Stephen Soldz Op-Ed on the Need for Ethical Standards to End Torture by PsychologistsThursday, August 14th, 2008
Our colleague, Stephen Soldz, has published a timely op-ed in the Boston Globe on the involvement of psychologists in torture and other abuses.
Ending the psychological mind games on detainees
When most people think of psychologists, they think of a professional helping them with life’s emotional difficulties, or of a researcher studying human or animal behavior. Since the Bush administration and the war on terrorism have transformed our country, however, a new, more ominous image of psychologists has slowly seeped into public consciousness
Psychologists have been identified as key figures in the design and conduct of abuses against detainees in US custody at Guantanamo Bay, the CIA’s secret “black sites,” and in Iraq and Afghanistan. Psychologists should not be taking part in such practices.
Yet a steady stream of revelations from government documents, journalistic reports, and congressional hearings has revealed that psychologists designed the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” techniques, which included locking prisoners in tiny cages in the fetal position, throwing them against the wall head first, prolonged nakedness, sexual humiliation, and waterboarding….
When reports of these abuses surfaced, we psychologists looked to our largest professional organization, the American Psychological Association, to take the lead in condemning them and taking measures to ensure that they would not recur. After all, these actions by psychologists violate the central principle of the APA’s ethics code: “Psychologists strive to benefit those with whom they work and take care to do no harm.”
The APA, however, failed to take clear action. While the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association quickly and unequivocally condemned any involvement by its membership in such activities, APA leaders quibbled over whether psychologists had been present at the interrogations and questioned the motives of internal critics….
This month, ballots went out for a first-ever referendum to call a halt to psychologist participation in sites where international law is violated. And dissident New York psychologist Steven Reisner, a founder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology, is running for the APA presidency. His principal campaign platform is for psychologists to be banned from participating in interrogations at US military detention centers, like Guantanamo Bay, that violate human rights and function outside of the Geneva Conventions. In the nomination phase Reisner received the most votes of the five candidates.
At our annual convention in Boston this month, other APA members and I will rally against association policies encouraging participation in detainee interrogations. We will be joined by community activists, human rights groups, and civil libertarians to demand that APA return to its fundamental principle of “Do no harm.” Psychologists owe it to their profession and to the cause of human rights to oppose abuses, not participate in them.
(Read the whole article at the Boston Globe.)
If you are in Boston, please join PHR at the Psychologists for an Ethical APA rally (PDF flyer), from noon to 2 pm this Saturday at the Hynes Convention Center, 415 Summer Street, Boston, where the the APA is holding its national convention.