Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Psychologists: Sign the Open Letter to APA President Brehm -- Change Course on APA Interrogation Policy Now!

An open letter signed by a number of American Psychological Association (APA) psychologists has been posted online, and interested psychologists can click on the link at the beginning of this paragraph to add their name to the over 200 psychologists who have already endorsed this important statement. There's also a place to leave your own comment!

What follows is a truncated version of the letter. Psychologists, please go to the site to read the entire thing, and sign the letter (I believe the creators of the letter are only looking for psychologists, as the aim is to pressure the APA leadership from their own constituency).

Dear President Brehm:

We write you as psychologists concerned about the participation of our profession in abusive interrogations of national security detainees at Guantánamo, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and at the so-called CIA "black sites."

Our profession is founded on the fundamental ethical principle, enshrined as Principle A in our Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct: "Psychologists strive to benefit those with whom they work and take care to do no harm." Irrefutable evidence now shows that psychologists participating in national security interrogations have systematically violated this principle. A recently declassified August 2006 report by the Department of Defense Office of the Inspector General (OIG) –Review of DoD-Directed Investigations of Detainee Abuse-describes in detail how psychologists from the military's Survival, Evasion Resistance, and Escape (SERE) program were instructed to apply their expertise in abusive interrogation techniques to interrogations being conducted by the DoD throughout all three theaters of the War on Terror (Guantánamo, Afghanistan, and Iraq)....

The OIG report details a number of trainings and consultations provided by SERE psychologists to psychologists and other personnel involved in interrogations, including those on the Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCT), generally composed of and headed by psychologists. The OIG confirms repeated press accounts over the last two years that SERE techniques were "reverse engineered" by SERE psychologists in consultation with the BSCT psychologists and others, to develop and standardize a regime of psychological torture used by interrogators at Guantánamo, and in Iraq and Afghanistan....

While other health professional associations expressed dismay when it was reported that their members had participated in these abuses and took principled stands against their members' direct participation in interrogations, the APA undertook a campaign to support such involvement. In 2005, APA President Ron Levant created the PENS Task Force to assess the ethics of such participation. Six of the nine voting psychologist members selected for the task force were uniformed and civilian personnel from military and intelligence agencies, most with direct connections to national security interrogations. Perhaps most problematic, it is clear from the OIG Report that three of the PENS members were directly in the chain of command translating SERE techniques into harsh interrogation tactics. Although we cannot know exactly what each of these individuals did, their presence in the chain of command is troubling....

Not surprisingly, given its membership, the PENS Task Force report concluded that "[i]t is consistent with the APA Code of Ethics for psychologists to serve in consultative roles to interrogation and information-gathering processes for national security-related purposes...." The Task Force report further echoed the Department of Defense cover story for employing BSCT psychologists: "While engaging in such consultative and advisory roles entails a delicate balance of ethical considerations, doing so puts psychologists in a unique position to assist in ensuring that such processes are safe and ethical for all participants."

Since the release of the PENS report, numerous articles in the press have documented that psychologists at Guantánamo and elsewhere have utilized abusive SERE techniques on detainees....

Every report of horrific abuses occurring at Guantánamo and elsewhere has not only cast doubt upon this basic premise of APA policy, these reports have repeatedly highlighted psychologists' abuse of psychological knowledge for purposes of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Yet the APA has never made any public attempt to investigate such reports.

It is time for the APA to acknowledge that the central premise of its years-long policy of condoning and encouraging psychologist participation in interrogations is wrong....The following steps will begin the process of correcting this egregious error by the organization and its leadership. We urgently recommend that:

1. The President of the APA acknowledge errors and abuses and chart a new direction re-emphasizing human rights. In light of the recent revelations, you, as President of the APA, should issue a clear public statement that acknowledges the errors made by APA, in both policy and public statements, and abuses perpetrated by psychologists; you should call on the association to go in a new direction, giving primary emphasis to human rights concerns in forging policy around ethics and national security.

2. The APA Board of Directors and Ethics Committee endorse the APA Moratorium on psychologist participation in interrogations of foreign detainees. It is critical to immediately disengage psychologists from any direct or supervisory participation in interrogations of individual detainees. Such a step would do much to bring the APA in line with the positions adopted some time ago by the American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association, and the American Nurses Association. Thus, the APA leadership should support and the Council of Representatives must, at the August Convention, pass the Moratorium on Psychologist Involvement in Interrogations at US Detention Centers for Foreign Detainees proposed by Dr. Neil Altman and scheduled for a vote at Council.

3. The APA Board of Directors encourage, support, and cooperate with the Senate investigations of detainee treatment. It is essential that the APA support and cooperate fully with the announced investigation of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) into the role of SERE in the creation of abusive interrogation strategies, as well as the Senate Intelligence Committee's announced investigation into the CIA's handling of detainees in their custody. In fact, the APA Board of Directors should do what it can to expedite this and other external, non-partisan investigations of all localities that utilize BSCT psychologists.

4. The APA Board of Directors commence a neutral third-party investigation of its own involvement, and that of APA staff, in APA-military conflicts of interest. It is essential that the APA membership and the concerned public develop an in-depth understanding of how and why the APA accepted a rationale for psychologist involvement in interrogations that has been revealed to have been advanced by involved psychologists, and which permitted their continued participation and supervision of abusive interrogation processes. The concept of "legal, ethical, safe, and effective" has been exposed as a euphemism for psychologist oversight of abuse; these activities can only be considered "ethical" because the APA Ethics Code (Standard 1.02) was rewritten in 2002 to define complying with any law or military regulation as "ethical"....

To fail to act now would be to continue an organizational policy that maintains and protects psychologists' roles as the architects of what can only be interpreted as a torture paradigm; one that has intentionally violated the Geneva Conventions, our nation's values, and our professional ethics.

Interested readers might also want to check out this fact sheet: Q&A: How the Pentagon’s Inspector General Report Contradicts What the APA Has Said About the Involvement of Psychologists in Abusive Interrogations

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