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Letter to the CEO of the American Psychological Association

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There has been considerable controversy regarding the role of psychologists in coercive national security interrogations at Guantanamo and elsewhere. The American Psychological Association (APA) has steadfastly resisted pressure to come out against psychologist participation in these interrogations. (See my Psychologists, Guantanamo and Torture and Protecting the Torturers: Bad Faith and Distortions From the American Psychological Association.) As a result, a movement of APA members has started to withhold dues from the organization as an additional leverage to change the Association's policy.

I have been somewhat reluctant to join this movement as I feel it is important for psychologists to stay in the Association for the time being in order to continue attempts to change its policy. However, I have been reassured that withholding dues does not immediately terminate membership.

I have thus decided to sacrifice my discounted APA journals and to withhold my dues for 2007. Here is the letter I wrote to Norman B. Anderson, Chief Executive Officer of APA, explaining why I am withholding dues:

November 27, 2006

Norman B. Anderson, CEO
American Psychological Association
750 First Street
Washington, DC 20002-4242

Dear Dr. Anderson:

It is with great sadness that I have decided that I can not in good conscience continue paying dues to the American Psychological Association, an organization that uses my money to support the participation of psychologists in illegal and immoral national security interrogations at Guantanamo and other concentration camps, known and unknown.

Guantanamo is illegal according to international law as detainees are held there without due process and with no legal protections, possibly for the rest of their lives. The United Nations Committee on Torture found that detention at Guantanamo was itself tantamount to torture. Further, there are repeated credible allegations of abuse and torture against detainees held at Guantanamo and other known and secret national security detention facilities. Psychologists, including Major John Leso, a member of APA, have reportedly participated in these abuses.

Numerous international organizations – including the European Union, Amnesty International, and Physicians for Human Rights – have condemned the existence or the nature of treatment at Guantanamo. Amnesty International, in their annual report, called Guantanamo "the gulag of our time." Psychologists participating there are thus aiding and abetting torture or abusive and dehumanizing behavior in this gulag.

The situation has become worse with the passage of the 2006 Military Commissions Act, which APA opposed. With the passage of this act, all legal protections have been overtly removed for national security detainees. Further, this act makes it clear, as do press reports, that detention may be for the rest of detainees lives. Additionally, the act essentially suspends United States participation in the Geneva Conventions protections against torture by allowing the President to redefine what these Conventions mean.

With these actions, along with many others, the United States government has declared itself an international outlaw. It is time for men and women of goodwill to refuse to collaborate with this outlaw in its illegal, immoral actions.

The APA has engaged in a repeated pattern of duplicitous, evasive, and illegitimate behaviors in order to protect the participation of psychologists in Guantanamo and the other gulags. The APA appointed a Presidential Task Force (PENS) to look into these matters and recommend policy. The APA kept the membership of the PENS Task Force secret. When the membership leaked out, the reason for secrecy became clear. Five of nine voting members, a majority, were from the military. At least four of them had direct experience with the interrogations the morality of which was in question. Further, APA officials took a strong role in "guiding" the PENS Task Force to its predetermined conclusion that participation in coercive national security interrogations was ethical. Not surprisingly, the APA officials insisted that PENS members sign a confidentiality agreement, thus attempting to keep their immoral manipulation private. Upon reaching a conclusion, the PENS report was rushed through within days to official APA approval by the Board, circumventing the usual step of debate at Council. Thus, the PENS Task Force was a farce and its conclusions are, because of the duplicity with which it was created and manipulated, null and void.

In the summer of 2006 the APA reaffirmed its opposition to Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. However, the APA managed, through a last-minute revision, to define " Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment" in such a manner –by reference to the United States Reservations, Declarations and Understandings to the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the McCain Amendment, and three Amendments to the U.S. Constitution – as to remove much of the Resolution's force. Through this subtle revision, the Resolution now implicitly defines " Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment" using the relativistic "shocks the conscience" standard of American jurisprudence, allowing abusive behaviors to be justified through a claim of necessity to protect against harm.

The question of the treatment of national security detainees is one of those moral issues that defines a society. One either opposes these horrors or implicitly accepts them. The APA has repeatedly taken the latter path. It is part of the problem. In its response to this moral crisis, the APA has facilitated the abuse.

Therefore, I have decided that I can no longer pay dues to the APA because I cannot, in good conscience, pay to aid the APA's immoral actions. I refuse to accept the legitimacy of the leadership of the Association. Therefore, I am not at this time resigning membership. I look forward to the day when I can again in good conscience pay dues to the Association.

Thank you for your attention.


Stephen Soldz, Ph.D.
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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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