August 10, 2006

Psychologists Reaffirm “Do No Harm” Guideline and Strict Prohibition against Torture and All Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment for Work in all National Security Interrogations

Need to balance psychologists’ responsibility to individuals and to society will be topic of symposium

NEW ORLEANS -- In June of 2005, the American Psychological Association (APA) released the report of its Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS) emphasizing psychology's long-standing prohibition against torture and other forms of cruel, degrading or inhuman treatment.

This year, both psychiatry and medicine have also released position statements related to interrogations.

In articulating the APA's position on its members' involvement in interrogations, the Association's task force relied on two ethical principles - that of "Do no Harm" and a second principle which addresses psychologists' responsibilities to society, by virtue of which, psychologists use their expertise in and understanding of human behavior in the prevention of harm.

The PENS Task Force Report prohibits psychologists from any participation in or support for torture or other types of cruel, inhuman or degrading behaviors and places an ethical obligation on psychologists to be alert to and report abusive behaviors to appropriate authorities. The APA Council has further stated that there are no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether induced by a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, that may be invoked as a justification for torture, including the invocation of laws, regulations, or orders.

In June of this year, the American Medical Association (AMA) announced its policy statement that physicians must neither conduct nor directly participate in an interrogation, nor monitor interrogations with the intention of intervening. Physicians may, according to the AMA statement, participate in developing effective interrogations strategies for general training purposes as long as these strategies do not threaten or cause physical injury or mental suffering and are humane and respect the rights of individuals.

Both the APA and the AMA agree that neither profession can participate in interrogations that rely on torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading techniques and acknowledge that the role of care provider and that of consultant to an interrogation must never be mixed.

"Psychologists and physicians may consult to interrogations under strict ethical guidelines. They can consult to non-coercive interrogations when the roles of healthcare provider and consultant are never combined," states APA's ethics director psychologist Stephen Behnke, JD, PhD.

There are also differences between the AMA and APA concerning their members' role in an interrogation situation. According to Dr. Behnke, because psychologists are trained as experts in human behavior, they can play a positive role by helping to protect against "behavioral drift" on the part of the interrogators. Behavioral drift can occur in high stress situations and involves a possible deviation from ethical behavior. This role allows psychologists to protect the welfare of the detainee.

The American Psychiatric Association's position on the issue calls for no involvement of any kind by its members in interrogations but does not carry the weight of an ethics standard as does the psychology position.

A symposium will examine the current research on the ethical issues facing psychologists when dealing with war, terrorism, torture and coercion.

The presentations include:

Shara Sand, PsyD, Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology, Yeshiva University - Contemporary History of Torture, Coercive Interrogation and its Effectiveness - Analysis of the usefulness of coercive interrogation and ethical issues confronting psychologists and psychiatrists who work as military personnel will be presented.

Steven H. Behnke, JD, PhD, American Psychological Association, Director of Ethics - Ethical Dilemmas for Psychologists in times of War and Terrorism

Bradley Olson, PhD, Center for Community Research, Chicago, IL - On the Psychological Ethics and National Security Process (PENS)

Bernice Lott, PhD, University of Rhode Island- Advocating for Social Justice in the APA Council

Presentation: "Ethical Dilemmas for Psychologists Dealing with War, Terrorism, Torture, and Coercion" Session 1280, 2:00 - 3:50 PM, August 10, 2006, Hilton New Orleans Riverside Hotel, Street Level, Grand Salon C

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 150,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting health, education and human welfare.