Torture, Psychology and Ethics in APA

You may or may not have read about recent protests of the APA and its stance on psychologists engaged in torture. On the one hand, it sounds as though the APA has taken a strong position against psychologists being involved in torture. The APA's press release states that psychologists are prohibited from a long list of tactics, including "mock execution; water-boarding or any other form of simulated drowning or suffocation; sexual humiliation; rape; cultural or religious humiliation; exploitation of phobias or psychopathology; induced hypothermia; and the use of psychotropic drugs or mind-altering substances for the purpose of eliciting information. In addition, the following acts were banned for the purpose of eliciting information in an interrogations process: hooding; forced nakedness; stress positions; the use of dogs to threaten or intimidate; physical assault including slapping or shaking; exposure to extreme heat or cold; threats of harm or death; and isolation and/or sleep deprivation used in a manner that represents significant pain or suffering or in a manner that a reasonable person would judge to cause lasting harm; or the threatened use of any of the above techniques to the individual or to members of the individual's family."

And yet I have read, in many different sources, that the APA's position is more equivocal than it sounds. The resolution passed at the August 07 APA council meeting allows psychologists to assist with interrogations in their work, even when the interrogations might not protect the prisoner's rights. The rationale that I heard for this, from APA leadership at the August meeting, is that the APA leadership believes that the presence of a psychologist can protect the prisoner's rights. The APA asserts that being involved in the process helps to protect prisoners. Critics decry such logic as naive, and say that it disregards what we know about social psychological processes.

I am sad to say that I am more persuaded by the critics than by the APA, and I am considering resigning from the APA.

Here is some of the material I have been reading.

There is more, but this will get you started.

I am dismayed by the actions of psychology's largest organization. In the coming few weeks I will read more, and decide whether or not I want to continue being a member of the APA. At this point, it seems to me that the Goodman's commentary is right, and the APA is in denial about its role. If you are aware of relevant evidence, pro or con, please forward it to me.


RTC said...

Kudos, Mike, for taking a stand. I would consider doing the same thing if I were a member of the APA. That is very disturbing. I think I would probably hold off a week or two to make sure confirming evidence was forthcoming, but then I would go ahead with resigning. Very disturbing!

Hellmut said...

I would like to congratulate you as well, Mike! Let me know what is happening and I will do my bit.