August 15, 2007

APA set to condemn torture

Mock executions, sexual and religious humiliation, dog attacks, induced hypothermia, sleep deprivation, and threats to kill family members.

These are among the controversial government practices that psychologists will no longer be allowed to participate in, under a resolution to be unveiled at next weekend's convention of the American Psychological Association, the world’s largest organization of psychologists.

Psychologists are the last medical professionals still willing to assist U.S. government interrogators at Guantanamo and elsewhere. The American Medical Association, The World Medical Association, and the American Psychiatric Association have all declared that their members have no business consulting in individual interrogations at such detention sites.

The issue is causing considerable acrimony within the 148,000-member APA. Many psychologists think the resolution does not go far enough. They will be lobbying at this weekend's conference for an explicit ban on psychologists in the interrogation rooms.

Psychologists' key role in developing brutal interrogation techniques for the CIA and the military has been the topic of several media exposes. Salon magazine, which has provided continuing coverage of this issue, has an excellent overview today.

"Psychologists have been involved one way or another in supporting the CIA in various forms of psychological torture for years," the article quotes Leonard Rubenstein, president of Physicians for Human Rights, as saying. "The issue is coming to a head because there are so many people within the profession who really feel that the whole integrity of the profession is at stake."

The proposed resolution is timely. It comes on the heels of a White House announcement that it may call on psychologists to participate in a revamped interrogation program. On July 20, President Bush signed an executive order resuming "a coercive CIA interrogation program at the agency's 'black sites,' " according to the Salon article. The U.S. Director of National Intelligence says psychological techniques will be part of the program, but that they will be subject to careful medical oversight - oversight provided by none other than psychologists.

The schedule for APA's special mini-convention, "Ethics and Interrogations: Confronting the Challenge," is available online.

The New Yorker magazine, Vanity Fair , and Salon have featured excellent articles on this topic.

Psychologists for an Ethical APA is spearheading protests at this weekend's convention.

Photo credit: burge5000 (Creative Commons license)