Friday, April 25, 2008

Two Important Petitions Regarding Torture

Always it seems when it rains, it falls (my apologies to the Morton people), and it seems true even when it comes to petitions.

First, the American Freedom Campaign has a petition online calling on House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers "to subpoena John Ashcroft and John Yoo so that they can explain their role in enabling torture." This comes on the heels of Yoo's statement that he would not testify before the House as "invited" on May 9.

Unless there's significant public pressure, it seems unlikely Yoo, Ashcroft, or anyone else -- including Torturer-in-Chief George W. Bush, and his Vice-Torturer Dick Cheney -- will be held accountable. Go sign the AFC petition today.

Meanwhile, some of my colleagues, who are fighting within the American Psychological Association to change that organization's position on having psychologists participate in interrogations at Guantanamo and other U.S. military and CIA sites, are petitioning the APA to allow a referendum on the interrogations issues.

I think the initiators of the petition have a long, difficult road ahead of them if they want to get this referendum before the APA membership. But the recent results of the nominating stage for the APA presidency, where anti-torture candidate and APA critic Steven Reisner won the plurality of the vote, shows that they have a chance, and that the normally placid APA membership may be getting fed up with its leadership's policies. The petition requires signatures from 1% of current APA members in order to be brought before the entire APA membership for a direct vote.

I encourage all members in good standing of APA to support this call and sign the petition for a referendum. -- Sorry, this particular petition is only for APA members. If you want to support those who are working on this issue, go to the website of Psychologists for an Ethical APA.

What follows is the text of the call for a referendum.
We the undersigned APA members in good standing, pursuant to article IV.5 of the APA bylaws, do hereby petition that the following motion be submitted to APA members for their approval or disapproval, by referendum, with all urgency:

Whereas torture is an abhorrent practice in every way contrary to the APA's stated mission of advancing psychology as a science, as a profession, and as a means of promoting human welfare.

Whereas the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Mental Health and the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture have determined that treatment equivalent to torture has been taking place at the United States Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. [1]

Whereas this torture took place in the context of interrogations under the direction and supervision of Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCTs) that included psychologists. [2, 3]

Whereas the Council of Europe has determined that persons held in CIA black sites are subject to interrogation techniques that are also equivalent to torture [4], and because psychologists helped develop abusive interrogation techniques used at these sites. [3, 5]

Whereas the International Committee of the Red Cross determined in 2003 that the conditions in the US detention facility in Guantánamo Bay are themselves tantamount to torture [6], and therefore by their presence psychologists are playing a role in maintaining these conditions.

Be it resolved that psychologists may not work in settings where persons are held outside of, or in violation of, either International Law (e.g., the UN Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions) or the US Constitution (where appropriate), unless they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights.[7]

[1] United Nations Commission on Human Rights. (2006). Situation of detainees at Guantánamo Bay. Retrieved March 4, 2008, from The full title of the ‘Special Rapporteur on Mental Health’ is the ‘Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health’.

[2] Miles, S. (2007). Medical ethics and the interrogation of Guantanamo 063. The American Journal of Bioethics, 7(4), 5. Retrieved March 4, 2008, from

[3] Office of the Inspector General, Department of Defense: Review of DoD-Directed

Investigations of Detainee Abuse. Retrieved March 4, 2008, from

[4] Council of Europe Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights (2007). Secret detentions and illegal transfers of detainees involving Council of Europe member states: second report. Retrieved March 4, 2008, from

[5] Eban, K. (2007). Rorschach and Awe. Vanity Fair. Retrieved March 4, 2008, from

[6] Lewis, N. A. (2004, November 30). Red Cross Finds Detainee Abuse in Guantánamo. Retrieved March 4, 2008, from

[7] It is understood that military clinical psychologists would continue to provide psychological treatment to military personnel.

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