate and Unite Here (see Say No to Doug Manchester).

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Gay Marriage, the Manchester Grand Hyatt, and the APA

Roy Eidelson

manchesterLate last month, American Psychological Association president-elect Carol Goodheart sent an email to APA’s Council of Representatives alerting them to a problem looming on the horizon. Several years ago, the APA entered a contract with the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego to be a headquarters hotel for the 2010 annual convention next August. But last year, hotel owner Doug Manchester contributed $125,000 to support California’s Proposition 8 initiative, which ultimately succeeded in banning same-sex marriage in the state.

In her email on behalf of the Board of Directors, Dr. Goodheart requested that “APA Divisions and governance members not boycott the Manchester Hyatt.” She warned that the financial costs of canceling the hotel contract could exceed $1 million. And she proposed that APA instead turn the situation into a “positive educational opportunity regarding the issue of same-sex marriage.”

Dissatisfied with and troubled by Dr. Goodheart’s letter and its recommendations, I sent her the letter below in response to her request for “other actions that APA might take.”

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