The New Yorker:
In May, 2002, Martin Seligman, the Director of the Positive Psychology Center, at the University of Pennsylvania, was giving a lecture at the San Diego Naval Base. It had been sponsored by the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, and some hundred listeners were in attendance. The topic of Seligman’s talk was simple: for a good part of his career, he had studied a concept that came to be known as learned helplessness, the passivity that often comes after we’ve faced problems that we can’t control. That afternoon, he wanted to describe how the data his team had collected over the years could help American personnel—military and civilian alike—“resist torture and evade successful interrogation by their captors,” he recalls. One audience member in particular seemed especially enthused. A year earlier, in December, 2001, he and a colleague had attended a small gathering at Seligman’s house, where 9/11 and anti-terrorism responses had been the topic of conversation. (The colleague had shared his appreciation of Seligman’s work—he was a psychologist himself and Seligman had been an inspiration.) Now, in San Diego, he was taking the opportunity to learn more about the possible direct applications of learned helplessness to the military. Seligman gave it no further thought. Learned helplessness had inspired a lot of people, and many of them, over the years, had expressed their appreciation.
In early December, 2014, the Senate Intelligence Committee released its report on the torture techniques used by the Central Intelligence Agency in questioning terror suspects since the 9/11 attacks. The report included hundreds of painfully graphic pages, and it revealed that, starting in 2002, many of the most brutal techniques were developed under the direction of two psychologists contracted by the Agency, James E. Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. Much of the torture was justified through experimental psychology.
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