An Open Letter to the American Psychological Association

Tuesday, June 30, 2009 at 2:40 pm by

On June 18, 2009, the American Psychological Association (APA) issued an open letter to its members, attempting to address growing concern and animosity over the APA’s role in designing, aiding, and legitimizing acts of torture carried out during interrogations under the Bush administration. This letter, penned by the APA’s board of directors, marks the first recognition by the APA that members engaged in torture, despite reports outlining the role psychologists played in the application of abusive interrogation techniques as far back as 2005.

However, many people felt that the APA failed to take responsibility for the full range of psychologist involvement in the exceedingly harsh, degrading, and humiliating treatment suffered by detainees. Furthermore, the APA letter refused to acknowledge the damaging ways in which the organization colluded with military officials in drafting revised ethical standards, permitting organization members to engage in activities which amounted to torture.

In order to address this abdication of responsibility by the APA, and to ensure the enforcement of the highest ethical standards in the future, a coalition of psychologist and physician groups, religious groups, and human rights organizations (including the Bill of Rights Defense Committee) yesterday released an open letter in response to the APA’s board of directors.

The letter commends actions the APA has already taken, yet decries the association’s failure to fully address the legal, ethical, and organizational implications of having been complicit in torture. The coalition letter calls for, among other things, investigations into, and accountability for, psychologists’ participation in torture, as well as a strong, public, and binding affirmation of the APA’s opposition to service in US detention facilities abroad.

The coalition letter is an attempt by concerned health care and human rights organizations to convince the APA to take responsibility for the role it played in the torture of detainees, and to take substantive steps that would prevent such systematic abuses from occurring again.

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One Response to “An Open Letter to the American Psychological Association”

  1. People’s Blog for the Constitution » Psychologists and torture Says:

    [...] Using psychologists during interrogation of suspected terrorists has been a common, but little talked about, issue in the “war on terror” and numerous other eras when national security was at issue. Psychologists and psychiatrists have helped design and promote torture techniques such as sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, waterboarding, isolation and limits on physical movement including painful shackling. They employed these methods to induce anxiety, disorientation, fear, cognitive impairment and feelings of vulnerability—in the CIA’s words, “debility, dependency and dread”—toward seeking to break the detainee’s resistance to yielding intelligence. At Guantanamo Bay, special units of psychologists (and sometimes psychiatrists), called Behavioral Science Consultation Teams, were charged with helping interrogators identify detainee vulnerabilities, advise on strategy before and during the interrogation and tell interrogators when to push the detainee harder to seek intelligence. It is likely that thousands of detainees held in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay suffered acute and enduring pain and suffering as a result. [...]

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