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Torture treatment providers to APA: Its time for action, not words, on torture

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Stephen Soldz
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Employees and volunteers of torture treatment programs have issued an extremely powerful Open Letter to American Psychological Association President Sharon Brehm and APA Director of Ethics Stephen Behnke. Not surprisingly, those who work with torture victims are not happy with APAĂ ‚¬ „ s refusal to take firm action against psychologists who aid those who engage in torture and abuse in AmericaĂ ‚¬ „ s detention facilities.

Sharon Brehm, PhD President Stephen Behnke, PhD Director, Ethics Office American Psychological Association, 750 First Street, NE Washington, D 20002-4242

June 25, 2007

Dear Drs. Brehm and Behnke:

The undersigned are 58 psychologists and members of APA who are also employees and volunteers for organizations affiliated with the National Consortium of Torture Treatment Programs (NCTTP). NCTTP is a growing consortium with 36 member organizations. As practitioners who work to alleviate suffering resulting from torture, we know from our professional experience that such suffering is often severe and lasts a lifetime. We have learned from our work that this suffering is mainly psychological in nature and that it is no less severe when it is inflicted by means of non-physical torture, i.e. in the form of isolation, sensory deprivation and disorientation, self-inflicted pain techniques, sleep deprivation, humiliation and other forms of mental cruelty. While some of us have had exchanges with you on the subject of psychologistsĂ ‚¬ „ participation in coercive interrogations, the time has come that we now speak clearly and in a unified voice.

Torture is corrosive to the society that practices it and destroys its institutions. Citizens lose faith in their institutions and no longer trust their neighbors or their appointed leaders. We are witnessing this corrosive effect on our own professional organization because psychologists have participated in the interrogation of enemy combatants by means amounting to torture. To make matters worse, it is appearing increasingly likely that some of the same colleagues and their allies were then appointed as a majority to the investigating body into the ethics of these interrogation practices, the PENS Task Force. The Task ForceĂ ‚¬ „ s proceedings have now been called into question. A case book was promised but never issued. Specific factual inquiries into psychologistsĂ ‚¬ „ participation in abuses have been sidestepped time and again. The perception is becoming widespread that APAĂ ‚¬ „ s leadership has employed a strategy of listening and recording the voices of dissent without any intention of letting it affect de facto policy.

Some of us have already left APA, others are withholding dues, and still others are simply growing more impatient and frustrated. We all believe, however, that you must initiate a reversal of the current collaboration with abusive interrogation practices, which violate APA policy as ratified in the 2006 Resolution Against Torture. It has been alleged that the 2002 Ethics Code revision, found in standard 1.02, permits psychologists to follow any law or regulation, including military regulations, even if these otherwise violate the Ethics code. If this is the case, it must be changed; if it is not the case, we urge you to say so publicly and unambiguously. We urge you to hold hearings on the exact nature of the collaboration that has been reported, and until then to unambiguously declare an end to all cooperation with detainee interrogation practices. Otherwise, we foresee an indelible stain on our professionĂ ‚¬ „ s reputation, amounting to the exact opposite of Dr. BrehmĂ ‚¬ „ s goal of raising the positive profile of psychologists. At stake is an exodus of membership and a lasting split of the profession. As long as APA offers only resolutions against torture but remains unwilling to make a change, such resolutions will ring hollow. Having worked on the subject of torture for many combined years, we have learned this: the ghosts will not go away until a full reckoning and a change in course have been accomplished. Nothing that is built on cruelty can last. Please let us know if you would like our help in bringing about the change that must occur.


Adeyinka M. Akinsulure-Smith, Ph.D.

Manuel Balboa, Ph.D.

Pamela Braswell, Psy.D.

Jules Burstein, Ph.D.

Jane Christmas, Psy.D.

Mary Cogan, Ph.D.

Nancy Colburn, 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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