NPR's Alix Spiegel recently interviewed military psychologist Bryce Lefever, who used to work in the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) program, which trained US military personnel to resist brutal interrogation techniques including waterboarding. Toward the end of the interview, Lefever argued that the "real ethical consideration" governing interrogation practices is to do "the most good for the most people" -- the language of utilitarianism:
SPIEGEL: Like many of the psychologists who were involved in some way with these interrogations, Lefever now says that he wasn't completely in favor of using the methods. He preferred what's called rapport-building techniques, and thought that the harsher methods, if known, could damage America's image. Still, Lefever says, he feels that the psychologists involved are being unjustly vilified, characterized by the press as unethical in a completely unfair way.
Dr. LEFEVER: The press loves to report something provocative. And psychologists were supposed to be do-gooders. You know, the idea that they would be involved in producing some pain just seems to be, you know, at first blush, something that would be wrong because we do no harm. But the real ethical consideration would say, well, by producing pain or questioning of somebody, if it does the most good for the most people, it's entirely ethical, and to do otherwise would be unethical.
SPIEGEL: Now, let's pause for just a second. This description of ethical obligation is not something you would hear from a civilian psychologist. For a civilian psychologist, the only concern is the patient, the person sitting in front of you. But according to Lefever, this group of military psychologists saw things very differently.
Dr. LEFEVER: The ethical consideration is always to do the most good for the most people. And America happens to be my client. Americans are who I care about. I have no fondness for the enemy, and I don't feel like I need to take care of their mental health needs.
This sort of reasoning is chilling coming from a doctor. Modern medicine is fundamentally non-utilitarian in its practices. Both civilian and military doctors try to help the sick regardless of whether it is costly or difficult to do so -- a practice may not comply with the dictate to do "the most good for the most people." Anyone who has taken an introductory philosophy course would be familiar with the ethical dilemmas that utilitarian reasoning creates. Is it time for the military to send their doctors back to school?