Thursday, August 23, 2007

Backlash Grows on Psychologist Torture Resolution

My thanks to the ever-energetic Stephen Soldz (whose blog "Science, Psyche, and Society" is must reading) for bringing attention to some major fallout over the American Psychological Association's scandalous so-called anti-torture resolution. This resolution formally condemned torture and cruel, unusual, inhumane and degrading forms of behavior inflicted on detainees in Bush's phony "war on terror". But its fine print gave the stamp of approval to certain forms of torture, including sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, isolation, and even the use of psychotropic drugs on prisoners if not used for the immediate purpose of eliciting information. And the APA put its stamp of approval on psychologists working in settings where basic human rights, like habeas corpus, are not respected.

Soldz has written to colleagues to publicize the editorial in the Houston Chronicle yesterday, "Human wrongs: Psychologists have no place assisting interrogations at places such as Guantanamo Bay":

Though the American Psychological Association "unequivocally condemns torture," its members may still help interrogators at Guantanamo and similar facilities.

Still worse, a number of exposés show that in recent years psychologists have been pivotal in creating some of the most abusive tactics in use since 9/11....

The worst argument for psychologists' presence at interrogations comes from U.S. Army Col. Larry James, director of the psychology department of a military medical center.

"If we lose psychologists from these facilities, people are going to die," he said at the APA meeting. Psychologists, James suggested, can rein or report overzealous violators.

Any interrogation system that teeters so close to atrocities needs more than a psychologist. It requires thorough overhaul and specific bans of the most extreme methods....

No American psychologist should have a part in an interrogation system with the potential to devolve into murder. No American should.

In addition to newspaper condemnations of APA's pathetic resolution, prominent psychologists are responding as well. Well-known psychologist and author Mary Pipher, of Reviving Ophelia fame, has taken up the cause. She has chosen to return an APA Presidential Citation she received in 2006 from then-APA president Gerald Koocher. Koocher has been a big supporter of the current APA position on allowing psychologists to work in Bush's coercive and inhumane detention camps.

Dr. Pipher wrote in a letter to current APA president Sharon Brehm (no link):

President Brehm:

I am writing to inform you that I am returning my Presidential Citation dated 2/02/06 and awarded to me by then President of the American Psychological Association, Dr. Gerald Koocher. I have struggled for many months with this decision, and I make it with pain and sorrow. I was honored to receive this award and proud to be a member of APA. Over the years I have spoken at national conventions many times and had enjoyed an excellent relationship with the APA and its staff. With this letter, I feel as if I am ostracizing a good friend.

I do not want an award from an organization that sanctions its members’ participation in the enhanced interrogations at CIA Black Sites and at Guantanamo . The presence of psychologists has both educated the interrogation teams in more skillful methods of breaking people down and legitimized the process of torture in defiance of the Geneva Conventions.

The behavior of psychologists on these enhanced interrogation teams violates our own Code of Ethics (2002) in which we pledge to respect the dignity and worth of all people, with special responsibility towards the most vulnerable. I consider prisoners in secret CIA-run facilities with no right of habeas corpus or access to attorneys, family or media to be highly vulnerable. I also believe that when any of us are degraded, all of human life is degraded....

I cannot accept the August 19, 2007 Reaffirmation of APA’s Position Against Torture (Substitute Motion Three.) Under this motion, psychologists will be allowed to continue working on interrogation teams that are not subject to the Geneva Conventions. This motion places our organization on the side of the CIA and Department of Defense and at odds with the United Nations, The Red Cross, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Medical Association. With this reaffirmation we have made a terrible mistake....

All of my life I have tried my best to stand up for those with no voices and no power. The prisoners our government labels as enemy combatants are in this category.

I return my citation as a matter of conscience and in the hopes that the APA will reconsider its current unethical position.

The APA has proved it is out of the mainstream of decent society when it approved a resolution that allowed the degradation of its own basic principles, and showed more regard for militarism and abusive treatment than it did consideration for the well-being of individuals at places where psychologists may work.

Shame and infamy upon APA.

It is not too late for APA to call a special meeting of its Council of Representatives to repeal its infamous resolution and approve the original but suppressed resolution for a complete ban on psychologists at Guantanamo, CIA Black Sites, and other prisons where torture rules, and human rights are suppressed.

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