The letter comes on the heels of two developments. One was the American Psychological Association's decision to finally drop the "Nuremberg clause" in their ethics code, which allowed members to follow unethical behaviors if they were ordered to by law or authority. Stephen Soldz has written an excellent, brief analysis on this, which readers should follow-up.
Secondly, the New York Times has published an op-ed by Leonard S. Rubenstein and retired Brigadier General Stephen N. Xenakis, "Doctors Without Morals." Rubenstein and Xenakis charge DoJ's conclusion that the torture memos authors exercised nothing more than "poor judgment" as "questionable at best" and continue:
In contrast, the government doctors and psychologists who participated in and authorized the torture of detainees have escaped discipline, accountability or even internal investigation.Beltway wisdom is that investigations are dead in the water, but it doesn't have to be that way!
It is hardly news that medical staff at the C.I.A. and the Pentagon played a critical role in developing and carrying out torture procedures. Psychologists and at least one doctor designed or recommended coercive interrogation methods including sleep deprivation, stress positions, isolation and waterboarding. The military’s Behavioral Science Consultation Teams evaluated detainees, consulted their medical records to ascertain vulnerabilities and advised interrogators when to push harder for intelligence information....
Health professionals have a responsibility extending well beyond nonparticipation in torture; the historic maxim is, after all, “First do no harm.” These health professionals did the polar opposite.
Nevertheless, no agency — not the Pentagon, the C.I.A., state licensing boards or professional medical societies — has initiated any action to investigate, much less discipline, these individuals. They have ignored the gross and appalling violations by medical personnel. This is an unconscionable disservice to the thousands of ethical doctors and psychologists in the country’s service. It is not too late to begin investigations. They should start now.
Here's a copy of the letter from ethical psychologists, angry at what some in their profession have done, and insistent that all actors responsible for torture be brought to account.
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001
Dear Attorney General Holder,
We are psychologists who are working together to ensure that members of our profession never again engage in torture. We are disturbed by the conclusions of the report recently released by the Office of Professional Responsibility regarding the authors of the torture memoranda and by the report’s failure to hold the authors of U.S.’ torture policy accountable. We fear the consequences this failure will have for our profession and our country. One does not need to be a lawyer to see that the authors of the torture memos, Yoo, Bybee, Rizzo, Bradbury and unknown others, were neither providing policy makers with objective advice nor offering interrogators guidance. Rather, these lawyers were attempting to legitimize the practice of torture. We are appalled that the enabling of a crime so serious that it shares status with slavery and genocide as a Jus Cogens norm, is being treated as an error in judgment.
While all Americans have reason to fear this lack of accountability -- since any future administration can similarly redefine torture when it feels the need to do so -- our profession has more to fear than most. These lawyers redefined torture so that nearly any act could have been justified if a psychologist designed the interrogation technique, approved its use, supervised the act, or even was on the site where the act took place. According to the torture memos, the use of psychologists as previously described exonerated the perpetrators of torture. Similarly, if a psychologist assured authorities that a technique did not (or would not) have a negative impact upon the mental health of the victim that was taken as proof that the act was not torture. Such actions are in direct contradiction to the purpose of our profession.
The record clearly shows that psychologists enabled waterboarding as well as combinations of stripping, sleep deprivation, chaining and diapering and that Bradbury continued to rely upon psychologists in his defense of these acts; Yoo and Bybee were not the only ones who facilitated torture. This report cannot stand.
We call on you to take the following actions:
1. Reject the conclusions of this report and file a finding of misconduct with Yoo’s, Bybee’s, Rizzo’s and Bradbury’s local bar associations.
2. Launch a new investigation into the authoring of the torture memos. This investigation should seek input from psychologists who are qualified to evaluate the mental health of detainees treated by CIA staff psychologists and CIA contractors.
3. Ask Congress to subpoena every individual who refused to cooperate with the original investigation
4. Name a special prosecutor to examine the actions of every lawyer who contributed to the U.S.’ defense of torture
5. Launch a separate investigation into the actions of psychologists to examine what role they played in crafting these legal defenses.
If you simply accept this report and take no further action, you will be letting torture facilitators off with a reprimand and will step into line with so many others who wrung their hands, gritted their teeth, and have then been complicit in our government's use of torture. You have the power to step out of this line and the power to ensure that this never happens again. If you do not use your power to ensure that crimes such as torture never recur – what is the point of holding such a significant position?
Psychologists for an Ethical APA
Psychologists for Social Responsibility Psychology and Human Rights Program
Ellen G. Levine
Tamerra P. Moeller
Nancy C. Arvold
Elaine M. Heiby
John M. Stewart
Jean Maria Arrigo
J. Lamar Freed
Gunnar Örn Ingólfsson
Michael R. Jackson
M. Brinton Lykes
Mark S. Kane
Jacqueline A Schwarz
Jay B. Pozner
Richard V. Wagner