When the American Medical Association directed its members to have no part in controversial US military interrogations, the military said they’d just use psychologists instead.
Subsequently, the American Psychological
Society Association has endorsed a report [pdf] that sets out how psychologists can participate in the same interrogations that their medical colleagues have declared unacceptable.
Salon wrote an article about this decision, and the fact that the endorsement did not follow the standard route of approval and contained a majority of members with ties to the military.
The APA sent off an angry reply to Salon but has subsequently had to admit that some of the information in their reply was incorrect, as detailed in a further article.
The debate is likely to get heated during the APA’s summer conference where the controversy is due to be debated.
There is already an online petition of psychologists who are lobbying the APA to adopt a stricter policy which has gained 1,500 signature so far.
In response, the APA has posted their own analysis of the key similarities and differences between the medical position and their own on their website [pdf].
Link to Salon article ‘Psychological warfare’.
Link to Salon ‘Psychologists group still rocked by torture debate’.
pdf of APA ethics comparison.
pdf of Report of the APA Presidential Task Force on psychological ethics and national security.
3 thoughts on “APA endorses participation in military interrogations”
First, please correct the name of the organization in paragraph 2 — it is APA who issued the report, not APS. What was the American Psychological Society is now the Association for Psychological Science. To my knowledge, APS has not released any statements on the use of psychologists in interrogation.
Second, please note that many of us are not happy with the APA’s position. The APA Council of Representatives will be meeting soon to take up this issue, so I can assure you this issue is not over. APA Division 48 (Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict, and Violence), a subgroup of APA members, has been openly opposed to the resolution. Psychologists for Social Responsibility (http://www.psysr.org) has released an open letter from Steven Reisner (of the NYU Trauma Studies program) to the president of APA, Gerald Koocher. Here is the text of the letter:
Dear Dr. Koocher,
It has been more than a month since last we spoke, and during that time almost 1500 people (most of them members of the APA) have signed a petition “against psychologist’s participation in the interrogation of enemy combatants.” Division 48, in consultation with the Divisions of Social Justice, has put forward a resolution to change the ethics code to bring it in line with internationally recognized principles of human rights, and Physicians for Human Rights has suggested that the APA bring “their ethical policies regarding interrogation in step with the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association, and explicitly prohibit psychologists from participating in interrogations.”
You are already familiar, from our debate on Democracy Now, with my position on these matters, but let me reiterate my two part stance: a) that the American Psychological Association ethics code must be written in a way that makes it clear that it is unethical for psychologists to participate, advise, guide, or train others to participate in interrogations at interrogation centers such as Guant√°namo and Abu Ghraib, which operate outside of national or international law and which have been condemned as sites of torture by international human rights monitoring government and non-governmental agencies, and b) that since the current United States Administration and the military services have reinterpreted the definition of torture, cruel and inhumane practices in a way that permits many internationally condemned practices of physical and psychological abuse, psychologists need a clearly articulated ethical principle, like other health professionals, which simply prohibits them from “weakening the physical or mental condition of a human being, without therapeutic justification.” (World Medical Association)
Since we spoke, too, it has also been widely reported that the 60% of the appointees to the PENS task force (hand-picked, I understand, by the President of the APA) had direct ties to the military, whereas membership in the APA’s Division of Military Psychology stands at 396 out of a total APA membership of 77,500 or about 1/2 of 1%. One of these appointees, Morgan Banks, is “command Psychologist and Chief of the Psychological Applications Directorate of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC).” According to his biographical statement, he “provides the only Army training for psychologists in…interrogation support, and behavioral profiling.” You selected him for a committee to determine the application of Ethics to current military interrogations, even though he is not a member of the APA and even though he is, apparently, directly involved in the practices that spurred the creation of the PENS task force review.
I know that the Council of Representatives will be meeting next week to discuss the issues raised by psychologists’ participation in interrogations at Guant√°namo and elsewhere, and to decide on what, if any, changes should be implemented in the ethics code as a result of alleged psychologist participation in abusive interrogation practices. You have announced that there will be a single guest speaker addressing the Council: Army Surgeon General Kevin C. Kiley. And further, that General Kiley will only respond to questions vetted in advance.
I am sure that you are aware that on April 13, 2005, General Kiley issued a report on medical operations at Guant√°namo and Abu Ghraib, with particular emphasis on the role and functioning of what have come to be called BSCTs. He recommended at that time that wherever possible, senior psychologists should be used exclusively for those teams and he described their role as follows: “[Psychologists are to] check the medical history of detainees with a focus on depression, delusional behaviors, manifestations of stress, and “what are their buttons.” [Psychologists] will greatly assist [interrogators] with: obtaining more accurate intelligence information, knowing how to gain better rapport with the detainees, and also knowing when to push or not to push harder in pursuit of intelligence information.” *
According to the PENS task force report, this recommendation is in direct violation of the ethics code (the use of medical records for purposes other than treatment). And, for those of us who believe that the PENS task force did not go far enough, this report demonstrates precisely why we need to strengthen and clarify the ethics code. The Surgeon General’s report and the PENS report both recommend putting psychologists in the position of assessors of the level of coercion and stress applied to a detainee. This is not a role for a medical or mental health professional, dedicated as we are to the humane treatment of individuals and bound as we are by the ethical injunction to “do no harm.” And especially now, when the centers of such interrogations are the subject of condemnation, not only by the United Nations, the European Union, and International Human Rights organizations, but by the Supreme Court of the United States
Thus, your extending the sole invitation to address the Council to the author of the problematic military code strikes me as continuing a practice of stacking the deck in favor of a military interpretation of the role of psychologists, even when this conflicts with the history of ethical principles which have governed the behavior of health professionals for millennia.
Which brings me to the point of this letter. The Council will be meeting to make vital decisions concerning psychologists’ behavior in very difficult times and circumstances. This important process, to decide appropriate emendations to our ethics code, is not well-served by presenting Council members with a one-sided picture. Therefore, I am requesting that, in the interest of a true examination of the issues, you consider inviting a speaker with an opposing point of view to speak alongside or in addition to General Kiley. I am requesting, too, that you encourage a lively discussion of the issues, by opening the floor to questions from the Council members.
If you are open to this suggestion, I could think of a number of wise, reasonable representatives of the alternative position who could contribute usefully to the Council discussion. I know that Leonard Rubenstein, Executive Director of Physicians for Human Rights, has offered to speak alongside the General. Mr. Rubenstein and General Kiley have debated these issues in public before and from all reports the conversation was polite, informative and lively. Apparently, you have rejected Mr. Rubenstein’s offer. I would ask you to reconsider.
Another excellent choice would be Philip Zimbardo, Professor Emeritus at Stanford, and former president of the APA. I don’t know if Dr. Zimbardo is planning to attend the convention, or if he would be willing to speak on a panel with General Kiley, but his commentary on the PENS task force report, invited by Stephen Behnke, is a clear, well-reasoned and persuasive alternative perspective.
I hope you give consideration to this proposal. It would show that the Administration of the APA is interested in a full and fair debate of these important issues; in contrast to all appearances that the the APA Administration is simply looking to rubber stamp the position of the current United States administration and it’s military services.
Steven Reisner, Ph.D.
Well Hot Damn Steve,
That’s just what I like to see. I mean, if yer gonna psychologically torture suspected foreign combatants held incommunicado illegally I guess it shouldn’t be done by RANK amateurs; huh?
It would be just plain irresponsible for the APA to allow those folks to be MINDF’ED by unqualified and unlicensed personnel. Afterall, somebody just might suffer some trauma or maybe even permanent damage to their psyches; right?
I was an OPS/ADMIN, Operational Research type back in the days of the creation of our allies (Al Qaeda) when they were a bunch of international volunteers running off to join the International Brigades of “Holy Warriors” to oust the evil Soviets from Islamic soil in Afghanistan. Of course, when we trained ’em we reminded them that once their multinational group of volunteers were indoctrinated into the fundamentalist, non-sectarian, apolitical system created for purposes of keeping everybody on the same page and the Moslems from Bosnia could operate with the folks from Indonesia and the PI without their being problems generated by politics, racial, or sectarian specific issues AND the Soviets eventually went home, then these folks would take their training with them.
Since they were trained to oust all foreign invaders and occupiers from Islamic Soil as their root Doctrine and heal the Sunni-Shiite schism through adherence to basic tenets of Islam as a core belief and unifying factor, AND since they were told DO NOT MESS WITH ISRAEL cause the Jews are sons of the same father (that’d be Abraham) then there might be problems down the road with controlling those fellas and their application of the skills, rooted in the doctrine, when they perceived that other folks, like the US and other NON-MOSLEM countries decided to overstay their welcome in Saudi Arabia and other countries of that region after we were INVITED to get the Iraqis out of Kuwait.
They waited a reasonable amount of time after their respective governments invited us in and the job was done, BUT we started building PERMANENT bases and creating problems to justify continuing the same crap as the Soviets had when they were sorta INVITED into KABUL during my day in OPS.
When we didn’t leave and actually started building permanent bases, well…
Of course the rest of y’all don’t understand that; do ya?
So yeah, I think we really need some APA members with appropriate credentials and Board Certification to torture the shit out of these guys to find out the obvious; don’t you?
The Soviets tried to make them part of their little system and they resisted with OUR HELP. Then we coopted them and determined to protect them from themselves by escalating the threat to SADDAM in order to draw the foul, in order to justify a regime change, in order to stop the potential theat of a broader war with far more casualties and complications.
Makes sense, but some of those folks still don’t like being played and made the power broker’s Sandniggers. It’s about autonomy and cooperation. It’s about wanting to help folks. The “TERRORISTS” want to protect and help folks too. They just have a different way of going about it and are trying to effect their own brand of Regional Unification/Pacification through the utilization of Islamic Ideology vs. Stalinist, Monarchist, or Democratic Ideology.
I’m pretty sure we don’t need to torture anybody to find out that they are just doing what they believe is right. I’m pretty sure they will just come right out and tell you what they believe is right if you just ask ’em. We just don’t happen to agree with them and want to mess with ’em to continue to keep the region under our purvue, if not direct control so the CHINESE don’t do what they did in Tibet once they get their boots on the ground after they sell the folks in the region a whole bunch of cheap Chinese trade goods which are actually pretty GOOD and really CHEAP.
Oh well, if they wanted us to go home they wouldn’t keep setting off them IEDs and killing UN or US troops. They would just cooperate and we would just leave; right?
That’s what we said in 1990-91 during Desert Storm in the FIRST GULF WAR. In ’93, when we didn’t leave and the writing was on the wall, they attacked the Trade Center, then they blew up the Khobar Towers (Military Barracks) in Saudi Arabia, then the COLE, then… well you get it; right?
They were willing to allow us to do what the regional leadership requested and oust Iraqi forces from an illegally annexed sovereign Arab State. We were invited. Then we overstayed our welcome, just like the damned Soviets did in Kabul.
Sure, we need to TORTURE them under APA approved guidelines to find that out; right?
They are not unreasonable people and don’t need to be tortured. Isn’t that why everybody wants to see Saddam hanged? They didn’t start torturing folks in the Teheran backed, Shiite majority region during that particular armed insurrection against the Iraqi government or get overly aggressive with the INSURGENTS during the CIVIL WAR with the KURDS until WE created those NO FLY ZONES and prevented the use of military rapid response air power to those regions to protect Iraqi ground forces attempting to secure those regions post Middle East War, and post Persian Gulf War.
We just did to Saddam’s government what the Chinese and Russians did to Johnson to stop ROLLING THUNDER and they created a NO FLY ZONE in which we were prohibited from strategically bombing North Vietnam and the Ho Chi Minh Trail
Of course, Hearts and Minds then became Phoenix and we started rounding up Viet Cong, suspected Viet Cong, and anybody we thought might have some information we could use to protect our ground forces as the Ho Chi Minh Trail was open to traffic, and support troops could infiltrate the South. So we kidnapped ’em, turned ’em over to ARVN Intelligence who then tortured them to death. Sometimes we just shot their asses or tossed ’em out of helicopters. The usual technique was to make ’em think they were a couple of hundred or a couple of thousand feet in the air and then scare the crap out of them when in fact the helicopter was only a few feet off of the ground. After awhile it seemed pointless to just scare ’em so…
I guess a few Board Certified APA members ought to study that real close and make sure the proper methods are used in order to get the proper effect. Don’t ya think?