October 1, 2007

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding APA’s Policies and Positions on the Use of Torture or Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment during Interrogations

Q. Does the American Psychological Association have a position on the use of torture or abuse by psychologists during interrogations?

A. Yes. Over the past 20 years, APA’s Council of Representatives, the association’s governing body, has adopted no fewer than six resolutions regarding its absolute and emphatic prohibition against psychologist participation in any form of torture. These resolutions were passed in 1986, 2005, 2006 and 2007. APA has made absolutely clear that it is always unethical for a psychologist to participate in torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in any setting for any purpose.

Here are links to the most recent statements.
http://www.apa.org/about/governance/council/policy/torture-2006.aspx and

Q. Are psychologists forbidden from participating in interrogations involving torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment? 
A. Yes they are, in all instances and circumstances. APA policy clearly states that the unequivocal condemnation of torture “includes an absolute prohibition against psychologists’ knowingly planning, designing and assisting in the use of torture and any form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Furthermore, it says: “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 cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, including the invocation of laws, regulations or orders.”

Q. Part of the problem in protecting detainee welfare is the lack of clarity about what constitutes torture. Does the APA policy define precisely what acts it prohibits when it says psychologists shall not knowingly engage in torture?

A. Yes. At the APA’s 2007 convention, the Council of Representatives passed a resolution stating that APA’s unequivocal condemnation includes all techniques defined as torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment under the U.N. Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions. The 2007 resolution states that prohibited techniques include but are not limited to at least 19 unethical interrogation techniques. These include: mock execution; water-boarding or any other form of simulated drowning or suffocation; sexual humiliation; rape; cultural or religious humiliation; exploitation of phobias or psychopathology; induced hypothermia; and the use of psychotropic drugs or mind-altering substances for the purpose of eliciting information. In addition, the following acts were banned for the purpose of eliciting information in an interrogations process: hooding; forced nakedness; stress positions; the use of dogs to threaten or intimidate; physical assault including slapping or shaking; exposure to extreme heat or cold; threats of harm or death; and isolation and/or sleep deprivation “used in a manner that represents significant pain or suffering or in a manner that a reasonable person would judge to cause lasting harm; or the threatened use of any of the above techniques to the individual or to members of the individual's family.”

Q. What is APA doing to promulgate the policy adopted at its 2007 convention? 
A.  APA has been actively engaged in efforts to inform the federal government, the scientific community, its own membership and the public about the 2007 resolution, as well as its longstanding policy in this area. APA has sent a copy of the policy to key members of Congress, to President Bush and to key officials within the Department of Defense and the CIA. APA is calling attention to the need for further research in this area and sponsored a symposium on the science of interrogations and confessions at the University of Texas, El Paso, in September 2007. APA is informing its wider membership through guest articles on the topic in the APA Monitor on Psychology in November. And APA staff and members continue to speak to the news media and in other public venues to explain the association’s position and to help advance the cause of detainee welfare and humane treatment.

Q. Does APA policy allow psychologists in the military, CIA or those employed as consultants to participate in torture if they are ordered to do so? 

A. No. As the 2007 resolution clearly states: “there are no exceptional circumstances whatsoever … that may be invoked as a justification for torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, including the invocation of laws, regulations or orders.” Moreover, if psychologists find themselves in such a situation, they have a professional and moral responsibility to try to stop such tactics. If they cannot prevail, then the psychologists must not participate in any way in such interrogations and have an ethical responsibility to report them to the appropriate authorities. APA is trying to help foster the adoption of polices and procedures across the federal government that define torture clearly and consistently and prohibit it under any circumstances.

Q. Does APA policy apply to psychologists who observe other people engaged in torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment? What responsibility do psychologists have?

A. APA’s policy applies to all psychologists in all contexts. The 2006 resolution against torture emphasizes that “psychologists shall be alert to acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and have an ethical responsibility to report these acts to the appropriate authorities.”

Q. A great deal of controversy has surrounded the definition of “torture” under U.S. law.  Which law—U.S. or international—guides APA policy on the treatment of detainees?

A. In 2000, in recognition of APA’s efforts to promote human rights, APA received consultative status as a non-governmental organization at the United Nations. As such, APA is committed to the spirit, purposes and principles of the U.N. Charter and other relevant international instruments, such as the U.N. Convention Against Torture. In keeping with this commitment, APA’s 2006 resolution states that psychologists “shall work in accordance with international human rights instruments relevant to their roles.”

Q. What steps would APA take if it learned that a psychologist participated in or had knowledge of others designing or implementing cruel, degrading or inhuman interrogation techniques?

A. APA members have a responsibility to intervene to stop abuse and to report abusive incidents to appropriate authorities. The APA Ethics Committee will investigate, under well-established procedures, any allegation that a member has violated APA’s strict prohibition against engaging in torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or reporting relevant information. The chair of the Ethics Committee has made clear that any member found to have engaged in unethical behavior will face committee sanction, up to and including expulsion from APA. Such an action could also lead to revocation by the relevant state agency of the psychologist’s license to practice.

Q. Has APA disciplined the psychologists who, according to media reports, reverse-engineered the SERE (Survival, Escape, Resistance and Evasion) training techniques that were used by the CIA as the basis for interrogation procedures?

A. Two psychologists have been identified by the media as developers of these interrogation tactics. They are not members of the American Psychological Association. Therefore, we have no ability to discipline them. APA continues to state publicly, however, that their alleged tactics have been discredited by responsible psychologists everywhere, including within the military.

Q. Isn’t it true that APA’s prohibitions against torture apply only when psychologists act as health service providers?

A. No, this is precisely the position rejected by the APA’s Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS) in its June 2005 report. Also, both the 2006 and 2007 APA resolutions emphasize that the prohibitions against torture and abuse apply to psychologists in all settings and in all roles.

Q. Who were the members of the PENS task force and did any of them have ties to the military establishment?

A. The task force was composed of psychologists from varied backgrounds, including forensic, behavioral and clinical psychology. The members were:

  • Olivia Moorehead-Slaughter, PhD - Chair

  • Jean Maria Arrigo, PhD

  • Army Col. Morgan Banks, PhD

  • Robert A. Fein, PhD

  • Michael G. Gelles, PsyD

  • Army Col. Larry C. James, PhD

  • Navy Capt. Bryce E. Lefever, PhD

  • R. Scott Shumate, PsyD

  • Nina K. Thomas, PhD

  • Michael G. Wessells, PhD

In addition, there were two liaisons from the APA board of directors: Barry S. Anton, PhD, and Gerald P. Koocher, PhD.

As indicated by the above titles, three of the task force members are active duty military. Several other members have consulted to various military agencies. Other members of the Task Force had no ties to the military. The diversity of professional expertise and experience among the task force members enabled them to analyze the issues effectively and make informed recommendations. 

Q. Why has the APA stopped short of prohibiting psychologists from any participation whatsoever in military interrogations?

A. Based on years of careful and thorough analysis, APA has affirmed that psychology has a vital role to play in promoting the use of ethical interrogations to safeguard the welfare of detainees and facilitate communications with them. . By staying engaged, APA is able to work with the many parties, both within and outside of the military, who are dedicated to preventing torture and other forms of cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.

The cost of disengagement is that one loses any ability to influence policy or practices. In fact, the work of several APA members, including Dr. Mike Gelles, who was hailed by a medical ethicist for his “successful medical protest of prisoner abuse” at Guantanamo Bay, and Dr. Larry James, who was sent to Abu Ghraib to implement procedures to prevent future abuse, illustrate the value of our strategy of engagement to safeguard the welfare of detainees.

Q. What is the APA stance on testimony derived from torture?

A. Research has shown that information obtained through torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading interrogation is unreliable. APA believes it is also unethical to use testimony obtained under immoral conditions or through techniques that are prohibited by the Geneva Conventions and the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. APA’s 2007 resolution calls on all U.S. courts to reject any and all testimony resulting from torture or other forms of inhumane treatment.

Q. Can an interrogation be done in an ethical manner?

A. Yes, absolutely. Interrogations are conducted for the purpose of eliciting information that can be used to solve crimes and to prevent acts of violence. Ethical and effective interrogations are based on building rapport with the individual, as well as respecting his or her human dignity and cultural differences. Conducting an interrogation is an inherently psychological endeavor, because understanding an individual’s psychology, motivations and culture are central to forming a relationship and building rapport. There is no room for abuse in forming the kind of relationship that will result in gathering useful information, and respecting the individual’s dignity is essential to facilitate this process.

Q. Does the latest policy adopted by APA include a “loophole” that allows torture in some instances?

A. No. Torture is never, ever permissible. The prohibited techniques in APA’s most recent policy statement includes any defined as torture under the APA’s 2006 and 2007 resolutions, the U.N. Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Convention. The 19 examples provided are not intended to be exhaustive. Furthermore, psychologists having knowledge of the use of any prohibited technique or combination of techniques, whether during or outside the scope of interrogations, must inform their superiors.

Q. The 2007 resolution’ s title refers to the application of policy to individuals defined in the U.S. Code as “enemy combatants.” Are policies included that are not related to interrogations?

A. Yes. In recognizing that torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. can result not only from the behavior of individuals but also from the conditions of confinement, the APA expresses grave concern over settings in which detainees are deprived of adequate protection of their human rights. APA affirms the prerogative of psychologists to work in such settings within strict ethical guidelines and a “no exceptions” prohibition against torture and other forms of cruel or inhuman treatment. but it also will explore ways to support psychologists who refuse to work in such settings and/or who refuse to obey orders that constitute inflicting torture.