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Do No Harm

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Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Andrea Cousins, a clinical psychologist in Northampton, was appalled to learn a few years ago that some in her profession had been involved in developing “enhanced interrogation techniques” used against suspects at Guantanamo Bay and other detention centers.

“I’ve seen films which simulate the kinds of torture that have been performed. It’s really unbearable to watch,” she said. “That’s the basic level— people are being tortured.” And, she added, it doesn’t help the public perception of psychology when professionals who are supposed to help people are, in fact, helping to hurt them.

Cousins is a member of Mass. Campaign Against Torture, which is supporting a state bill that would allow professional sanctions against healthcare providers licensed in Massachusetts who participate in torture of detainees. The bill’s co-sponsors include state Reps. Stephen Kulik (D-Worthington), Ellen Story (D-Amherst) and Ben Swan (D-Springfield).

This is the second time the bill has been introduced; a previous effort failed to come to a vote. Cousins worries that the fallout of the Boston Marathon bombings will make legislators hesitant to back the new bill. “I do wonder if the problem of torture seems real to people when the victims are Muslims, who are, at this point in the national consciousness, being portrayed as the enemy. I just don’t have the sense that people are really thinking of these men as regular human beings,” or know that many detainees haven’t been convicted of a crime, she said.

The Mass. Medical Society has not taken a position on the bill, said spokesman Rick Gulla, but it does have a policy that physicians should not participate in torture or the interrogation of their patients and should inform the proper authorities if they have knowledge of torture. Elena Eisman, executive director of the Mass. Psychological Association, told the Advocate that her group hasn’t had a chance to review the bill but added, “Certainly, psychologists are against torture.”

On May 10, Cousins and others from MACAT will participate in a panel discussion on the issue, following a screening of Doctors on the Dark Side, a 2011 documentary about doctors’ and psychologists’ role in the torture of prisoners. The program will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Frances Crowe Community Room at the Media Education Foundation, 60 Masonic St., Northampton.•

 

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