Sunday, July 29, 2007

Will APA Psychology Convention Endorse Indefinite Detention?

The American Psychological Association (APA), one of the biggest mental health practitioner, academic, and researcher organizations in the U.S., will hold its annual convention in San Francisco, Aug. 17-20. Concurrently, its Council of Representatives (COR) will be meeting to vote on a competing set of resolutions regarding psychologist participation in interrogation of "enemy combatants". (Technically speaking, only COR will vote on the resolutions, not the full convention.)

Until a few weeks ago, there was only one resolution, proposed by Neil Altman, Ph.D., calling for a moratorium in psychologist participation in such interrogations because of the history of abuse. Now, APA leadership, led by Stephen Behnke, director of the APA Ethics Office, has offered a "counter-resolution", and according to private list-serv gossip, has managed to bureaucratically place it for a vote prior to the original moratorium resolution, which may not come to a vote at all now, it seems.

The "new" resolution has a LOT of problems, and in my analysis is meant to sugar-coat APA criticism of torture, etc., while still allowing psychologists to serve Bush's "war on terror" in camps and prisons that still allow indefinite detention and torture. How could this be?

The Wearying Politics of Resolutions and Counter-resolutions

It is an insult to the many, many psychologists at APA who have worked tirelessly to get the moratorium to a vote, to sidestep it with a "new", "substitute" resolution carried up deep from the bowels of some APA or Pentagon or CIA office. -- Okay, maybe it wasn't edited at the Pentagon or at Langley. The APA has its own in-house link to the two latter through its Division 19, the Society for Military Psychology. The latter came out against the moratorium resolution some time ago.

Stephen Soldz gives the full text of the APA's new resolution on psychologists and interrogations, as well as the response of the internal APA opposition to this new resolution/counter-resolution. As one might expect, it's full of golden-sounding words and brave pronouncements against torture:

WHEREAS the American Psychological Association is an accredited non-governmental organization at the United Nations and so is committed to promote and protect human rights in accordance with the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights;

WHEREAS subjecting individuals to torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment for any reason in any context is wholly antithetical to these goals and purposes;

BE IT RESOLVED that the American Psychological Association unequivocally condemns torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, for any and all purposes, including interrogation...

The APA even added a paragraph prohibiting psychologist participation in any interrogation that includes the following:

... direct or indirect participation during interrogation processes in: mock executions; water-boarding or any other form of simulated drowning or suffocation; sensory deprivation and over-stimulation; “hooding”; forced nakedness; sexual humiliation; cultural or religious humiliation; exploitation of phobias; stress positions; the use of dogs to threaten or intimidate; physical assault, including slapping and shaking; exposure to extreme heat or cold; induced hypothermia; mind-altering substances used for the purpose of eliciting information; isolation and sleep deprivation used in a manner that adversely affects an individual’s physical or mental health; or the threatened use of any of the above techniques to the individual or to members of the individual’s family...

What's Wrong with All This?

We could start by the fact that, unlike Dr. Altman's original moratorium resolution, the APA's in-house version has no statement about participation in unlawful detention settings where detainees are held indefinitely, without any judicial process. As one writer at the group list for Psychologists for an Ethical APA put it (link is to group site, not to the following quote, which is from a private list):

The APA resolution is a no-starter. And the very first reason is sufficient:

It does not prohibit psychologists from working in settings where indefinite detention and abrogation of legal rights guaranteed by international law and treaty are taking place.

This is a fundamental violation of human rights.

We can argue about APA's laundry list of prohibited activities later.

I think this is what Coalition for an Ethical APA is getting at when they say, "At present, there is no prohibition against psychologists' participating in detainee operations when detainees are kept in conditions that would be condemned as breaches of humane treatment, according to the instruments cited in the resolution. The resolution must address the psychologists' ethical responsibilities when asked to work in such an environment."

I can tell you now, this is a non-starter for the military psychologists/ CIA crowd.

(London, December 16, 2004) The ruling by Britain's highest court, the Law Lords, that the indefinite detention of foreign terrorism suspects is incompatible with the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is a profoundly significant decision, Human Rights Watch said today.

From the amicus brief for Benitez v Mata by the Lawyers Committee, Amnesty, etc.:

No misuse of government power is more clearly established as a violation of international law than the practice of prolonged arbitrary detention. The right not to be unjustly detained, so central to our concept of ordered liberty, is articulated in the earliest documents on personal liberty as well as in the declarations, covenants, treaties, and constitutions that embody modern international law and the laws of free states. Indeed, the right is universally recognized among the democratic nations and among the international bodies that represent the nations of the world.

The Magna Carta, drafted in 1215 in response to abuses of power by the English monarchy, declared that "No Freeman shall be taken, or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any otherwise destroyed; nor will we not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful Judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the Land"....

The most widely respected elaboration of human rights norms of the twentieth century, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, states plainly that "[n]o one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile." G.A. Res. 217A (III), U.N. Doc. A/810, at 71 (1948); see Jordan Paust, International Law as Law of the United States 246 (1996)....

The General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Covenant in 1966, and it entered into force in 1976. As of November 2003 there were 151 parties to the Covenant, including the United States, which ratified it in 1992.

There's much more, but this is enough. It can't be passed, as it fails to make this basic bow to the most elementary of human rights. There's more reasons to oppose, but why waste our breath when even this issue is not addressed?

What is the Definition of "Is"? And Other Legalisms

I think there are also other serious problems of definition inherent in the APA list of banned activities noted above, especially those surrounding terms such as "sensory deprivation and over-stimulation", isolation, sleep deprivation, and "exploitation of phobias". In fact, it is precisely these terms that have come under some fire by Physicians for Social Responsibility, who protested to Secretary of Defense Gates recently that aspects of the Army's recent rewrite of the Army Field Manual allow for the continued use of these practices under its "Appendix M" -- and this despite the fact the Army maintains they now have eliminated such practices (except the use of isolation, which they admit will continue).

For more on this, see my recent article: Sec. Gates: Stop SERE-type Torture! Drop Appendix M from Army Field Manual.

The problem, of course, lies in the definition of these practices. How many hours a night or a week constitute sleep deprivation? What constitutes sensory deprivation and/or sensory over-stimulation, etc.? Psychologists have plenty to say from a research standpoint on these questions, and much of it is very condemnatory of U.S. interrogation and detention practices.

A Long, Sordid History

Psychology has a long and sordid history when it comes to participation in the activities of the U.S. government. Not everything has, of course, been bad, and no doubt psychological knowledge has contributed to the well-being of countless individuals. But this doesn't mean we should shun that portion of its history that is unsavory: research in mind control, in manipulation of human behavior, in new ways to bend the will of individuals and break it, in the unlawful interrogation of individuals held without recourse to legal process.

This must stop now! And those attending the APA convention in San Francisco are in a prime spot to show the government and their agents that the old ways will hold no more. Come to the PEAPA demonstration at the APA Convention, Friday, August 17, 4pm-5.30pm at Stone Stage, Yerba Buena Gardens, San Francisco. -- Access to the gardens is one 3rd Street between Mission and Howard, a couple of minutes walk from the Moscone Convention Center. It's a public demonstration, so all are welcome!

Rally Endorsed by (to date):

American Friends Service Committee, San Francisco; California Physicians Alliance; Center for Constitutional Rights; Coaltion for Justice and Accountability; East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, Berkeley; Institute for Labor and Mental Health, Oakland; Institute for Redress and Recovery; Robert Jay Lifton, M.D; Steven Miles, M.D., author Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity, and the War on Terror; Monterey Bay Psychological Association; Northern California Society for Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy; Physicians for Human Rights; Physicians for Social Responsibility, San Francisco; Psychoanalytic Institute of Northern California; Sections II, III, and IX of Division 39 of the APA; Survivors International, San Francisco; Tikkun; Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club;; Women's International League for Peace and Justice, S.F.

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