APA Votes to Ban Participation in Torture

Posted on September 20, 2008 by


Thanks very much to Deathpower for alerting me to this news. As discussed on previous occasions on this blog (see this post, and the previous one) along with a video featured in the video pod collection in the sidebar of this blog, the American Psychological Association (APA) has moved by ballot a resolution stating that,

psychologists may not work in settings where “persons are held outside of, or in violation of, either International Law (e.g., the UN Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions) or the US Constitution (where appropriate), unless they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights” was approved by a vote of the APA membership. The final vote tally was 8,792 voting in favor of the resolution; 6,157 voting against the resolution. To become policy, a petition resolution needs to be approved by a majority of those members voting.

The text of the resolution is as follows:

We the undersigned APA members in good standing, pursuant to article IV.5 of the APA bylaws, do hereby petition that the following motion be submitted to APA members for their approval or disapproval, by referendum, with all urgency:

Whereas torture is an abhorrent practice in every way contrary to the APA’s stated mission of advancing psychology as a science, as a profession, and as a means of promoting human welfare.

Whereas the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Mental Health and the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture have determined that treatment equivalent to torture has been taking place at the United States Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Whereas this torture took place in the context of interrogations under the direction and supervision of Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCTs) that included psychologists.

Whereas the Council of Europe has determined that persons held in CIA black sites are subject to interrogation techniques that are also equivalent to torture and because psychologists helped develop abusive interrogation techniques used at these sites.

Whereas the International Committee of the Red Cross determined in 2003 that the conditions in the US detention facility in Guantánamo Bay are themselves tantamount to torture, and therefore by their presence psychologists are playing a role in maintaining these conditions.

Be it resolved that psychologists may not work in settings where persons are held outside of, or in violation of, either International Law (e.g., the UN Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions) or the US Constitution (where appropriate), unless they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights.

It’s a beautiful resolution. It is clear, direct, concise, and principled. It stands in some contrast to the meandering, pausing, doubt-filled counterpart from the American Anthropological Association’s final report on the role of anthropologists and the U.S. military, as discussed here. The other advantage of the APA resolution is that it was put to its membership as a whole, rather  than the working of select committees and executive boards. As a result we have a much clearer sense of where psychologists as a whole stand.

The resolution follows the well convention of the APA that was covered by Democracy Now! and an August 16, 2008, statement from the APA executive to the media:

The American Psychological Association is deeply concerned about the alleged involvement of a psychologist in an abusive interrogation of a Guantanamo detainee. While the psychologist who has been named is not an APA member, the Association’s position is steadfast. No psychologist – APA member or not – should be directly or indirectly involved in any form of detention or interrogation that could lead to psychological or physical harm to a detainee. APA has specifically prohibited 19 interrogation techniques as torture, noting that this list is not exhaustive. No psychologist should ever have any involvement, direct or indirect, in the use of such techniques, which include waterboarding, hooding, forced nudity or stress positions, in an interrogation. Doing so would be a clear violation of the profession’s ethical standards.

APA calls on the Department of Defense and Congress to continue to investigate the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo and elsewhere to ensure that all professional ethical standards are being upheld. In 2007, the APA Council of Representatives stated that all psychologists “have an ethical responsibility … to cooperate fully with all oversight activities, including hearings by the United States Congress and all branches of the United States government.”

APA strongly supports the full implementation of the U.S. Supreme Court decision holding that Guantanamo detainees have a constitutional right to judicial review of their detentions. We are closely monitoring all available information relevant to the role of psychologists in detainee treatment. APA will pursue ethics investigations where evidence indicates that an APA member has violated our ethical standards.

For more APA information, see these links:

  1. Members Approve Petition to Limit Psychologists’ Work in Some Detention Settings
  2. 2008 APA Petition Resolution Ballot
  3. American Psychological Association Policies and Actions Related to Detainee Welfare and Professional Ethics in the Context of Interrogation and National Security
  4. Brad Olson: “Pro Statement in support of the APA Resolution”
  5. Robert J. Resnick: “Con Statement in opposition to the APA Resolution”
  6. Ruth Fallenbaum, rebuttal to the Con Statement
  7. Robert J. Resnick, rebuttal to the Pro Statement
  8. FAQ on the Petition that led to the adopted resolution

See also Stephen Soldz‘s blog for Psyche, Science, and Society, and specifically his post on the APA resolution.

Read why Never In Our Names argues that the resolution needs to be carried a step further by the APA executive, in their post “Insurgent Psychologists Win Key Anti-Torture Vote.”

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