Larry Wright of the Aug. 14th Detroit News perfectly captures the charade that went on last week at the Convention of the American Psychological Association regarding psychologists and torture:
I was out of the country (in Australia and Fiji) at the time of the convention and did not have an opportunity to closely examine what went on there. But it is clear that the APA reaffirmed its existing policy that psychologists should not participate in torture. However, they did not specify clearly what activities constitute torture, nor did they ban psychologists’ participation in coercive interrogations. On the definition issue: Is waterboarding torture? Is prolonged sesory deprivations? How about prolonged heat or cold or lound noises? They do not say. In legalistic jargon they state:
“BE IT RESOLVED, that the term “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment” means treatment or punishment by any psychologist that is of a kind that, in accordance with the McCain Amendment, would be prohibited by the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, as defined in 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 done at New York, December 10, 1984.”
Note the key “as defined in 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 done at New York, December 10, 1984” phrase. I have yet to make a careful examination of these Reservations, as I haven’t been able to locate them [can anyone send them to me, or a relevant analysis?]. But it appears to be the language used in the so-called McCain Amendment that appeared to ban torture by the United States but was immediately proclaimed to be null and void by President Bush, when he said in his signing statement he would decide if and when it should be followed.
Benjamin Greenberg, on his Hungry Blues blog discusses the history of the McCain Amendment and its apparent weakening of the definition of the definition of torture and abuse from those previously existing.
More importantly, as Greenberg clearly points out, the APA did not vote to forbid psychologists participating in coercive interrogations at Guantanamo and elsewhere. As Greenberg explains:
While yesterday’s APA statement “condemns any involvement by psychologists in torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” there is no mention of BSCTs [Behavioral Science Consultation Teams]. There is no explicit prohibition against psychologists continuing in this “consulting” role.
Let’s connect the dots.
The DOJ and the DOD work to maintain intentionally vague definitions of torture that allow for Category II interrogation techniques. The APA resolves to oppose torture but continue allowing psychologists to participate in interrogations. Interrogations revolve around Category II techniques, which are determined and orchestrated by BSCTs. The only Behavioral Scientists allowed on the Consultation Teams are psychologists. Psychologist participation in interrogations is essential to the continuation of current US torture policy.
Thus, last week’s “victory” at the APA Convention is largely a figleaf used as a PR stunt to blunt criticism of psychologist participation in coercive interrogations. Nothing substantive has changed, so far.
4 comments August 20th, 2006