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Psychologist complicity challenged: APA members file complaint on procedural irregularities for abusive interrogations

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Stephen Soldz       (Page 1 of 5 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   2 comments

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For years dissident members of the American Psychological Association, along with non-member psychologists, have fought the associations policies promoting psychologist participation in military and intelligence interrogations. These dissidents argued that psychologists aiding interrogations were sometimes aiding torture and other abuse. Further, even in cases where the interrogations were not themselves abusive, psychologist participation violated the profession's principle ethical injunction, to "Do No Harm."

The APA leadership, in contrast, claimed that psychologists were necessary to prevent harm to detainees, though they never explained how this prevention would actually occur. Meanwhile, the press and official documents gradually revealed the fact that psychologists, rather than preventing harm, were central actors in designing and implementing the "enhanced interrogation" techniques used by the CIA in its torture centers and by certain military interrogators at Guantanamo and elsewhere.

The APA response was to deny the facts as long as possible. When pure denial was no longer viable, they resorted to admitting that a very few psychologists acted against their professional ethics in aiding abuses. They have never commented on the role bof psychology as a profession when members of the ptofession are designing and implementing a systematic governmental program of abuse. Rather, APA leaders did everything in their power to obscure the issues in order to maintain their support for psychologist participation in detainee interrogations.

Yesterday a group of APA members filed a formal complaint with APA President Bray protesting what they regard as systematic violations of APA procedures and by-laws by the association in pursuit of its position that psychologists should participate in Bush-era detainee interrogations.

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The extent of procedural violations is a major piece of evidence behind dissidents beliefs that APA leadership were knowingly complicit in the Bush program of detainee abuse. The other major pieces of evidence are the APA's systematic refusal to acknowledge psychologist participation in abuses until the public record made denial impossible, and the massive resistance of APA leadership to any attempts by members to change policy. When APA members, by a vote of 59% to 41%, voted to condemn psychologist participation in illegal detention sites like Guantanamo, the APA accepted the formal wording but worked to obfuscate its application to any actual existing sites.

Many APA members have resigned in disgust at the association's leadership's duplicitous role. Yet other dissidents remain members and are pursuing all available means of redress allowed by association rules. This formal protest is their latest effort. Under APA rules, President Bray is to appoint a Committee on Constitutional issues, with membership acceptable to complainants, to investigate. APA rules stipulate that this Committee should be formed and operate expeditiously. The ball is now in President Bray's court.

Here is the letter sent to President Bray [The letter is also available as a pdf here.]:

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Dr. James H. Bray
American Psychological Association
750 First Street, NE
Washington, DC 20002-4242

October 26, 2009

Dear Dr. Bray:

We, the undersigned members of the American Psychological Association (APA), hereby submit a Formal Complaint and request that you appoint a three-member ad hoc Committee on Constitutional Issues (CCI) to adjudicate our complaint according to Association Rule 90-1. Under the Bill of Rights for Members, III.3, "Any individual Member or group of individual Members who believe their rights as Members of the Association, as specified in this Article, or any other rights, have been abridged by actions taken by an element of the Association's governance structure or any employee or employees of the Association may seek such remedies as may be provided under procedures established by the Council of Representatives."

The Bylaws (I.1) state that one of the objects of the APA is "the establishment and maintenance of the highest standards of professional ethics and conduct of the members of the Association." We submit that the APA Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS) recommended a controversial new policy based in part on highly questionable interpretations of the APA Ethics Code. 1 By endorsing this policy, the 2005 Board of Directors made the APA the sole health care professional organization supporting member involvement in the interrogation of detainees held under conditions that violate international law. 2 According to the UN Commission on Human Rights, many detainees have experienced severe suffering amounting to torture. 3 In assuming the role of Behavioral Science Consultant (BSC) to interrogators, psychologists provided professional legitimacy and expertise to programs that have come under intense government investigation and worldwide condemnation. The PENS policy has damaged the reputation of the profession and the APA and undermined the obligation of the APA "to advance psychology as a science and profession and as a means of promoting health, education and human welfare..." (By-laws Article 1), thereby adversely affecting every member.

Article XI. 7, 10 and 12 of the By-laws and Association Rule 30-8 outline the extensive reviews and checks and balances that any major change in policy must undergo before adoption. The backgrounds of a Task Force proposing a far-reaching new policy or guideline should be fully identified and its recommendations reviewed by several APA committees and Boards that address the range of relevant issues. APA staff and those who would directly benefit from the policy should neither determine the policy nor dominate the process by which it is established.

Specifically, our complaint involves three interrelated issues:

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A. Violation of rules for establishing a new policy

  1. The secrecy of the PENS deliberations greatly limited information on the reasoning of the Task Force and the basis of its decisions.

  1. Six members holding a majority vote were on the active payroll of the US military and/or intelligence agencies, creating clear bias and multiple conflicts of interest. 4

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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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