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Action Opportunity for California Residents: Get health professionals out of interrogations!

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Third, it is often argued that health professionals, particularly behavioral scientists, by sharing information and insights about individual detainees, can help establish rapport with a detainee and otherwise support non-coercive interrogations. But this role provides an invitation – which is embodied in current military rules – to share medical records and results of examinations with interrogators. The AMA and American Psychiatric Association have therefore come to the view that their members may train interrogators generally about human behavior and interrogation but not participate in individual interrogations.

Finally, there is a terrible slippery slope in engaging in interrogations that fall short of torture or cruel treatment. As we know, the interpretations of what amounts to torture and cruel treatment by the Justice Department, CIA and Department of Defense are ever-changing, and health professionals ought not to be in the position of being told that a certain interrogation method is acceptable because the lawyers have said so. They are not in a position, either from the point of view of legal knowledge of authority, to contest such determinations, and the prudent approach is to remove them from the situation where such choices must be made. The record of interrogations by the United States has indeed shown that psychologists and physicians have been reassured that the conduct involved does not involve torture and cruel treatment, when in fact it does. Whether serving as supposed “safety officers,” members of Behavioral Consultative Science Teams (BSCTs), or as advisors and implementers to interrogations, health professionals, especially psychologists and physicians, have had their medical expertise and prestige twisted to legitimate criminal treatment of suspected terrorists. The untenable position in which they have been placed can only be avoided by banning participation altogether.

We are aware that some health professionals and the American Psychological Association wish to continue a role for health professionals in interrogations, and thus urge adherence to the pre-9/11 standard, which only prohibits participation in torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. But the experience of the past six years shows why that standard is unworkable and ineffective, and why both internationally – through the World Medical Association – and domestically, the majority approach since 9/11 has been to end the participation of members of health professions obligated to “do no harm” in interrogation altogether.

Because your resolution does precisely this approach we support it. It can help provide health professionals serving in national security environments the ethical and legal guidance they so desperately require to operate in US detention facilities in a manner that comports with their professional ethics and values. By passing this resolution, California will also send a strong message to national security agencies that there is no circumstance where a health professional should be allowed to participate in the willful infliction of harm, and that California will hold health professionals who engage in these activities accountable for their violation of their solemn duty to “do no harm”.


Leonard S. Rubenstein

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The American Psychological Association is working to weaken this resolution to meaninglessness. It is up to concerned health providers in California to organize to see that doesn’t happen.

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Stephen Soldz is psychoanalyst, psychologist, public health researcher, and faculty member at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. He is co-founder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology and is President of Psychologists for Social Responsibility. He was a psychological consultant on two of (more...)

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