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I read with dismay “The Psychologists and Gitmo,” in the current
online edition of Harper’s, which woefully mischaracterizes the
longstanding position of the American Psychological Association
condemning the use of torture and other cruel, inhuman, and
degrading interrogation procedures. I find it most disconcerting
that the author did not contact APA so that we could provide
accurate information for the article.
The position of the American Psychological Association is
unequivocal: For more than 20 years, the association has
absolutely condemned any psychologist participation in torture. At
its annual convention this past August, APA’s governing Council of
Representatives (the association’s 168 member policy-making body)
adopted a resolution that expands upon earlier policy statements to
specify that interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding, which
are associated with “enhanced” interrogations, are unethical and
Immediately following that action, The Washington Post called APA’s
2007 resolution “a rebuke of the Bush administration’s anti-
terrorism policies.” Furthermore, in his 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 Washington Post
and Dr. Keller are exactly correct regarding APA’s position.
With the recent posting on the Internet of what has been
identified as the U.S. military’s 2003 operating manual for the
Guantanamo detention center, attention has been directed to the use
of isolation and sensory deprivation as interrogation procedures.
APA policy specifically prohibits using any such technique, alone
or in combination with other techniques for the purpose of breaking
down a detainee. In a recent, public exchange (found at
www.apa.org) with an author of APA’s 2007 resolution, I directly
addressed this issue: “Given the concerns that have been expressed
let me state clearly and unequivocally the 2007 Resolution should
never be interpreted as allowing isolation, sensory deprivation and
over-stimulation, or sleep deprivation either alone or in
combination to be used as interrogation techniques to break down a
detainee in order to elicit information.” This position builds upon
a 2006 APA resolution, which stated that psychologists must act in
accordance with human rights instruments relevant to their roles.
APA’s Ethics Committee, with input from our members, is working on
a casebook and commentary that will use a vignette-based approach
to clarify any perceived ambiguities in APA’s position, and that
will reiterate and reaffirm that “enhanced” interrogation
techniques (also known as “no-touch torture” and “torture light”)
are unethical and prohibited.
Stephen Behnke, J.D., Ph.D.
Director of Ethics
American Psychological Association
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