Thursday, December 6, 2007

A Real Mensch Leaves APA

Uwe Jacobs is the clinical director of Survivors International in San Francisco, California. SI is regional torture treatment center, and one of the best in the country. A typical non-profit struggling to survive itself in a hostile political and economic environment, Dr. Jacobs work and dedication is one of the main reasons it still exists and thrives.

Dr. Jacobs is a clinical psychologist, and an eminent member of the profession. He has been prominent in the struggle against torture, and in particular against participation by medical and mental health professionals in U.S. coercive interrogations at Guantanamo and elsewhere.

He's done more than speak. Dr. Jacobs assisted in the preparation of the currently existing international guidelines for the examination of torture, the "Istanbul Protocol," published by the UN High Commissioner. He also took a major role in helping write the handbook on assessment of asylum seekers for Physicians for Human Rights. He has spoken on the torture issue from both a political and a treatment perspective. A really unique individual.

You would think any psychological organization worth its salt would be proud to have him as an exemplary member. But the tawdry organizational and political activities of the American Psychological Association around the torture issue have driven many to withhold their dues from that organization, or to quit. Now Dr. Jacobs joins those who have left the organization.

What follows is his letter of resignation to APA, posted here with permission, as originally posted at Psyche, Science and Society.

Farewell to the APA

After a couple of years of struggling with the leadership of the American Psychological Association over the issue of its complicity with the governments torture politics, I have decided to leave the APA for now. As the latest resolution against torture was passed by the APA Council this summer, there was on one side the appearance of a compromise between different factions within the organization and an outcome that received sufficient praise for it to pass as an honest human rights effort in public opinion. On the other side, there was my private sense of resignation and queasiness over the dirty pool that had been played. Much could be said about all that but suffice it to summarize the deciding moment, which came when I learned from an article in Salon that Dr. Stephen Behnke, the Director of the Ethics Office, ”insisted on Saturday that Physicians for Human Rights had suggested some qualifying language with respect to sleep and sensory deprivation.”

Since those of us who were involved in the process knew that Len Rubenstein of PHR had, in fact, pleaded with Behnke in a series of letters to drop the language in question, not to retain it, I asked for clarification. Rather than making a claim of misunderstanding, Dr. Behnke did not even deny having made that statement to Salon. However, nobody missed a beat in the aftermath and everyone prepared for their next statement or press release. The show, or as Robin Williams would have it, the hoe, must go on.

I conclude, at least for now, that the APA (and yes, I still think we ought to use an article in front of saying or writing "APA") is not a club I care to belong to, not because any majority of it, or even some of its obnoxious leadership, would actively push the use of torture but because its essential character as a careerist, corporate structure does not seem to promote telling the truth and carrying forward an upright posture. I have never shared the belief of some members that APA leaders had a primary interest in promulgating either torture or lesser forms of prisoner oppression. Being blissfully ignorant of how many APA functionaries are involved with the CIA and how many psychologists actively implement and support a regime of sensory deprivation and other forms of cruelty, I have felt that the primary motivation has been to appear as stalwart supporters of the military apparatus, as long as it would curry favor with the regime that might or might not trade a good horse for it. I am allowing for the possibility that it may be worse than that but I simply do not know.

Be that as it may, the APA's alignment with Washington politics is quite likely preparing for the end of the Bush era and getting ready to become more pleasing to its liberal wing before long. The many excellent people I had the privilege of working with during this time certainly deserve that and I salute them all, as it were, for staying on and keeping the faith. I am not excluding the possibility of re-joining them if things change more than I expect they will. I could withhold my APA dues, along with others, but I do not honestly see the precise conditions under which I would subsequently release them. I simply will not let the APA have any more of my money. In the interest of full disclosure, I might not even care quite that much if the dues weren’t so high and if top APA employees weren’t being paid corporate-style salaries. Given that fact, however, I am past due in firing them for their performance. For this year, I will donate the amount of my APA dues to PHR, an organization I have been proudly associated with for long time (but, unlike SI, does not issue my paycheck), and I will do that with pleasure, rather than regrets.

Uwe Jacobs, Ph.D.
San Francisco, December 4, 2007

Uwe, whom I consider both a friend and a colleague, will go on, I know, continuing to do his important work, and fighting against the attitudes and institutions that support or try to minimize the use of torture and inhumane treatment. That he will do so from the outside of an organization like APA is no loss to him, but only to APA, and a reflection on its moral and political bankruptcy.

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