Mental Health in the War on Terror

Mental Health in the War on Terror: Culture, Science, and Statecraft

Neil Krishan Aggarwal
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 232
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/agga16664
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  • Book Info
    Mental Health in the War on Terror
    Book Description:

    Neil Aggarwal's timely study finds that mental-health and biomedical professionals have created new forms of knowledge and practice in their desire to understand and fight terrorism, and in the process, psychiatrists and psychologists have either worked uncritically to protect state interests or labored to protect undesirable populations from state control.

    Professional interpretation, like all interpretations, is subject to cultural forces. Drawing on cultural psychiatry and medical anthropology, Aggarwal analyzes the transformation of definitions for normal and abnormal behavior in a vast array of sources: government documents, professional bioethical debates, legal motions and opinions, psychiatric and psychological scholarship, media publications, and policy briefs. Critical themes emerge on the use of mental health in awarding or denying disability to returning veterans, characterizing the confinement of Guantánamo detainees, contextualizing the actions of suicide bombers, portraying Muslim and Arab populations in psychiatric and psychological scholarship, illustrating bioethical issues in the treatment of detainess, and supplying the methods employed to deradicalize terrorists. Throughout, Aggarwal explores the fascinating, troublesome transformation of mental-health practice into a potential instrument of counterterrorism.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53844-2
    Subjects: Psychology, Law, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. IX-X)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. XI-XVI)
  5. 1 Mental Health, Culture, and Power in the War on Terror
    (pp. 1-29)

    TO ACCESS THE INPATIENT PSYCHIATRIC unit of the East Coast Veteran Affairs Medical Center (ECVA)—the destination for veterans judged imminently suicidal, homicidal, or unable to complete basic activities such as feeding and grooming—each person must clear security checkpoints.¹ Psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, social workers, secretaries, and other hospital workers present photo identification to a security officer. Patient visitors complete sign-in sheets requiring names, times of entry, destinations, signatures, and times of exit. Patients reach the unit in two ways, always supervised by a security official: either outpatient clinicians who suspect that patients meet criteria for admission consult with clinical...

  6. 2 Bioethics and the Conduct of Mental Health Professionals in the War on Terror
    (pp. 30-52)

    IT IS 2004. You are a commissioned psychiatric officer in the U.S. Navy stationed at Guantánamo, where a hunger strike is raging among detainees. One detainee has refused food and water for three weeks, leading to vivid auditory hallucinations, listlessness, and occasional episodes of stupor throughout the day. You have been asked to offer your medical opinion as to whether the detainee can continue the hunger strike, given concerns over his impaired decision-making capacity. You are unsure, since he may no longer understand the risks and consequences associated with a hunger strike. Although they do not say it explicitly, commanding...

  7. 3 The Meanings of Symptoms and Services for Guantánamo Detainees
    (pp. 53-82)

    PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH JUSTIFIED the use of the Guantánamo Bay detention facility after the 9/11 attacks. He has said of its conditions: “At Guantanamo, detainees were given clean and safe shelter, three meals a day, a personal copy of the Quran, the opportunity to pray five times daily, and the same medical care their guards received” (Bush 2010, 166).¹ He has clarified that “while our humane treatment of Guantanamo detainees was consistent with the Geneva Conventions, Al Qaeda did not meet the qualifications for Geneva protection as a legal matter” (166). He has also expressed ambivalence: “While I believe...

  8. 4 Depictions of Arabs and Muslims in Psychodynamic Scholarship
    (pp. 83-106)

    HOW CAN WE UNDERSTAND THE “Muslim mind,” a hot topic of academic conferences and proceedings? Motivations, impulses, wishes, dreams, and psychological defenses supply the raw materials to understand thepsyche(a Greek word meaning “soul, mind, spirit”) in psychodynamic and psychoanalytic thought.Studies on Hysteria, written by Josef Breuer (1842–1925) and Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) and published in 1895, is generally regarded as the first psychoanalytic text, after which Freud published copiously between 1895 and 1905 to elaborate on his creative theories (Person, Cooper, and Gabbard 1995). While it would be impossible to summarize more than a century of...

  9. 5 Depictions of Suicide Bombers in the Mental Health Scholarship
    (pp. 107-132)

    THE TRIAL OF THE FIVE suspects charged with the 9/11 attacks—Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Walid bin Attash, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, and Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi—began in June 2008. The suspects challenged their legal proceedings from the outset. At arraignment, Mohammed boasted, “I’m looking to be [a] martyr for [a] long time” and demanded the death penalty for the entire group (Glaberson 2008a). Some analysts wondered whether his acceptance of the death penalty would free the Bush administration from a lengthy trial, but others worried that a perceived act of martyrdom could strengthen al-Qaeda (Bender and Stockman...

  10. 6 Knowledge and Practice in War on Terror Deradicalization Programs
    (pp. 133-156)

    CAN MILITANTS BE REHABILITATED? Since the War on Terror, psychiatrists have joined others in this debate. The case of Guantánamo detainee Omar Khadr illustrates this point as two prominent psychiatrists have attempted to mold public opinion in opposite directions. The government’s expert witness, forensic psychiatrist Michael Welner, has written on deradicalization programs for Islamist militants in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. He suggests that reinterpreting the concept of jihad, often translated as “holy war,” within a framework of “a peaceful strain of Islam,” along with family integration and vocational training may rehabilitate militants (Welner 2011a). He favors using forensic...

  11. EPILOGUE
    (pp. 157-162)

    THE WAR ON TERROR HAS entered its second decade, with no end in sight. I have attempted to demonstrate that the war has changed the culture of mental health, and vice versa. I have employed three themes from medical anthropology and cultural psychiatry—differences in interpretation based on clinical roles, demonstrations of power in deciding which interpretation is authoritative, and the use of medicine for purposes other than healing—to establish a cultural analytical framework for the forensic functions of medical systems, using the War on Terror as a specific case study. Government restrictions on access and information based on...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 163-172)
  13. REFERENCES
    (pp. 173-204)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 205-214)