Saturday, October 18, 2008

Endorsing Steven Reisner for APA President

The only problem with resigning from the American Psychological Association is that I don't get to vote for important referendums -- like the one that changed APA's interrogation policy -- or for APA offices. Usually I never cared, because those running typically were careerists or bureaucratic lackeys, ever mindful of currying favor with government grant sources, tying APA closer and closer to the clutches of the burgeoning U.S. national security state.

But the candidacy of psychologist Steven Reisner is different. I've already written about his program, and about the other psychologists running against him. I simply want to make it clear that I endorse his candidacy, and wish to reproduce here a letter Dr. Reisner recently sent to the membership.
In the coming weeks, association members will vote on new leadership, and one candidate for president wants psychologists banned from participating in interrogations at US detention centers that violate human rights and do not adhere to the Geneva Conventions…Psychologists should leave no doubt they are opponents, and not enablers, of these methods.
Boston Globe Editorial, August 30, 2008
Dear Colleagues,

The ballots for APA President should be arriving today by email and in mailboxes in the next few days. Once again, I am asking you to put my name, ‘Steven J. Reisner,’ first when you receive your ballot.

In recent weeks, those of us who have been struggling to change APA’s policy on psychologists’ role in national security interrogations were heartened by the vote in APA’s first-ever referendum. As a result of our efforts, the membership voted overwhelmingly to prohibit psychologists from working in ‘national security’ settings where detainees are held in violation of the Geneva Conventions or international law.

The authors of the referendum, Dan Aalbers, Ruth Fallenbaum, and Brad Olson, deserve our gratitude for their moral courage and perseverance. And, lest anyone wonder whether this referendum has any ‘teeth,’ last week, APA President Alan Kazdin wrote to President George W. Bush: "The effect of this new policy is to prohibit psychologists from any involvement in interrogations or any other procedures at detention sites that are in violation of the U.S. Constitution or international law (e.g., the Geneva Conventions and the United Nations Convention Against torture." President Kazdin, too, deserves our thanks for acting quickly, decisively, and courageously in communicating the policy change to our government.

The effects of these efforts have been profound. For the first time in the ‘global war on terror,’ a professional organization has refused to participate in our nation’s intelligence operations unless international standards of human rights and due process are upheld! The American Psychological Association now has the obligation to work with the administration, the CIA and Department of Defense to institutionalize the new APA policy.

When the referendum passed, many of us -- and I include myself -- wanted to be able to put this issue behind us so we can turn to other pressing issues. From my point of view, the three most important issues facing psychologists (and all Americans) are ethics, economics, and ecology. Problems in each of these areas derive, in part, from the widespread, government supported, but irresponsible belief in American exceptionalism. I am referring to (a) the belief that ethical principles that apply to others do not apply to us, (b) the belief that consumerism and debt provide the pathway to happiness, and c) the belief that we can take from the earth without being responsible either to manage or replenish what we use. We psychologists have a unique opportunity, perhaps an obligation, to help facilitate a psychological paradigm shift in our nation, and restore the core value of responsible stewardship of our ethics, our finances, and our planet.

But let’s not fool ourselves. The issues of abusive interrogations, illegal detention conditions, and the shame both have brought to our profession are not yet resolved. The APA leadership has only acted now because of the extraordinary pressure and dedication of the membership. There is more to be done, and it will only be done if the voice of the membership continues to be heard. That is why I continue to ask for your support for my campaign for President of the APA.

Our goals have always been clear, both for our nation and for our profession.

For our nation, we want to see a stop to torture and abuse, we want to see the illegal detention centers shut down, and we want to restore our nation’s unflagging support for human rights and civil liberties.

As a profession, we psychologists have more specific goals:

  • We want to see our profession out of the business of consulting on individual national security interrogations.
  • We want psychologists to stop developing abusive behavior management plans as part of intelligence gathering.
  • We want a full, public investigation into the roles of psychologists in detainee abuse.
  • We want psychologists who were part of our nation’s program of systematic abuse and torture held to account.
  • We want to understand how the APA colluded in keeping psychologists engaged in these abuses, including how the Task Force formed to investigate the role of psychologists in detention abuses, the PENS Task Force, was put into the hands of psychologists from the very commands implicated in those abuses.
  • We want the ethics code reviewed and changed so that ethical standards that now permit following law, overriding informed consent, and undermining deceptive research standards when ordered to by government, are restored to their higher, pre-2002 levels.
  • Finally, we want transparency in APA dealings with government, military, or intelligence organizations, including full disclosure of government ties or contracts of any member who is involved in setting APA policies with regard to these agencies.

    I am asking for your support so that, together, we may ensure that the APA takes the necessary steps to reform the policies, practices, and organizational culture that made the referendum necessary in the first place. Together, we can reform the ethics code to reinstate the primacy of ‘do no harm’; we can join the other health professions in prohibiting our members from involvement in individual national security interrogations; we can call for full transparency in APA’s relations with the military and the intelligence agencies.

    Together, we can fulfill the mandate of the referendum and turn the APA back to its proper role as advocate for human welfare and international standards of human rights.

    Please put ‘Steven J. Reisnerfirst, when you receive your ballot for APA President. If you are committed to another candidate, please give me your #2 vote. If you would like to help my presidential campaign, please sign onto my website at and register as a volunteer. And please, pass this message on to other members, discussion groups, and listservs where such communications are permitted.

    Thanks for your support. Together we can restore consistent, progressive values and transparency to the APA. And please feel free to contact me at if you have any questions.

    Thank you for taking the time to read this.

    Best regards,
    Steven J. Reisner, PhD
  • Here's a link to Dr. Reisner's website.

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