The American Psychological Association has been racked with controversy over the role of psychologists in Bush regime detainee interrogations. Unlike other health professions, which have determined that participation in the interrogations is unethical, the APA leadership has defended psychologists' involvement in interrogations at Guantanamo and the CIA "black sites." Psychologist opponents of the APA position have, for the first time in APA history, organized a referendum to change APA policy. They ask the APA membership to reject psychologists' participation when such sites are in violation of international law or the Constitution. The ballots are currently arriving in members mailboxes.
After reviewing the disturbing background of psychologists crucial role in U.S. torture and detainee abuse, the referendum's crucial clause states:
Be it resolved that psychologists may not work in settings where persons are held outside of, or in isolation of, either International law (e.g., the UN Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions) or the US Constitution (where appropriate), unless they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights.
Jean Maria Arrigo, the psychologist who served on the APA's PENS [Psychological Ethics and National Security] task force in 2005 and exposed the PENS report as a rubber stamp for an already determined government policy, has succinctly explained the importance of a "Yes" vote on the referendum:
The ballot arrived today from APA, and I just voted Yes on the Referendum. To my mind, the timeliness of the Referendum as social action supersedes the problem of misinterpretation of the text.
My thinking on this matter has been most strongly influenced by military and intelligence personnel I know, including senior interrogators.
At an emotional level, I was much affected by audience responses to my February presentations to anti-torture symposia at two universities in Sao Paulo and the regional psychological association. Audiences were outraged by the APA endorsement of psychologists at military interrogation centers (people standing up and shouting) and truly horrified that I had agreed to the PENS report. (In Brazil, the word "interrogation" is virtually synonymous with "torture.") If the APA l eadership accommodates current government policy on interrogations, well, Brazilian psychologists can understand..., but if the APA membership defeats the Referendum, at this point in our history, that sends a bad message I cannot explain away. They are worried about the passivity of the APA legitimizing torture by our government, which legitimizes torture by their government and delegitimizes their own protests as psychologists.
Jean Maria Arrigo
In response to the referendum, the APA has launched a strong effort to convince members that they should not support this "well-intended" referendum because it would restrict the ability of psychologists to work in domestic prisons and mental hospitals. Although legally informed psychologists have opined that any such risk is extremely far fetched, the referendum authors have issued a clarifying statement that would put these concerns to rest for those sincerely concerned about the domestic application of the referendum:
This referendum is focused on settings such as Guantánamo Bay and the CIA 'black sites' set up by the U.S. as part of its 'global war on terror'; settings where the persons being detained are denied the protections of either constitutional or international law, settings which have been denounced by the United Nations, the Council of Europe, and the International Committee of the Red Cross.