March 4, 2008

Letter from Rhea Farberman to Mother Jones

Letter to the editor in response to the article, "The Enablers," (Mother Jones, March 1, 2008).

Letters Editor
Mother Jones
222 Sutter St.
6th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94108

Dear Editor:

I read with dismay “The Enablers” in the March 1 online edition of Mother Jones, which mischaracterizes the longstanding position of the American Psychological Association condemning the use of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading interrogation procedures. From the title to the heading about psychology’s “long and harmful history with torture” to the final reference to the sinking of the Titanic, this article is fraught with sensational claims and innuendo about wrongful motives and actions on behalf of our Association and its members.

Contrary to reporter David Goodman’s assertions, the American Psychological Association has imposed an absolute and unequivocal prohibition on any psychologist involvement in abusive interrogation techniques or any other form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Any APA member found to have violated this prohibition would be subject to sanction under our Code of Ethics.

In the last 20 years, APA’s governing body has adopted no fewer than seven statements regarding its absolute and emphatic prohibition against psychologist participation in any form of torture or abuse. Last month, APA’s Council of Representatives adopted an amendment adding further clarity and specificity to its 2007 anti-torture resolution. Specifically, the council strengthened the prohibition by condemning all techniques considered torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment under the U.N. Convention Against Torture; the Geneva Conventions; and other relevant human rights agreements. Further, the substitute amendment states: “Psychologists are absolutely prohibited from knowingly planning, designing, participating in or assisting in the use of all condemned techniques at any time and may not enlist others to employ these techniques in order to circumvent this resolution’s prohibition.”

In its most recent statements, APA has explicitly rejected a post-Sept. 11 justification for torture or abuse; imposed an obligation on psychologists to report instances of torture or abuse; and called upon U. S. courts to reject testimony arising from torture or abuse. There are no exceptions to this position.

Notably, The Washington Post called APA’s 2007 anti-torture resolution "a rebuke of the Bush administration's anti-terrorism policies." Furthermore, in a Sept. 25, 2007, statement to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Dr. Allen Keller, director of the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture and a member of the Physicians for Human Rights' Advisory Council, wrote, "The American Psychological Association has specifically banned its members from participation in the tactics that allegedly make up the CIA's 'enhanced' interrogation program."

The names and biographical statements of the APA task force on psychological ethics and national security were not kept secret, as Goodman implies. They were provided to the APA Council of Representatives with no restrictions whatsoever on how this information could be disseminated and posted on the Internet weeks before the task force met.

Psychologists consulting to the military and intelligence communities, like their colleagues in domestic forensic settings, use their expertise to promote the use of ethical, effective and rapport-building interrogations, while safeguarding the welfare of interrogators and detainees. Indeed, several psychologists, including members of the APA task force, have been cited in news articles as working within the military establishment to stop harsh interrogation techniques.

APA’s position is the result of intelligent, informed and thoughtful debate that has been ongoing for over five years. A vocal minority has objected to this position, and we respect their right to disagree. But in the final analysis, we share the same goal: To prevent torture and the cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees and to safeguard their welfare and human rights.


Rhea K. Farberman
Executive Director
Public and Member Communications
American Psychological Association