Many psychologists and members of the public have been closely following APA's work on ethics and interrogations over the past three years. This issue has sparked passionate feelings among our membership and has generated intense discussion and debate within the association.
Last August, at APA's convention in San Francisco, APA put on Ethics and Interrogations: Confronting the Challenge, where 44 participants came together in nine sessions over four days to present a wide range of perspectives on the role of psychologists in military interrogations. The programming offered a unique opportunity for members to hear experts from within and outside of psychology speak to many facets of this pressing and complex issue. Expert speakers offered differing views on how psychologists may best work to ensure that interrogations are conducted in an ethical and effective manner that respects human rights. In addition to Ethics and Interrogations, APA members have been involved in organizing workshops and conferences throughout the country to explore these and related questions.
In the past three years, three APA texts have spoken directly to this issue:
The 2005 Report of the Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security
(the report is available online).
The 2006 Resolution Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (www.apa.org/governance/resolutions/notortureres.html).
The 2007 Reaffirmation of APA's Position Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and Its Application to Individuals Defined in the United States Code as "Enemy Combatants" (www.apa.org/governance/resolutions/notorture0807.html).
Each of these texts is complex and merits a careful read by all APA members.
It can be helpful to place these three texts in an historical and developmental perspective. The PENS report stated that the report is to be "[v]iewed as an initial step in a continuing process." Rather than the final word on this subject, the PENS report explicitly referred to itself as a first step in a continuing process. The 2006 and 2007 Resolutions were next steps in APA's process, and yet another step will be the casebook and commentary that the Ethics Committee is currently writing.
The Ethics Committee asks for your help in this aspect of its work.
When the Council of Representatives reviewed the PENS report at its August 2005 meeting in Washington, D.C., the council asked the Ethics Committee to write "an informative casebook and commentary with illustrative examples" that would provide guidance for how the PENS report was to be applied in practice. Council also directed the committee to put out a call to the membership for comments on the report. As this call was coming to a close, work was well under way in drafting the 2006 resolution, which the committee believed would also play a central role in shaping the casebook and commentary. Immediatlely following adoption of the 2006 resolution, yet another resolution began to take shape, which would eventually lead to adoption of the 2007 resolution. Again, the committee saw the resolution as speaking directly and substantively to the issues that the casebook and commentary would address, and thus vital to the casebook-commentary development process.
The Ethics Committee has been carefully studying all of the council's actions on interrogations and now believes it is in a position to move forward to complete the casebook and commentary. At its August meeting, as part of the 2007 resolution, council directed the Ethics Committee to proceed on the project and provided guidance for how the casebook and commentary are to be written:
Following the council's direction, the Ethics Committee will draw upon all of the above texts.
The Ethics Committee asks for vignettes that can be discussed in order to illustrate how the three APA texts are applied in practice. Thus, as APA members review the PENS report and 2006 and 2007 resolutions, they should formulate and submit examples that will highlight points of ambiguity or aspects where the texts appear to give insufficient direction. The Committee hopes to receive many vignettes, from which it will choose for discussion those that will best help illustrate APA's position and that best speak to where APA may not have provided sufficient clarity. The deadline for submitting is March 15, 2008.
One aspect of the 2007 resolution will undoubtedly receive attention. Members have raised a question regarding the language of the resolution where specific techniques associated with "enhanced" interrogations, sometimes referred to as "no-touch" torture or "torture light," are prohibited:
Questions have been raised about whether this wording creates a "loophole" that permits psychologists to use"enhanced" interrogation techniques to break detainees down for the purpose of eliciting information. The casebook and commentary will directly address this point of concern and will make absolutely clear that "enhanced techniques" ("no-touch" torture and "torture light") are unethical and prohibited. APA has sent a letter to the President urging an absolute ban on these techniques (www.apa.org/ethics).
APA is committed to continue exploring the ethical aspects of psychologists' involvement in interrogations. The PENS report and the 2006 and 2007 resolutions are one aspect of APA's work. The convention programming Ethics and Interrogations and the casebook and commentary are another. The effect of APA members' concerns is that ethics and interrogations will remain in the forefront of APA's awareness for a long time to come, which seems entirely appropriate and respectful of the complexity of the issue and the passionate views of the membership.
There are three ways to submit vignettes to the Ethics Committee. The first is through a Web-based program, the link for which is at www.apa.org/ethics, which is the Ethics Committee's preferred way of receiving comments. Comments can also be submitted by sending a letter by post (APA Ethics Office, 750 First St., N.E.; Washington, DC 20002-4242) or by fax (202-336-5997), with the heading "casebook/commentary." The deadline to submit comments is March 15.
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