July 1, 2008

Summary of APA Policy Prohibiting Psychologists' Involvement in Torture

  • The American Psychological Association’s (APA) position on torture is clear and unequivocal:  Any direct or indirect participation in any act of torture or other forms of cruel, degrading or inhuman treatment or punishment by psychologists is strictly prohibited.  There are no exceptions.  Such acts as waterboarding, sexual humiliation, stress positions and exploitation of phobias are clear violations of APA’s no torture/no abuse policy.

  • In August 2007 and February 2008, the APA Council of Representatives adopted a policy resolution condemning and strictly forbidding psychologists from directly or indirectly participating in 19 unethical interrogation techniques that would be considered torture under international definitions. These prohibited techniques include, but are not limited to: mock execution; waterboarding; sexual humiliation; rape; cultural and/or religious humiliation; exploitation of phobias or psychopathology; induced hypothermia; hooding; forced nakedness; stress position; the use of dogs to threaten or intimidate; the use of psychotropic drugs or mind-altering substances; physical assault; sleep deprivation; exposure to extreme heat or cold; and threats of harm or death.

  • APA has furthermore called upon the U.S. government, including the Congress, the President, the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency, to ban the use of the aforementioned techniques and called upon U.S. courts to reject any testimony resulting from the use of such techniques.

  • The 2007 policy resolution also expressed Council’s “grave concerns over settings in which detainees are deprived of adequate protection of their human rights” and “affirmed the prerogative of psychologists to refuse to work in such settings.”

  • The 2007 resolution directs the APA Ethics Committee to create guidelines relevant to psychologists’ work with detainees that are consistent with international human rights principles, including the Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions and the U.N. Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. A related resolution, passed by Council in 2006, states that all psychologists must work in accordance with international human rights instruments relevant to their roles.

  • APA has been a consistent voice for the protection of the welfare of national security detainees and has strongly and unequivocally condemned the abuse of detainees in letters to President Bush, Attorney General Michael Mukasey, CIA Director Michael Hayden, and members of Congress. APA has publicly and consistently called for the establishment of policies and procedures that fully protect the human rights of detainees, including judicial review of their status.

  • The 2007 APA Council policy action stated there are no exceptions to the Association’s prohibitions against torture and other forms of inhuman treatment, including war or the threat of war or terrorism. Adherence to the military or organizational chain of command is also not a defense for committing or being party to acts of torture or abuse.

  • The principle of “Do no harm” provides the foundation for the Association’s resolutions against torture dating back to the mid-1980s. In 1985, APA issued a joint resolution against torture with the American Psychiatric Association. Subsequent resolutions prohibiting any psychologist’s involvement in torture were also adopted by the Association in 1986, 2005, 2006 and 2007.

  • APA has procedures in place to investigate and adjudicate possible ethical violations by its members.  Any allegations that a member has violated APA’s strict prohibition against engaging in torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment will be investigated and, if the evidence warrants, adjudicated.