Friday, August 14, 2009

APA Convention Fallout After Organization Bails on Ethics and Torture

The first notable resignation from the American Psychological Association (APA) after their epic fail of a convention last week is now recorded. Dr. Jancis Long, until recently the President of Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PsySR), sent her resignation letter (reproduced below) to the President and Ethics Director of APA on August 8. The letter was posted by Stephen Soldz, the new President of PsySR.

As I noted in a recent article, the APA was facing two major issues going into the annual convention and summer meeting of their Council of Representatives, which run concurrently. The APA was stonewalling on implementing of the member-passed referendum on psychologist participation at interrogation sites that do not meet human rights standards. Additionally, the APA announced that after four years, they were extending by another six months any work on a revision of a portion of their ethics code (1.02) that allows psychologists to suspend ethical functioning if they wish to adhere to domestic law, or the orders of an employing agency, like the military. The latter has been called the Nuremburg Defense by its critics.

One surprise heading into the convention was a special letter (MS Word doc) sent by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak, to APA leaders, labeling Guanatamo's prison to be "outside, or in violation of, international law." Nowak called on APA to implement the member-passed referendum and take action to tell "the Obama administration, the Department of Defense, and the US intelligence agencies [to] remove psychologists from Guantánamo and any other sites where international law is being violated or where inspectors are prohibited from assessing that conditions are in compliance with international law."

While reportedly making a stir, the UN Special Rapporteur's letter did not influence the seat-warmers at the Council of Representatives, who made no move to implement the referendum. Neither did any executive officer make any motion in that direction. Mr. Nowak also called on APA to amend the aforementioned ethics code. The result? United Nations... meet lead balloon.

When it came to the ethics provision, the Council of Representatives courageously bounced the issue of amending the ethics code back to the same committee that just announced no change was needed, and told it to report back in another six months. After such brave action, I imagine the COR reps had to fan themselves from exhaustion, and retire to the lounge to recover from the vapors.

The resignation of Long follows other prominent resignations by APA leaders, and a recent article by one of the latter,Byrant Welch, former Executive Director of APA's Practice Directorate, who had recently written an article explaining in detail how APA conducts its duplicitous internal affairs.

I congratulate Dr. Long, and others who have chosen, often with sadness and great internal debate, to leave this rotting corpse of an organization, which has tied organized psychology to the worst aspects of the scientific tradition -- obeisance to governmental authority, and the use of knowledge without ethical compunction in the subjugation of individuals and other groups of people at the behest of coercive state interests.

What follows is the text of Dr. Long's letter:
8th August, 2009

Dr. James Bray, President
Dr. Stephen Behnke, Ethics Director
American Psychological Association
First Street NE, Washington DC 20002

Dear Drs. Bray and Behnke:

This is to let you know that I am resigning today from APA. I have been a member since around 1980, and would have expected to continue for many more years. I am resigning now because of the decision of the Ethics Committee in June to postpone indefinitely rewording Ethics Code 1.02 and 1.03, and the agreement of the Board to let this go out as APA policy. This decision came four years after the Council of Representatives had requested the Ethics Committee to consider revisions to these items, now termed the APA's "Nuremberg Defense" clauses. The recent developments of the Substitute Motion and apparent commitment to reopen the Ethics Committee's decision (to be handled, presumably, by the same body that delayed a decision for four years, and decided against revision two months ago) with a reporting date six months hence, to me do not mitigate the June decisions taken at the highest levels of APA. "Too little, too late, too slow" remains my opinion.

Although I have been deeply disturbed over the past four years at learning of APA's policy toward psychologists' involvement with torture and mistreatment of illegally held foreign prisoners, I have not resigned before because I do not expect either people or institutions to be perfect, and am well aware that positive social change is often complicated and shockingly slow. I also recognize that APA performs many services to psychologists, psychology and social wellbeing. But the decisions in June told me that APA is no longer a place for a responsible humanitarian psychologist.

I write you this on the last day of my Presidency of Psychologists for Social Responsibility. I shall continue as an active psychologist, and will add the sad lessons I have learned from APA in my teaching and activism.

Jancis Long Ph.D.
President, Psychologists for Social Responsibility

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