Wednesday, July 30, 2008

APA Referendum on Interrogations Policy to Come Up for Vote

As readers of this blog know, internal opponents of the policy of the American Psychological Association, which encourages psychologists to collaborate with the military and CIA in the interrogations of detainees held at Guantanamo, CIA "black site" prisons, and elsewhere, started a petition campaign to call for a special referendum on this APA policy. The petition was successful, and a mail-in vote by the APA membership will begin August 1, with the deadline for returning ballots the end of the business day, September 15.

According to the APA website:
In early June 2008, APA received a petition with the required number of signatures of full Members in good standing concerning the issue of whether psychologists may work in certain settings that involve the detention of individuals.
APA then gives links to the following relevant documents:
The full text of the petition statement
The Pro Statement
The Con Statement
The Rebuttal to the Pro Statement
The Rebuttal to the Con Statement
and Questions and Answers on the Petition on Psychologists’ Work Settings
Reproduced below, without comment here, are the Pro and Con statements written by each side on this issue. They are offered in full, in an effort to expand discussion on the issue. Italic emphases are reproduced from original.
Pro Statement

As psychologists, our first ethical principle is to do no harm; yet substantial documentation reveals that American psychologists have systematically designed and participated in interrogations that amount to torture. In addition, they have helped to legitimize cruel and abusive treatment in Guantanamo Bay, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the CIA black sites.

Responding to these revelations, the APA has passed several resolutions barring psychologists from participating in torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. These resolutions, however, are insufficient as they do not address the critical role that psychologists play in perpetuating harmful interrogation strategies and in maintaining conditions that the International Committee of the Red Cross has labeled “tantamount to torture.”

These concerns, which have propelled over a thousand APA psychologists to bring this referendum to the membership, are not hypothetical. Psychologists, as “consultants”, have been active in interrogations that have brought about extreme forms of torture. In at least one of these cases, the psychologist advocated for an escalation to even more extreme 'enhanced interrogation techniques.'

Psychologists have also played a critical role in this administration's legal defense of torture. Justice Department lawyers have argued that torture can only take place if the perpetrator intends to cause 'prolonged mental harm' which, in turn, is measured by a subsequent diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder. Psychologists instead routinely provide diagnoses other than posttraumatic stress disorder, thus giving the illusion of safety and legal cover in otherwise objective instances of “torture”. Moreover, psychologists play a role in maintaining the conditions of detention, for instance, by removing “comfort items” such as toilet paper, toothpaste, and soap.

In settings that fail to meet basic standards of international law, it is unrealistic to rely on psychologists to challenge their superiors, report on violations, and protect abused detainees. We know, from decades of psychological research, that good people do bad things in bad situations. Psychologists are no less vulnerable to “behavioral drift” than others, particularly when subject to the chain of command in the closed environment of a geographically isolated detention center.

We do believe that psychologists working independently, and outside of the institution’s chain of command, can and should be available to detainees, through NGOs such as the International Committee of the Red Cross. In abusive settings, clinicians working in the chain of command cannot know whether they are helping detainees recover only to return them to more abusive interrogations; and detainees cannot gauge whether the information being gathered by the clinician will be used against them — as has been documented on several occasions. Instead, the proposed referendum policy places psychology and psychologists squarely on the side of the most vulnerable.

Some APA psychologists have argued that the presence of psychologists in these settings protects the detainee from abuse. Yet, in the six years since captives began arriving at Guantanamo, there have been few documented cases of psychologists speaking up on the behalf of detainees. There is significant evidence of many more cases of silence. While we commend anyone who has acted heroically, a reliance on individual heroism is an unsound basis for policy.

We stress that the referendum does not exclude any psychologist from working in any settings where international law and human rights are fundamentally upheld. Imperfect as our U.S. domestic justice system may be, people held within the present system have basic legal protections, including the right to know the charges against them, meet with an attorney, receive family visits and, most importantly, to be free of torture. This is in sharp contrast to the individuals gathered up and illegally taken to CIA black sites. For the past 60 years, international law has held professionals responsible for upholding basic human rights. This referendum would thus protect psychologists from risk of future prosecutions.

Your vote in favor of the referendum will increase the independence of psychologists and protect the reputation of our discipline. The policy puts psychology and psychologists on the side of those who are the most vulnerable to mental harm. On behalf of Psychologists for an Ethical APA and all the APA members who have petitioned for this referendum, we strongly encourage you to research this topic through books, websites and articles, and to vote “yes” -- to support human rights and to restore the integrity of American psychology.

Brad Olson, PhD

Con Statement

This Overbroad Petition Will Harm Vulnerable Populations and Put Ethical Psychologists at Risk

1. This petition seeks to prohibit APA member psychologists from working in settings that are inconsistent with international law and/or the US Constitution. The petition’s “Be It Resolved” clause sets forth this prohibition even though a psychologist may adhere to all APA ethical standards, and despite the difficulty in determining whether a particular site meets the petition’s ambiguous criteria.

2. The petition thus threatens to restrict the scope of practice for psychologists whose work in psychiatric hospitals, US correctional facilities, and countless other settings serves the public good each day.

3. The petition is unnecessary given APA’s strongly worded Council resolutions against torture and concerted federal advocacy directed at the Bush administration and Congress.

4. The unintended consequences arising from a resolution prohibiting locations of employment rather than unethical behavior make this petition impossible for us to support. Many psychologists are employed in settings where constitutional challenges arise. Such settings include jails, prisons, psychiatric hospitals and emergency rooms, and forensic units. Likewise, many psychologists work in settings that could be considered inconsistent with international standards, for example, settings where the death penalty may be administered. The “Be It Resolved” clause potentially affects thousands of APA members.

5. While APA is clear that the petition, if adopted, is not enforceable, allegations that a psychologist was violating APA policy could arise in multiple venues (civil court; a licensing board; state psychological association, hospital, and other professional organizations’ ethics committees). Especially given the petition’s ambiguity regarding whether international standards and/or the US Constitution apply in a given instance, the petition places APA members doing good and ethical work in an untenable position of uncertainty regarding whether their practice is consistent with APA policy.

6. The clause “unless they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights” would prevent psychologists in a prohibited setting from providing services to a person in psychological distress, since in most all settings psychologists work for the institution and not for the individual being held. Unlike the Ethics Code, the petition does not provide a way to resolve this ethical dilemma, i.e., between a prohibition from providing services and the need for services. (See e.g., Ethical Standard 2.02, Providing Services in Emergencies, allowing psychologists without the necessary training to provide services in emergent situations when other services are not available.) A psychologist who, in all good faith, assisted an individual in distress could nonetheless be in violation of APA policy.

7. The sponsors’ good and noble intentions notwithstanding, for over two decades APA has held that torture is unethical and always prohibited. Five APA resolutions provide clear, explicit condemnations of torture. The last sentence of the 2008 resolution states: Psychologists are absolutely prohibited from knowingly planning, designing, participating or assisting in the use of all condemned techniques [Note: nearly two dozen techniques are enumerated] at any time and may not enlist others to employ these techniques in order to circumvent this resolution’s prohibition. APA has stated emphatically: Following orders is never a defense to torture.

8. In August, 2007, the APA Council passed one of several resolutions condemning torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and punishment. Council expressed “grave concern over settings in which detainees are deprived of adequate protection of their human rights” and “affirmed the prerogative of psychologists to refuse to work in such settings.” Council noted that “APA will explore ways to support psychologists who refuse to work in such settings or who refuse to obey orders that constitute torture.” APA has called upon US courts to reject testimony resulting from torture or abuse.

9. APA has strongly and unequivocally condemned the abuse of detainees in letters to President Bush, Attorney General Mukasey, CIA Director Hayden, and members of Congress, and in articles in the media, and has urged the establishment of policies and procedures that fully protect the human rights of detainees, including judicial review of their detentions.

10. The petition seeks to prevent psychologists from working where the federal, state, or local government is acting wrongly. The precedent-setting nature of this petition, which restricts the settings in which psychologists may work, raises insurmountable concerns. A highly unfortunate side effect of the petition will be to place at risk APA members who serve vulnerable populations and behave in legal, ethical, and entirely moral ways. This petition harms the very groups it seeks to protect: Vulnerable populations and ethical psychologists.

Robert J. Resnick, PhD
Note: The APA states that if the resolution passes, it would become official APA policy. The question of its enforceability is, however, entirely different, per APA:
Q: If adopted would the petition be enforceable by APA?

As explained above, the petition would not become part of the APA Ethics Code nor be enforceable as are prohibitions set forth in the Ethics Code. Such amendments to the Ethics Code require a more deliberative process and by rule must include review by the full APA governance and a public comment period. However, the resolution would become APA policy. APA communicates its policy statements broadly to media, legislators and the public. Policy statements can be considered by the Ethics Committee in adjudicating cases. They may also be considered by third parties in their engagement of, interaction with or employment of psychologists.
Oh, and I know I said I would offer the above without comment, and so I will. But I do have a question of APA? Where is that resolution so long promised on an APA call for the closure of Guantanamo Bay prison? It was supposed to sail through APA Council, I was told a year ago. Last February, the resolution was being kicked around, and now, I suppose it's totally lost and forgotten... just like the prisoners at Guantanamo itself.

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