Introduction: The long-standing debate on medical complicity in torture has overlooked the complicity of cognitive scientists-psychologists, psychiatrists and neuroscientists-in the practice of torture as a distinct phenomenon. In this paper, we identify the risk of the re-emergence of torture as a practice in the USA, and the complicity of cognitive scientists in these practices.
Methods: We review arguments for physician complicity in torture. We argue that these defences fail to defend the complicity of cognitive scientists. We address objections to our account, and then provide recommendations for professional associations in resisting complicity in torture.
Results: Arguments for cognitive scientist complicity in torture fail when those actions stem from the same reasons as physician complicity. Cognitive scientist involvement in the torture programme has, from the outset, been focused on the outcomes of interrogation rather than supportive care. Any possibility of a therapeutic relationship between cognitive therapists and detainees is fatally undermined by therapists’ complicity with torture.
Conclusion: Professional associations ought to strengthen their commitment to refraining from engaging in any aspect of torture. They should also move to protect whistle-blowers against torture programmes who are members of their association. If the political institutions that are supposed to prevent the practice of torture are not strengthened, cognitive scientists should take collective action to compel intelligence agencies to refrain from torture.