At its August 2007 meeting, the APA Council of Representatives passed a humanrights resolution that reaffirms APA's unequivocal condemnation of torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment (abbreviated as CIDTP)1 under any and all conditions, including the detention and interrogation of lawful and unlawful enemy combatants as defined by the 2006 U.S. Military Commissions Act.2

During the past two years, the council, APA divisions and members have spent considerable time studying and debating these critical issues. After describing the evolution of the 2007 resolution, this article highlights the resolution's distinctive advances, and calls upon APA and psychologists to implement its provisions in advancing our struggle against torture.

The 2007 resolution reaffirms the council's 2006 Resolution Against Torture and CIDTP as the comprehensive policy applicable to all individuals, settings and contexts, without exceptions.

The resolution states:

"There are no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether induced by a state of war or threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, that may be invoked as a justification for torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, including the invocation of laws, regulations, or orders."

Process leading to the 2007 resolution

At the August 2006 APA Council meeting, Neil E. Altman, PhD, of APA's Division 39 (Psychoanalysis) proposed a resolution whereby APA would call for a moratorium on psychologists' involvement in interrogations at U.S. detention centers for foreign detainees. The proposed resolution was based upon a possible denial of Geneva Convention protections to detainees and the possible use of interrogation techniques in violation of APA's 2006 Resolution Against Torture. The proposed resolution was reviewed by the Ethics Committee and seven other APA governance groups, none of which supported it.

In June 2007, APA's Board of Directors reviewed the governance groups' feedback. The board developed a substitute resolution that did not preclude a role for psychologists in interrogations, but did prohibit an extensive list of specific interrogation techniques. The board recommended that the council adopt its resolution rather than the "moratorium resolution." Beginning in July, a diverse group of council members began to formulate amendments to strengthen the board's resolution as a reaffirmation and application of APA policy, and to allow the council to discuss limiting psychologists' participation in detention center interrogations.

The 2007 resolution represents consensus on numerous amendments to the board's resolution. The group did not reach consensus on the following key amendment:

"The roles of psychologists in settings in which detainees are deprived of adequate protection of their human rights, should be limited as health personnel to the provision of psychological treatment."

However, the group agreed unanimously that the council should discuss the amendment. After respectful yet vigorous and wideranging debate, the council voted by a large majority not to adopt this amendment.

The issues that the 2007 and 2006 resolutions address are complex and timely. We urge APA members to read these resolutions in their entirety.

Distinctive provisions of the 2007 resolution

The 2007 resolution builds upon the 2006 Resolution Against Torture by specifying actions for APA and for individual psychologists with respect to enemy combatants. One strength of the resolution is its recognition that "torture and other CIDTP can result not only from the behavior of individuals, but also from the conditions of confinement." Further, the resolution applies to all psychologists whose work relates directly or indirectly with lawful or unlawful enemy combatants wherever they are held. This includes psychologists in the military, the CIA, consultants and all psychologists having information relevant to the use of prohibited interrogation techniques or conditions of detention that violate human rights.

Actions and policies for APA

The 2007 resolution calls upon APA to express its 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 calls upon APA to explore ways to support psychologists who refuse to work in such settings or refuse to obey orders that constitute torture.

The resolution also states that:

  • APA must inform relevant parties within the U.S. government that psychologists are prohibited from participating in interrogation techniques that are contrary to the Geneva Convention, the U.N. Convention Against Torture, and the 2006 and 2007 APA resolutions.
  • APA must call upon the U.S. government to prohibit these techniques.
  • APA must call upon U.S. legal systems to reject testimony that results from torture or CIDTP, in order to protect individuals and to preclude the introduction of unreliable or inaccurate information in legal proceedings.
  • APA affirms that these prohibitions are absolute and that there is never a justification for torture. The invocation of laws, regulations or orders is never a defense against engaging in torture under standard 1.02 in the Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct (2002).
  • APA commends psychologists who have taken clear and unequivocal stands against torture and CIDTP, especially in the line of duty, and affirms the prerogative of psychologists under the Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct (2002) to disobey law, regulations or orders that conflict with ethics.
  • APA asserts that all psychologists with relevant information regarding the use of any method of interrogation constituting torture or CIDTP have an ethical responsibility to cooperate fully with oversight activities conducted by the U.S. government.

In addition, the resolution directs APA's Ethics Committee to proceed forthwith to write a casebook and commentary that sets forth guidelines for psychologists consistent with international human rights standards.

Specific actions for psychologists

The 2007 resolution offers these guidelines and prohibitions for psychologists who work directly or indirectly with enemy combatants:

  • A path-breaking provision of the 2007 resolution, consistent with APA's Ethics Code, is that it affirms that psychologists may engage in civil disobedience when ethics and law conflict.
  • The resolution unequivocally prohibits psychologists from knowingly planning, designing, and assisting in the use of torture and CIDTP.
  • This unequivocal condemnation and prohibition includes all techniques defined as torture or CIDTP under the U.N. Convention Against Torture, the Geneva Convention, and the 2006 APA Resolution Against Torture. Included is a nonexhaustive list of 19 interrogation techniques such as: mock executions; waterboarding or other forms of simulated drowning or suffocation; sexual humiliation; rape; cultural or religious humiliations, exploitation of phobias or psychopathology; induced hypothermia; and isolation, sensory deprivation, and overstimulation and/or sleep deprivation used in a manner that represents significant pain or suffering or in any manner that a reasonable person would judge to cause lasting harm. (The U.N. conventions referred to in the 2006 and 2007 resolutions settle ambiguities. The casebook will provide further guidance.)
  • The resolution states that psychologists with information regarding the use of prohibited interrogation techniques have an ethical responsibility to inform their superiors and cooperate fully with oversight activities, including hearings by the U.S. government. Psychologists should be alert to torture and CIDTP in any and all procedures and contexts.
  • APA members with knowledge that a psychologist, whether APA member or nonmember, has engaged in prohibited behaviors have an ethical responsibility to abide by Ethical Standard 1.05, Reporting Ethical Violations. Psychologists who are not APA members are encouraged to abide by this standard.

A call to action

Discussion and debate about APA's policies regarding the role of psychologists in detention centers for "enemy combatants" will and should continue. Although we the authors of this article differ on issues raised by the amendment that APA's council rejected, we are encouraged that the 2007 APA Resolution Against Torture and CIDTP builds upon thestrengths of the 2006 Resolution. The 2007 resolution significantly advances the 2006 resolution by delineating concrete short and longterm actions for APA and individual psychologists. The ethical practice of individual psychologists, combined with effective APA advocacy and other activities set forth in these resolutions can change how enemy combatants are detained and interrogated. We call upon all psychologists to assume our individual and collective ethical responsibilities for implementing these resolutions in the continuing struggle against torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.

The authors are members of APA's Council of Representatives: Corann Okorodudu, EdD, Div. 48 (Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict, and Violence); William J. Strickland, PhD, Div. 19 (Society for Military Psychology); Judith L. Van Hoorn, PhD, also of Div. 48; and Elizabeth C. Wiggins, PhD, JD, Div. 41 (The American Psychology-Law Society). This article's reviewers include Dierdre J. Knapp, PhD, Div. 14 (Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology) and Laural Bas Wagner, PhD, Div. 39 (Psychoanalysis).


l Reaffirmation of the American Psychological Association Position Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and Its Application to Individuals Defined in the United States as "Enemy Combatants."

2 Chapter 47A; Subchapter 1: 949a. Definitions.