US psychologists to rebuke CIA, ban to be debated

Salon is reporting that the American Psychological Association is likely to issue a formal condemnation of many CIA interrogation tactics at its annual convention this weekend, although there may be loopholes meaning it falls short of an outright ban.

It has become clear that psychologists are playing a central role in developing and deploying CIA interrogations that a leaked report from International Committee of the Red Cross described as “tantamount to torture”.

Psychologists are important to the CIA partly because the American medical and psychiatric associations have banned their members from participation in such interrogations, citing the practices as abusive.

Views on a possible APA statement are mixed, however, with some concerned that a simple rebuke does not condemn the entire process of indefinite detention without due process and others worried that a ban will be counter-productive, as psychologists may be best placed to prevent abuse and develop humane procedures.

The APA conference has no less than eight sessions on the topic which will include military psychologists, human rights activists, psychologists who study conflict and multicultural issues, and a US Department of Defense interrogator.

However, this is only likely to be the tip-of-the-iceberg and the crucial decision will be on what gets put into the final resolution for members to vote on, with one group, led by Neil Altman, pushing for a complete moratorium on participation.

What remains unclear is whether the APA leadership, headed by APA president Sharon Stephens Brehm, will even allow a vote on Altman’s moratorium. That leadership is seen by some psychologists as too chummy with government interests and with the military in particular. Backers of the moratorium are set to meet with APA leadership before next weekend just to negotiate for the opportunity to bring their resolution up for a vote before the council.

Psychologists interviewed by Salon noted a series of potential loopholes embedded in the resolution condemning CIA tactics. A simple example is the ban on isolation and sleep deprivation, favorite tactics of the CIA. But the resolution from Brehm and the APA leadership only forbids the methods when “used in a manner that adversely affects an individual’s physical or mental health.” There will be efforts in San Francisco to plug those loopholes, and to force a vote on a moratorium.

Link to Salon article ‘Psychologists to CIA: We condemn torture’.
Link to APA Monitor on 2007 Convention Highlights.

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