Challenge to APA’s Position on Interrogation & Torture Continues

Bob —  January 27, 2008 — 2 Comments

Presenting torture resolution to APA Council at Convention 2007

Doug Haldemann PhD presenting torture resolution to APA Council (2007)

The Coalition for an Ethical APA (Coalition) recently released a 32 page report titled “Analysis of the American Psychological Association’s Frequently Asked Questions regarding APA’s Policies and Positions on the Use of Torture or Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment During Interrogations”, available as a download from this website (click here to download).

The report challenges APA’s official statements and positions as posted on its FAQ web page. In the introduction to the report, the Coalition posits that the FAQ represents official APA policy, and as such it is full of “errors and disinformation”. The report addresses each issue in the FAQ extensively, and with considerable thought and clarity.

The Coalition challenges the member composition, process and conclusions of the PENS Task Force and its final report — The PENS Task Force report formed the bedrock of the current public APA position on coercive interrogations and torture. The report discusses issues of conflict of interest among many members of the PENS Task Force. It raises serious doubts about APA’s stated determination to investigate any APA member who is alleged to be involved in unethical interrogation practices, despite APA members being identified in the media and in the final report of an investigation of interrogation abuses by the Office of the Inspector General of the DoD as having involvement in coercive interrogations and torture. The report provides details on the backgrounds of the official members of the PENS Task Force, as well as the APA liaisons and “’observers’”.

In the resolution passed at the annual convention in 2007, the APA partitioned coercive interrogation and torture techniques into 3 separate categories of ethical acceptability, and the Coalition’s report concludes that (1) the 19 techniques listed are “all unethical – and unethical at all times – for psychologists, whether used as part of the conditions of confinement or as part of an interrogation process”, (2) abusive techniques are “defined by the techniques employed, and not by the severity or longevity of their effects”, (3) research shows that the only effective techniques are those that are “rapport building” and that the risk of abuse is likely to be reduced when all interrogations are videotaped. The report suggests that it is only ethical for psychologists to participate in interrogations when the interaction is “authentically rapport-based”, conducted under humane conditions, and when videotaped from “camera perspectives of both parties”. The report allows for the “rare instances” when videotaping is not possible (however given the history of interrogations in the “War on Terror” and the recent revelations of destruction of CIA interrogation videotapes that have documented use of torture techniques such as waterboarding, I would say that psychologists should never be present if an interaction cannot be videotaped).

The Coalition points out serious flaws in APA’s position that psychologists can provide the necessary oversight during interrogation procedures to help to insure that abuses do not occur, and if abuses are observed that they are reported to higher authorities. Oversight of the military and intelligence agencies holding detainees and conducting interrogations is best conducted by outside organizations like the American Bar Association, The International Committee of the Red Cross, and the United States Justice Department, not psychologists who are not legally trained and who have no authority to influence policies and practices that violate human rights according to the report. In fact, psychologists’ presence and participation in interrogations under conditions where the Geneva Conventions are not honored is considered “’acquiescence’” and in violation of ethical standards and international law.

The Coalition takes the unequivocal position that (1) the conditions of confinement as currently practiced constitute a violation of human rights and international law, (2) any interrogation conducted under these circumstances constitutes an abusive interrogation and (3) any “enhanced” techniques “by definition” are abusive and therefore unethical for psychologists to be engaged with.

The report provides an extensive reference list. Most of the references can be accessed via the internet.

Once again, click here to read the full text of the Coalition’s anaylsis.

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2 responses to Challenge to APA’s Position on Interrogation & Torture Continues

  1. This is a helpful summary for busy professionals. Please keep us posted!

    Also, it might be interesting to know some economic background of the APA – what percentage of members report involvement with DOD contracts.

    It’s a tricky ground – many psychologists are doing great work, for example, w/ PTSD fallout from our wars. Still, we can only hope that psychologists, of all people, will have the courage to stand up for their convictions.

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