APA's response to prisoner abuse

[APA President] Gerald Koocher's column in the February issue of the Monitor, "Speaking against torture," was a whiff of déja vu. Some 20 years ago, there was an earlier outburst of "opportunistic commentators" accusing psychologists of being complicit in torture in Southeast Asia, Northern Ireland, South America and elsewhere. In a book I then edited, "Psychology and Torture" (Hemisphere, 1990), a thorough investigation of these allegations failed to identify even a single documented case of such involvement, although there was evidence that mental health professionals of other disciplines had assisted in torturing political prisoners.

Perhaps we should do some research on why such groundless attacks recur without any factual basis and, even more interesting, why some psychologists themselves persist in assuming the worst about their colleagues

Peter Suedfeld, PhD
University of British Columbia Vancouver, Canada

Dr. Michael Greenberg is disturbed by a photograph of Arlo Guthrie that is on the November 2005 cover of the Monitor on Psychology (Letters, January issue). He stated that the other APA would not have done this.

I am concerned that our APA finds it ethically permissible for psychologists to consult for the CIA's interrogation program at Abu Ghraib, provided they do not actually participate in the interrogations, i.e. torture. The president of the other APA stated unequivocally that psychiatrists could not ethically participate in any facet of this program. I find this a great deal more disturbing than the photograph of Arlo Guthrie.

Gloria A. Butler, EdD
Englewood, N.J.

We write to express dismay at APA President Gerald Koocher's disparagement of critics of APA and the Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS) as "opportunistic commentators masquerading as scholars" in his February Monitor column. Dr. Koocher states that, "All our members can take pride in the work of the PENS task force and the strong ethical positions held by APA," and implies that any criticism of the task force or APA's position stems from the failure to read the report carefully. We disagree. Many APA members who have read the report remain critical. To suggest otherwise devalues alternative perspectives and the open dialogue so critical to any scientific organization.

Dr. Mike Wessells, who served on the PENS Task Force, recently resigned from it because, in his words, "continuing work with the task force tacitly legitimates the wider silence and inaction of the APA on the crucial issues at hand. At the highest levels, the APA has not made a strong, concerted, comprehensive, public and internal response of the kind warranted by the severe human rights violations at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay." Dr. Wessells' central concern is not with the task force itself, which "had a very limited mandate and was not structured in a manner that would provide the kind of comprehensive response or representative process needed." Rather the problem is the lack of "a strong, proactive, comprehensive response" from APA "affirming our professional commitment to human well-being and sounding a ringing condemnation of psychologists' participation not only in torture but in all forms of cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of detainees, including the use or support of tactics such as sleep deprivation."

We request that Dr. Koocher fully embrace his leadership role by fostering open debates rather than closing the door to such dialogues of such critical importance to all of us. We also hope that he will lead APA to the sort of strong, proactive and comprehensive response Dr. Wessells calls for.

Marybeth Shinn, PhD
President, APA Div. 9 (Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues)
Linda M. Woolf, PhD
President, APA Div. 48 (Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict and Violence)



My reference to "opportunistic commentators" referred not to psychologists, but rather media commentators to who made allegations without factual basis. Rather than stifling dissent, I hoped to stir critical discussion of shoddy journalism.

Regarding the person who "recently resigned," citing the "very limited mandate" and alleged lack of "comprehensive response," I must note: the PENS group completed work in June and expired in December. The mandate for the PENS group was clear from the outset. What is unclear to me is why someone would cite the group's mandate as a reason to resign after agreeing to serve and participating in the give-and-take process that was the writing of the final report.

Distance education today

I read with interest Dr. Belar's column "Distance education is here" (January Monitor). She raises a number of questions that could be answered today by looking at work over the last decade in adult distance-education research and educational technology research.

Her concerns about graduate psychology education mirror those that we face routinely in the presentation of our program-questions about the mentoring model of face-to-face relationships between faculty and students; the impact of remote supervision on the development of psychologists; socialization into the discipline; and the assessment of competencies.

As Canada's largest distributed learning, master's-level counselor training program, we have found that the question of mentorship, remote supervision and socialization are not necessarily bound to a face-to-face component, given that much of the actual socialization comes from seminars, clinical practica and research mentorship, all of which happen in our program (seminars online, where distance-education literature suggests a "deeper" integration of knowledge than in face-to-face classrooms; clinical practica in the same field locations as local on-campus programs; face-to-face coursework in counseling skills and internship seminars; and research mentorship using the phone, e-mail, and the Web.)

Our graduates are successful in gaining licensure in locations where master's-level practitioners are given entry to the profession. They gain admission to doctoral programs, hold national (Canadian) research grants and publish. One significant innovation that this delivery model offers is the opportunity for rural practitioners to "raise the floor" of the minimum standard for the practice of psychology in regions where full-time, face-to-face opportunities do not exist.

Paul Jerry, PhD
Athabasca University