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Psychologist Complicity in Torture Challenged

For years dissident members of the American Psychological Association, along with non-member psychologists, have fought the associations policies promoting psychologist participation in military and intelligence interrogations. These dissidents argued that psychologists aiding interrogations were sometimes aiding torture and other abuse. Further, even in cases where the interrogations were not themselves abusive, psychologist participation violated the profession’s principle ethical injunction, to “Do No Harm.”

The APA leadership, in contrast, claimed that psychologists were necessary to prevent harm to detainees, though they never explained how this prevention would actually occur. Meanwhile, the press and official documents gradually revealed the fact that psychologists, rather than preventing harm, were central actors in designing and implementing the “enhanced interrogation” techniques used by the CIA in its torture centers and by certain military interrogators at Guantanamo and elsewhere.

The APA response was to deny the facts as long as possible. When pure denial was no longer viable, they resorted to admitting that a very few psychologists acted against their professional ethics in aiding abuses. They have never commented on the role bof psychology as a profession when members of the ptofession are designing and implementing a systematic governmental program of abuse. Rather, APA leaders did everything in their power to obscure the issues in order to maintain their support for psychologist participation in detainee interrogations.

Yesterday a group of APA members filed a formal complaint with APA President Bray protesting what they regard as systematic violations of APA procedures and by-laws by the association in pursuit of its position that psychologists should participate in Bush-era detainee interrogations.

The extent of procedural violations is a major piece of evidence behind dissidents beliefs that APA leadership were knowingly complicit in the Bush program of detainee abuse. The other major pieces of evidence are the APA’s systematic refusal to acknowledge psychologist participation in abuses until the public record made denial impossible, and the massive resistance of APA leadership to any attempts by members to change policy. When APA members, by a vote of 59% to 41%, voted to condemn psychologist participation in illegal detention sites like Guantanamo, the APA accepted the formal wording but worked to obfuscate its application to any actual existing sites.

Many APA members have resigned in disgust at the association’s leadership’s duplicitous role. Yet other dissidents remain members and are pursuing all available means of redress allowed by association rules. This formal protest is their latest effort. Under APA rules, President Bray is to appoint a Committee on Constitutional issues, with membership acceptable to complainants, to investigate. APA rules stipulate that this Committee should be formed and operate expeditiously. The ball is now in President Bray’s court.

Here is a pdf of the letter sent to President Bray.

STEPHEN SOLDZ is a psychoanalyst, psychologist, public health researcher, and faculty member at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. He edits the Psyche, Science, and Society blog. He is a founder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology, one of the organizations working to change American Psychological Association policy on participation in abusive interrogations. He is President-Elect of Psychologists for Social Responsibility [PsySR].