Speakers discussed the question of whether psychologists should play any role in interrogations related to national security at two sessions during APA's Annual Convention.
The debates followed the reaffirmation of the association's position against torture by APA's Council of Representatives (see "Council action at convention"). That stance is not new. An APA statement on human rights and torture dates back to 1986.
But, with media reports of psychologist involvement in prisoner interrogation at military facilities like Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, bringing the issue to the fore, psychologists Corann Okorodudu, PhD, and Judith Van Hoorn, PhD, worked to update and clarify the statement with Linda Woolf, PhD, past president of Div. 48 (Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict and Violence: Peace Psychology) in collaboration with members of the Divisions for Social Justice and APA Div. 19 (Society for Military Psychology).
As adopted, the resolution reaffirms APA's endorsement of the U.N. Convention Against Torture, and, among other things, requires psychologists to intervene to stop torture if it occurs and to report it.
In 2005, the APA Board of Directors adopted as APA policy the report of the Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS), which stated that psychologists can consult to interrogations related to national security and military action in an ethical manner. APA's Ethics Committee is preparing a casebook to further expand on the PENS report and to give more specific guidance to members working in the area (see "Commentary to elucidate ethical involvement in interrogations").
At issue for speakers at the convention sessions, sponsored by the Divisions for Social Justice, APA's Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest, Div. 48 and several other APA divisions, however, was whether psychologists should be involved with such interrogations at all. Participants in the sessions, led by Woolf and Neil Altman, PhD, chair of the Divisions for Social Justice, included:
Michael G. Wessells, PhD, Former PENS task force member; Randolph-Macon College, Ashland, Va.
M. Brinton Lykes, PhD, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Mass.
Jean Maria Arrigo, PhD, Project on Ethics and Art in Testimony, Irvine, Calif.
Judith Van Hoorn, PhD, Mills College, Oakland, Calif.
Leonard Rubenstein, MD, Physicians for Human Rights, Cambridge, Mass.
Bernice Lott, PhD, Chafee Center, Kingston, R.I.
Robert Geffner, PhD, Alliant International University-San Diego.
Shara Sand, PsyD, Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, New York.
Stephen H. Behnke, PhD, director of APA's Ethics Office, framed the debate by asking, "Is there something different about the ethical dilemmas that arise in times of war and terrorism?"
Wessells: I think that we have drifted into an extremely dangerous situation, where the Department of Defense (DoD) continues to demonstrate a willingness to use abusive techniques, and it plays a shell game. They say, "These techniques can't be used? Fine, we'll invent some other techniques."
That's going to go on endlessly, and now the DoD has said we prefer to use psychologists. That means our psychologists are at risk every single day and my belief is that if we don't at least put a moratorium on their participation, we run the risk of doing grave damage to individuals through human rights abuses, and to the profession that we care about.
Lykes: Failure to act today, failure to speak out now to end current interrogation processes and to end our involvement in interrogation is not only a failure of conscience, but a failure of our own practices as psychologists and as citizens committed to human rights and international justice.
Van Hoorn: The (APA resolution against torture) not only strongly states, unequivocally, that psychologists should not be participants in any way, but that psychologists cannot be bystanders, that psychologists must work to stop such behavior should it evolve, and if it continues, exit the procedure. And it's for any situation.
Rubenstein: Yesterday you (APA) adopted a resolution that you would be bound by human rights. Human rights doesn't talk about dilemmas. Human rights talks about absolutes. One of these absolutes is that absolutely there should be no torture.
Lott: When psychologists work in hospitals, courts, clinics, prisons and so on in the country, there are rules and a relatively open process. There is potential oversight by lawyers, family and the community. Can our ethics say it is OK to work in situations where this is not the case? In secrecy, in places in which violations of human rights systematically occur as a matter of institutional policy...where detainees or prisoners are not protected by international human rights protocols or provisions of the U.S. Constitution?
Sand: The evidence consistently reveals that confessions obtained by coercion or torture are unreliable. Coerced confessions can be so unreliable and problematic that they are inadmissible in U.S. courts of law.
Geffner: We are facing a dilemma, but it's a broader based one....The country is facing one too, which is where do we draw the line between what rights we and others are willing to give up-what liberties-versus safety?