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APA on the Road to Damascus?

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One noteworthy critic wrote to his listserv:

It doesn't address the APA's systemic problems and stalling and just absurd behavior for the last few years. It doesn't fix those problems and they just are not going to go away that easily. They have complied to some of our requests and points, but I'm confident that nothing has really been internalized in the minds of the leadership or in the organizational structure....

The letter does not address the seemingly more subtle but ultimately critical harm related issues that are intrinsic to the techniques in the Army Field Manual (fear up harsh, ego down)....

The letter promises the handling of redefinitions and clarifications in a casebook that we have long sought and which has never appeared. External commentary for the casebook is not due until February. The ethics committee is on a good timeline to run out the clock on the Bush administration with the final release of this casebook. And as others have said, this letter is just a letter, and not a revision of the resolution itself.

My own contribution to the internal politicking follows below, quoting from my own posting at a private listserv:

I also agree Behnke's letter represents... well, something positive, or at least indicative of the pressure they are feeling. I think that Stephen Soldz's point about changes in Washington may have something to do with it (if not upcoming hearings).

I sent Behnke a letter today asking for some further clarification.... What follows is not the whole letter, just the substantive queries:

1) Does the term "eliciting information" including instances in which the determination of deception by an interrogatee is the primary task? In other words, do the proscribed techniques, qualified or not, also refer to the assessment of deception?

2) In your letter, you suggest that the second category of techniques, i.e., those "that cannot be 'used in an interrogation process for the purpose of eliciting information'", may be used "when these techniques are used for administrative or security purposes in a detention facility". You use "hooding" as an example, or "nakedness". Now the other techniques in this category, according to the 2007 Resolution, include "stress positions, the use of dogs to threaten or intimidate, physical assault including slapping or shaking, exposure to extreme heat or cold, threats of harm or death". I cannot see how these latter techniques could ever be used "for administrative or security purposes in a detention facility". Therefore, I find your reasoning on this point to be problematic.

3) I am bothered by the reliance on terms like "prolonged" or "extended" when applied to conditions or techniques such as isolation, sensory deprivation, or sleep deprivation, at least when it comes to instances of making policy or providing guidelines. As you must know, and as I discussed in my presentation at the convention, even small amounts of sensory deprivation can have deleterious effects upon an individual, and this is especially true in conditions of detention, following upon the "shock of capture". These effects are amplified further when an individual has no control over the situation, or has no indication over how long such deprivation will occur. There is ample empirical evidence on this score, with over fifty years of psychological research to back me up, some of it by some of the most celebrated scientists in our field.

On the issue of sleep deprivation, the current Army Field Manual on interrogation currently allows, in special circumstances, the limitation of sleep to four hours nightly for up to 30 days. However, empirical research shows that this amounts to injurious treatment, and would represent extended or prolonged sleep deprivation by any medical or psychological criterion.

Perhaps you mean to take up these matters in the casebook. However, since that casebook likely remains some months or even a year or more from completion, I would like to know the thinking of yourself and others on what quantitatively constitutes "extended" or "prolonged" deprivation. Are we even on the same page when it comes to this?

.... Finally, all the above will mean little if psychologists pursue collaboration with governmental agencies in settings where fundamental human rights are abridged, e.g., the right of habeas corpus, settings where "ghost prisoners" are maintained, or in settings or working for institutions were inmates are rendered to foreign countries where torture and abuse of prisoners is practiced.

(For the record, in reply Dr. Behnke assured me that my concerns would be transmitted to the APA Ethics Committee.)

Others debating the issue of how to approach APA given their "new" tack are more resolute and terse in their responses. "This level of dissemblance and double-speak boils my blood", writes one. Another member, who has a lot of experience with police and interrogations, and has been very critical of APA's policies, writes of Behnke and his letters:

He will commiserate, debate, parse sentences, and even change a few terrible details. But the one thing he and the APA will not do is withdraw their support for psychologist involvement in interrogations. We must push for an APA referendum on this.

Proverbially, only time will tell if the latest gyrations of APA on the interrogations matter represents real movement in that organization, or the latest in a series of political maneuvers.

In my opinion, the real power at APA, at least so far as this issue goes, does not really lie in its executive board, nor in its elected Council. It emanates from the Executive Branch of the U.S. government, and most specifically from the Department of Defense and the CIA. On defense/interrogation issues, the APA acts as a subsidiary branch of the military and intelligence agencies.

If APA has differences now with Bush and some in DoD over use of certain coercive interrogation techniques, such differences are no greater than those already found within those governmental agencies, and are, in fact, reflective of intra-governmental and both intra- and inter-agency disputes. It seems likely, as the Bush Administration heads into its final lame-duck year, the exacerbation of tensions will make for a slightly more fluid situation politically. But whatever openings there may be are likely to be frozen by the emphasis on two-party electoralism in the United States.

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http://valtinsblog.blogspot.com

I am a psychologist living in Northern California, who also blogs primarily on torture issues. I have taught History of Psychology, and also have worked clinically with torture refugees. I have most recently been active in the fight to change the (more...)
 

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