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 Seven Paragraphs: Released Binyan Mohamed Abuse Evidence Poses Problems for Both British and U.S. Governments

Stephen Soldz

In a major development in the struggle to curb the abuses committed as part of the War on Terror, the British government last month released under court order previously redacted information on the abuse of Binyan Mohamed by US interrogators. Here are the seven paragraphs that were released which summarize intelligence information which both the British and US governments fought hard to suppress:

It was reported that a new series of interviews was conducted by the United States authorities prior to 17 May 2002 as part of a new strategy designed by an expert interviewer.

v) It was reported that at some stage during that further interview process by the United States authorities, BM had been intentionally subjected to continuous sleep deprivation. The effects of the sleep deprivation were carefully observed.

vi) It was reported that combined with the sleep deprivation, threats and inducements were made to him. His fears of being removed from United States custody and “disappearing” were played upon.

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Fort Dix and Colorado: Pre-emptive Pre-emption in the War on Terror

Ian Lustick

fort_dix_1222What is wrong with these two pictures?

Picture 1: In Colorado in August, shortly before Barack Obama was slated to accept the Democratic nomination for President in Denver, three men were arrested. One wore a ring with a swastika insignia. At least two were known to have expressed white supremacist views. The three were in possession of two high-powered rifles, two wigs, camouflage clothing, a bulletproof vest, walkie-talkies, drugs, and false ID’s. Among themselves they talked of killing Barack Obama to prevent an N-word from living in the White House and planned to find “high ground to set up and shoot.” Shortly after their arrest prosecutors decided not to charge any of the three with conspiring to assassinate Obama or with any other national security related crimes. The explanation offered was that “an assassination attempt was unlikely.” According to the U.S. Attorney in Denver, the talk was, “more aspirational, perhaps, than operational…A bunch of meth heads get together, we don’t know why they do what they do…People do lots of stupid things on meth…If you’re talking about a true threat, there has to be some evidence they’re not just talking about it or thinking about it, especially in a drug-induced state.”

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