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Resistance to Resistance

Resistance to Resistance

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Published by Research Guy
Resistance to Resistance
Resistance to Resistance

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Published by: Research Guy on Jul 21, 2013
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From resistance to
A narrative of psychoanalytic activism
Steven Reisner 
Suddenly, no, at last, at long last, I couldn’t anymore, I couldn’t go on.Someone said, you can’t stay here. I couldn’t stay there and I couldn’tgo on.Samuel Beckett
Texts for Nothing I, 1967, p. 75
I plan to tell two intertwined stories. One is personal: the story of how I sud-denly—no, at last, at long last—couldn’t go on. I couldn’t go on as simplyan observer of the history of government abuses of detainees in the war onterror, but found myself unwittingly applying psychoanalytic skills to inu-ence that history, and how I ultimately found that I had to act. It is not mystory alone, but the story of how a small group of psychologists and psycho-analysts uncovered and changed the American Psychological Association’scomplicity our country’s military and intelligence torture programs, andperhaps, in the process interfered with its continued execution.The second story, simultaneous with the rst, is the story of the Bushadministration’s program of torture and abuse of detainees, and of theessential role psychologists played in that program.Telling the two stories together and discovering what I have to tell con-tinues to surprise me. I still nd it unfathomable that pulling on the threadsof the role of psychologists unraveled the Bush administration’s covert tor-ture program—its development, its execution, its legal justications, and itsdissemination—and unfathomable, too, that all of these involved psycholo-gists and psychology. But the reason we pulled these threads in the rst placeis because, as it happens, the story we were presented with—from the Bushadministration and from the American Psychological Association—aboutthe role of psychologists and psychology in national security interrogationsdidn’t make sense. It wasn’t that the story was incoherent or inconsistent.It wasn’t that it was ethically suspect, even though that played a role. Itwas that, for me at least, the story aroused skepticism and curiosity
as a psychoanalyst 
. I found myself listening
to the material that thegovernment and the APA were presenting, much like I listen to my patients’
U: Checkbook titlegainst refs.
AU: Sometimesthe separatingasterisk weredeleted. Theyinterrupted theflow of text andare better reserved for timeswhen the subjectmatter changesor to break longpassages.
From: Adrienne Harris & Steven Botticelli (eds.) (2010).
First do no harm: The paradoxical encounters of  psychoanalysis, warmaking, and resistance
. New York:Routledge.
108 Steven Reisner
stories. I found myself listening for the hidden story—the story that wasbeing obscured precisely as the surface narrative was being perfected.Of course, in one very essential way, listening to political or socialmaterial is different than clinical listening. The neutral stance whose aimis to mobilize and resolve resistance in the patient is out of place in politi-cal listening because the analyst is part of the events of the world. Theresistance that is mobilized through psychoanalytic political listening isa very different form of resistance—more akin to the French resistance.As Badiou (2005) has put it: “When all is said and done, all resistance isa rupture in thought through the declaration of what the situation is, andthe foundation of a practical possibility opened up through this declara-tion” (p. 8).An implication in Badiou’s statement is that psychoanalysis—the aim of which is to foster “a rupture in thought through the declaration of what thesituation is”—makes possible, and perhaps makes necessary, the openingup of new practical possibilities: political resistance and activism. Badiou(2005) continues:This does not amount to believing that it is the risk, very serious indeed,which prevents a good many from resisting; it is, on the contrary, thenon-thinking of the situation that prevents the risk or the examinationof possibilities. Not to resist is not to think; not to think is not
to riskrisking 
. (p. 8, emphasis in original)One of the two stories, then, is the story of how a small group of psychoanalysts used psychoanalytic methods to overcome resistances andjoin the resistance.* * *The other is the story that unfolded as our group began to research thebackgrounds of the psychologists whom the APA leadership selected todecide its policy on psychological ethics and national security. We discov-ered that some of these psychologists and their colleagues were presentat Guantánamo, Bagram, and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) “blacksites” when and where torture took place under their commands. Othersorganized brainstorming sessions on counterterrorism and interrogationtechniques between psychologists and military and intelligence counterter-rorist operatives, including, it turns out, torturers.Following these links one degree of separation further, the threadsunravel into intriguing and frightening associations—one former APA pres-ident was on the board of directors of Mitchell-Jessen Associates, the CIA’spsychologist-consultants in torture (Morlin, 2007); another former APApresident invited one of the two originators of the torture program to hishome for a “brainstorming” session (Shane, 2009), and later gave a lecture
From resistance to resistance 109
on domination techniques to these and other CIA interrogations opera-tives (Mayer, 2008, p. 164). The psychological procedures that apparentlycame out of these sessions, combined with other psychological techniquesdeveloped elsewhere,* were approved by President Bush and directly over-seen and guided by a White House team consisting of the vice president,the secretary of defense, the director of the CIA, the attorney general, thedirector of the National Security Agency, and the secretary of state for usein the U.S. torture program (Greenberg, Rosenberg, & De Vogue, 2008). Inother words, the story leads to a conspiracy at the highest levels of govern-ment to use psychologists and psychological methods to torture prisoners,implicating an entire administration in war crimes.* * *The extent to which these two stories are intertwined is the stuff of spynovels—not the usual ambit of a psychoanalyst. In the end, our small groupof psychologists (calling itself the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology) playeda small but signicant role, not only in changing the policy of the APA andhelping to restore its ethical obligations to “do no harm,” but, more importantand surprising, in exposing the government’s psychological torture program.We were part of a network that included other psychologist-activists, inves-tigative journalists, and a handful of dedicated human rights activists andinvestigators (particularly one, our “deep throat,” who always managed topoint us, the reporters, and eventually government investigative bodies in theright direction). Our network doggedly kept this issue on the Internet, in thenews, and on the radar screen of the Senate Armed Services Committee.Along the way, I came to believe that activism (personal and political)constitutes an important if underappreciated measure of the success of apsychoanalytic process. If psychoanalysis promotes rupture in thought, itpromotes, too, the capacity to “risk risking.”
If this story was being presented as part of a thriller, it would begin in April2007, with the following scene. I received a call from our deep throat (I’llcall him Morty). Morty was coming to New York to meet with another
Mitchell-Jessen Associates was responsible for the rst reverse-engineered use of techniquestaken from the military’s SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) program. SEREtraining is a rigorous training process wherein our own soldiers undergo torture techniquesas a kind of “inoculation” program—preparing them to resist if they were to be captured andtortured by an enemy that doesn’t observe the Geneva conventions. When our governmentdecided to “take the gloves off” in interrogations, our nation became a nation that didn’tobserve the Geneva conventions. The very torture techniques that we aimed to protect ourown soldiers and Special Forces became the basis for our own interrogation procedures.
AU: 2008aor 2008b?

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