Psychologist held in contempt for refusing to speak

Military psychologist won’t reveal what interpreter told her about alleged torture of Afghan prisoners

A retired military psychologist has been charged with contempt of court for refusing to break a client confidentiality agreement, in a case that involves the alleged torture Afghan war prisoners.

Following a brief appearance in Copenhagen’s Eastern High Court yesterday, Lindholm described the pledge of confidentiality as “inviolable” for her profession.

“If soldiers aren’t allowed to talk with their psychologist about the awful things they either witnessed or were involved in, then they won’t have a chance to get back on their feet,” Lindholm said.

She rejected the notion that her testimony could shed light on the allegations of torture.

“I would break my pledge of confidentiality if I could prevent future crimes. But this is history, and it’s up to others to unravel what happened.”

It will now be up to the court to decide whether Lindholm should be imprisoned or fined.

When asked how she felt about possibly serving jail time for her recalcitrance, she replied: “I think that’s unfair, but I’ll live with it.”

LindholmÂ’s union, the Danish Psychological Association, has urged her to testify even though that would mean a breach of patient confidentiality.

The union had initially defended LindholmÂ’s right not to tell authorities what her client, a military interpreter, told her during therapy. But the association caved last week to the justice system.

“We have supported Merete Lindholm throughout this case, but we have made it clear that once we reached this stage, we could no longer recommend that she remain silent,” Roal Ulrichsen, the president of Danish Psychological Association, told public broadcaster DR. “That’s the situation in which we find ourselves. She should talk now.”

Lindholm, though, is standing firm.

The Danish Psychological Association said that even though it was calling on Lindholm to obey the court, Ulrichsen agreed that she should not be required to testify.

The association said it will now work to have psychologists included with doctors, lawyers and members of the clergy as professions that are protected by confidentiality laws.

“As an organisation, we cannot put up with civil disobedience,” Ulrichsen said. “The core of the problem lies in Danish legislation, and fines won’t change that: we’ll get it changed by talking to politicians.”

This case revolves around photos of the alleged abuse of Afghan prisoners. The military interpreter was sent to a US base in 2002, where the interpreter has stated that he witnessed torture.

He has also said that he showed his psychologist pictures of the prisoners. The attorney in the case described the pictures last year as similar to the now-infamous Abu Ghraib pictures.

In an effort to get to the bottom of the case, the defence attorneys want the psychologist to reveal what the interpreter told her.

With LindholmÂ’s refusal to reveal privileged information yesterday, deliberations have been postponed until the court decides whether to the trial should be held behind closed doors.

Citing the absence of LindholmÂ’s testimony, the judge turned down prosecutor Lone DamgaardÂ’s request for a closed-door trial, a decision she immediately appealed.