Stephen H. Behnke, JD, PhD
On behalf of the
American Psychological Association
California Psychological Association
Committee on Business, Professions and Economic Development
California State Senate
For a Hearing on
Torture and Health Professionals
January 14, 2008
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak with you today about the issue of torture, as well as comment on the provisions of Senate Joint Resolution 19. I am Dr. Stephen Behnke, a clinical psychologist and lawyer who serves as Director of the American Psychological Association Ethics Office. The American Psychological Association (“APA”) is a scientific and professional organization of more than 150,000 members and affiliates.
For the past three years, APA has been examining in great depth the ethical aspects of psychologists’ involvement in interrogations.
I would like to state at the outset that it is extremely important to keep separate “interrogation” from “torture.” A competent, ethical interrogation never involves torture. Torture is antithetical to the goals of respecting human dignity and of eliciting information that will help to prevent acts of violence and save lives.
APA’s position is built upon three foundations:
First, torture is immoral and unethical. APA has been explicit and emphatic that psychologist participation in torture is always prohibited. There are no exceptions to this prohibition.
Second, competent and ethical interrogations, conducted for the purpose of preventing acts of violence, are based upon an understanding of an individual’s motivations and beliefs, that is, on an understanding of the individual’s personal psychology.
Third and finally, as experts in human behavior and motivation, psychologists have valuable and ethical contributions to make in assisting interrogation processes.
I would like to elaborate briefly on each of these three points and then comment about the resolution in its current form.
First, torture is always immoral and unethical.
For over 20 years, APA has been explicit and emphatic that psychologist participation in torture is always prohibited. APA passed its first resolution against torture in 1985, passed another in 1986, and over the past three years has issued three more texts each of which unambiguously states that any form of psychologist participation in torture is unethical and prohibited.
As an example of this strict and clear prohibition, I will read a statement from the 2005 APA Report of the Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security, which is typical of the several other statements APA has made against torture:
Psychologists do not engage in, direct, support, facilitate, or offer training in torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.
At APA’s annual meeting this past August in California, APA’s Council of Representatives, the Association’s governing body, passed a resolution that prohibited 19 specific techniques associated with “enhanced” interrogations. Among the prohibited techniques are waterboarding, mock executions, sexual humiliation, exploitation of phobias, the use of dogs to threaten or intimidate, and stress positions.
The Washington Post called APA’s 2007 resolution a “rebuke” of the Bush administration’s interrogation policy.
The 2007 resolution also stated that both behavior and conditions of confinement can constitute torture:
BE IT RESOLVED that the American Psychological Association, in recognizing that torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment can result not only from the behavior of individuals, but also from the conditions of confinement, expresses grave concern over settings in which detainees are deprived of adequate protection of their human rights, affirms the prerogative of psychologists to refuse to work in such settings, and will explore ways to support psychologists who refuse to work in such settings or who refuse to obey orders that constitute torture;
The 2007 resolution reinforced a point made in earlier APA texts, that psychologists have an ethical obligation to report occurrences of torture of which they become aware.
To reiterate: Torture is always immoral, unethical, and prohibited.
Second, competent and ethical interrogations, conducted for the purpose of preventing acts of violence, are based upon an understanding of an individual’s psychology.
Conducting a competent and ethical interrogation depends upon an understanding of an individual’s personal motivations and beliefs. The word “interrogation” derives from the Latin word “rogo,” which means “to ask.” Local, state, and federal law enforcement conduct hundreds of interrogations each day throughout the country. A skilled interrogator maximizes the likelihood that, when asked, an individual will produce accurate and reliable information.
Providing accurate and reliable information depends upon two things: an individual’s willingness to provide the information, and an individual’s ability to provide the information. Forming a relationship and building rapport have proven to be effective means of creating the conditions under which the individual is both willing and able to provide the desired information. From what we can determine, torture and abuse have precisely the opposite effect. The goal of an individual being tortured is to stop the torture. The mental state of an individual being tortured is extreme distress, which is more likely to interfere with rather than to enhance memory. Thus, torture undermines the very foundation of an ethical and competent interrogation.
This point—that torture has no role in a competent and ethical interrogation—has been emphasized repeatedly by veteran army interrogators.
Third, as experts in human behavior and motivation, psychologists have valuable and ethical contributions to make in assisting interrogation processes.
Psychology is central to an ethical and competent interrogation process, because an understanding of an individual’s psychology—the individual’s belief systems, desires, motivations, culture, and religion—will often be essential in assessing how best to form a connection and facilitate bringing forth accurate and reliable information.
Psychologists have expertise in human behavior, motivations, and relationships. Indeed, much of training in psychology involves exploring how people relate to one another and form relationships. The background, training, and experience offered in psychology are therefore highly relevant to the process of creating and nurturing conditions that will maximize the likelihood of obtaining useful and reliable information that will assist in preventing violence and protecting lives.
Comments on the Resolution:
Mr. Chairman, I would now like to offer some specific comments on Senate Joint Resolution 19 that you recently introduced related to health professionals and torture. APA strongly supports the resolution’s principal objective, namely, to ensure that California-licensed health professionals are aware that their participation in any form of torture is unethical and illegal. Toward this goal, APA has widely disseminated our resolutions related to torture through our publications, convention programs, and Web site to educate our members, including the 13,000 APA members in California, about this critical matter.
In keeping with your resolution’s focus on torture, we recommend that its other key provision be modified to request that the U. S. Department of Defense and the CIA remove all California-licensed health professionals from participating in prisoner and detainee interrogations that involve torture. The current language of the resolution is extremely broad, and would preclude a California-licensed psychologist from advising on any Department of Defense interrogation of a prisoner or detainee anywhere in the world, including an interrogation of a United States citizen in a domestic Department of Defense facility.
Moreover, as I explained earlier, there is a critical role for psychologists in a consultative and advisory capacity to competent and ethical interrogations that are designed to prevent acts of violence and to protect safety. It is likewise critical for there to be a clear voice, wherever interrogations are conducted, that torture has no role in an ethical interrogation.
At its annual convention last August here in California, APA put on an in-depth program—consisting of nine two-hour sessions and over 40 participants—related to the role of psychologists in interrogations. A number of individuals who participated in our program have extensive, first-hand knowledge of how military interrogations are currently conducted. I would encourage the Committee to hear directly from individuals with this type of experience related to interrogations prior to moving forward with the resolution in its current form.
Finally, we have several conforming and clarifying amendments to the title and introductory clauses of the resolution that have already been presented to the Committee staff for your consideration.
Thank you once again for the opportunity to speak with you today about efforts to ensure that California-licensed health professionals do not participate in any form of torture. I would be very pleased to respond to comments or questions.