Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Reactions to APA Referendum Vote

The Coalition for an Ethical APA has just put out their own press release. This is a snippet:
In recent years revelations from the press, Congress, and Defense Department documents revealed that psychologists have played a central role in Bush administration detainee abuse. These reports conclusively demonstrate that psychologists designed, implemented, disseminated, and standardized detention and interrogation practices that frequently amounted to torture.

The passage of this referendum constitutes a decisive repudiation of the APA leadership’s long-standing policy encouraging psychologist participation in interrogations and other activities in military and CIA detention facilities that have repeatedly been found to violate international law and the Constitution. In 2005, the APA’s orchestrated Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security [PENS] declared that psychologists’ participation in interrogations in these sites helped keep interrogations there “safe, legal, an ethical.” Although APA followed this report with resolutions ostensibly condemning participation in torture, the resolutions continued to permit psychologists to serve in sites where human rights are routinely violated. The APA membership has now rejected APA policy in favor of one refusing psychologist participation in the running of detention facilities operating against the law and professional ethics....

Referendum proponents collected over 1,000 signatures, forcing APA to submit the policy change to a mail ballot of the entire membership. The ballots went out on August 1 and votes received as of Monday, September 15th were counted. The referendum passed with 8,792 [58.8% ] YES votes to 6,157 votes against. The turnout was the highest ever in APA history.

"With this vote APA members have taken a major step toward restoring unimpeachable ethical standards by prohibiting its members from participating at sites that violate human rights and international law. But until APA communicates this new policy to the White House, the Department of Defense and the CIA, the abuses might continue. We must assure that the policy is implemented quickly" said Steven Reisner, a New York psychologist who is running for APA President.
And a link to a statement from Frank Donaghue, CEO of Physicians for Human Rights:
Today PHR salutes the American Psychological Association (APA) membership for restoring the APA's commitment to human rights and medical ethics. For years, the APA has failed to fully address US psychologists' involvement in torture in Iraq, at Guantanamo Bay, and CIA black sites. This historic vote has moved the APA closer to joining the ranks of the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association, which have repudiated health professional involvement in interrogations.

"This turn-around follows revelations by the media and Congress of the central role psychologists played in the design, supervision, and implementation of a regime of psychological and physical torture against detainees held in CIA and Department of Defense custody. For example, CIA psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen have been implicated in the torture of Abu Zubaydah and others.
Also, by Tuesday night, the New York Times' Benedict Carey had an article on the vote posted online. Sad to say, Carey follows the APA script stating, "The association’s bylaws require that it institute the policy at the next annual meeting, in August 2009." Except, I don't know what bylaws state that. The assertion sounds like a deliberate policy of delay in implementation of the new, more stringent anti-torture, anti-abuse policy. You can hear the wheels of delay slowly grinding in Carey's quote from APA President Kazdin:
“The good part of this is that the membership has spoken, the process worked, and we’re going to follow it,” said Alan E. Kazdin, the association’s president and a psychologist at Yale University. “Will everyone be happy? Well, it’s a typical human enterprise, and there are nuanced positions on both sides. So, we’ll see.”
What do the APA Bylaws say on the issue of implementation of a resolution (and keep in mind, a petition-initiated resolution like the one passed here has never before occurred in APA's history)?

Article X of the APA Bylaws, "Nominations and Elections," states (emphasis added):
The Election Committee shall also secure reports from the Divisions and from the State/Provincial Associations of the results of all elections conducted by them. The election results shall be reported by the Election Committee to the Board of Directors and Council within thirty days after the ballot closes.
Article XX of the Bylaws, on "Amendments," states, in part:
Forty five days after the date of sending, the poll shall be closed and the votes counted by the Election Committee, which shall certify the result to Council at its next meeting, at which time the amendment, if passed by two thirds of all the Members voting, shall take effect.

That next meeting is in February 2009, not August 2009. Besides, certification of the result is not the same as instituting the policy change immediately, which ethically, and morally, APA is bound to do.

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