April 29th, 2007
In an attempt to get the American Psychological Association to come to terms with the moral crisis posed by psychologist participation in coercive interrogations at Guantanamo, Bagram, the CIA black sites, and elsewhere, psychologist Neil Altman last summer proposed a Resolution for a Moratorium on Psychologist Participation in Interrogations at US Detention Centers Holding Foreign Detainees, so-called “Enemy Combatants” [pdf; see also the draft justification statement; and other related materials.]
Here is the Summary and Overview of the resolution:
This summary and overview emphasizes aspects central to the proposed moratorium resolution. The points below will also address certain misconceptions that have arisen concerning the resolution.
1. The resolution does not allege that any psychologist has behaved in an unethical, illegal, or improper manner, or that any psychologists are currently engaging in harmful behavior. The resolution is prospective and preventative, not accusatory or punitive in purpose or in spirit, and will serve as a protection for military psychologists.
2. The resolution is not enforceable. If passed the resolution will amount to a position statement on the part of APA and will not be binding on any organization or any individual psychologist. In this respect it is similar to the American Psychiatric Association and the American Medical Association resolutions, which are likewise not enforceable.
3. The resolution is necessary because of an ambiguous legal framework that surrounds the conduct of interrogations. The Military Commissions Act (MCA) of 2006 creates a conflict between US law and International Law over what constitutes an act of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. According to the MCA, only “grave breaches” of the Geneva Conventions are to be considered War Crimes under US law. Also under the MCA, the President is granted sole power to define what constitutes a “grave breach” as opposed to a less than grave breach of the Conventions. As a consequence of this uncertain legal framework, military psychologists do not have binding or even adequate guidance concerning what interrogation techniques are permissible, which is a critical flaw in the current situation that APA must address.
4. The resolution is intended to address a problem that has a political basis, i.e., the US Congress and President taking an action potentially at variance with International Law, when APA, as a Non-Governmental Organization accredited to the United Nations, is pledged to promote and support International Law. APA has been put in a position where it has to address the contradictions created by this political situation, despite its best intentions to restrict itself to scientific matters. APA must make clear that psychologists behave in accordance with international human rights instruments.
5. Psychologists must now assess whether interrogations are being conducted in a legal manner; thus psychologists are being put in a position of acting as attorneys. Psychologists are not qualified to make the legal judgments that they must now make by virtue of the passage of the Military Commissions Act. In the current situation, even a lawyer would be hard-pressed to address the legal contradictions and determine what interrogation techniques are permissible.
6. The resolution is based on considerable empirical data. The justification statement for the resolution summarizes these data. Further empirical data regarding torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment are to be found in the statement against torture put forward by Division 9, the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues [www.spssi.org; see Statement on the Use of Torture]. Further elaboration of the empirical basis for this resolution will be detailed in the future development of this resolution.
7. The moratorium will be lifted when United States law governing military interrogations states that orders relevant to the treatment of detainees may not violate the Geneva Conventions.
In the arcane APA system, unless the leadership decides otherwise, it takes a full year to bring most such resolutions to vote. During this time, various APA committees and constituencies weigh in on the issue.
After months of tireless effort, Dr. Altman has found out that none of APA governing committees (such as the Ethics Committee or the Committee on Legal Affairs) will support the Moratorium resolution. as a result, Dr. Altman has written the following letter to his cosponsors explaining why he will proceed to a vote in the August APA Council of Representatives meeting, despite all obstacles:
Thank you to those of you who made comments to me about how to proceed with the Moratorium Resolution. On Saturday I had a phone conversation with Steve Behnke, Olivia Moorehead-Slaughter, Robin Deutsch (current chair of the ethics committee) and Paul Donnelly (who consulted to us on procedural matters). I told them I want to proceed with the resolution and present it to the Board of Directors and then to the Council or Representatives, with or without the endorsement of the Ethics Committee. I want to explain why I came to this conclusion.
First, I found no basis in the comments of the Governance Groups for further negotiations. Objection was taken to a political basis for the resolution, and objection was taken to a legal basis for the resolution.
There can be no ethical basis for the resolution, since the current code of ethics of APA allows for the ethics code to be violated when a member is given a lawful order, or is following a lawful regulation (as per US law).
So, as far as I can tell, no basis for the resolution is recognized as legitimate by the governance groups. The primary justification for the resolution as set forth was a legal one, having to do with potential and actual discrepancies between US and international law that put those involved with interrogations in detention centers in an untenable legal osition. The Committee on Legal Issues held to their position that APA should not take a position on a legal issue despite my argument to the contrary at the Consolidated Meetings. There is not any quarrel with the justification itself; rather the objection is to the legitimacy of any legal justification. No group recognized that the 2006 APA resolution against torture affirmed that APA is now bound to promote international law as set forth in UN documents and resolutions, and no group recognized that the lack of due process for detainees is itself cruel, inhuman, and degrading as per the 5th, 8th, and 14th amendments to the US constitution, which is how the US itself defines torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment (in its ratification of the Geneva Conventions). So I see no reason to believe that further negotiations would lead to a compromise that would preserve the point of the resolution, nor was any such negotiation invited by the Committee on Legal Issues.
Other groups did suggest that torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment at domestic prisons should be addressed by the resolution, but to me this is a separate problem, though a serious one. US citizens held in US prisons have due process available to them, where “enemy combatants” held off shore do not. The moratorium resolution addresses only this latter situation. I would be very supportive if someone were to offer a moratorium resolution addressing psychologist participation in torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment at US prisons, but that would be a separate matter and would result in an additional extensive process within APA involving considerable negotiation, I am sure, with prison and police psychologists.
This latter point brings me to the question of timing. I believe that the moratorium resolution needs to be considered in August, one year after I proposed it. If I were to agree not to let it go forward to the Board of Directors at this point, Council would have to suspend its rules to consider it in August. If it failed to do so, the matter would be put off until February at least. I consider it likely that, given the political situation in the US, a new administration in Washington in 2009 will close down Guantanamo Bay and other off shore detention facilities operated by the Military Services (though CIA and other non-military centers will likely remain). At that point, APA’s opportunity to take a position on this dark chapter in US history will have passed. While I greatly value APA’s commitment to consensus-building, there are situations of urgent need to address an immediate situation in which people are being mistreated.
I remain willing and eager to talk to any division or governance group that wants to negotiate on the Moratorium Resolution. The Military Psychologists have indicated that they think a moratorium would be harmful to their members; I have indicated to them that I am willing to consider language that would express respect for those who continue to function in various health-care capacities in the detention centers, and that recognizes differences of opinion on the value of psychologist involvement with interrogations. I also have indicated that I am open to language calling on APA to support, financially and otherwise, military psychologists who encounter legal or other problems as a result of refusal to participate in interrogations despite being ordered to do so.
I understand that some of you recommended that I delay taking the resolution to the Board of Directors to allow time for re-thinking the matter given the positions taken by Governance Groups. If some of you wish to withdraw your support for the resolution, I will understand. I hope that I have laid out clearly my reasons for wanting to go forward, and I will be happy to explain further if you get in touch with me.
This letter perfectly illustrates the brilliance of the APA leadership. They are able to curtail every effort to justify change, when they oppose such change. APA can’t get involved in politics, though they did endorse the McCain amendment. As then APA Presidend Gerald Koocher claimed:
I was extraordinarily pleased to see APA show strong public support for the McCain amendment, which embodies these principles so central to our ethics as psychologists. Sen. McCain called for uniform standards of interrogation and a prohibition on cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of U.S. detainees, wherever they are held…. Supporting the McCain amendment was the right thing to do, and APA did it. The New York Times published a letter, signed by Ron Levant as well as the presidents of the American Psychiatric Association and the American College of Physicians, stating that the McCain amendment, which is now law, would “help ensure that our colleagues in the national-security setting are never drawn into abusive, harmful or unethical interrogations and detention practices….”
No problem with taking a “political” position, when the leadership felt that it was good for PR. But, now that the McCain amendment has been nullified by the 2006 Military Commissions Act, which essentially legalized torture, the APA sees nothing but impediments to opposing psychologist cooperation.
Last year the APA passed a Resolution Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Those who sponsored and promoted this resolution viewed it as a way-station on the road to dealing with the problem of psychologists in interrogations. They have supported Dr. Altman’s Moratorium, and saw it as the natural extension of last year’s resolution; these advocates in the Association’s Peace Psychology division have put forward an eloquent argument in favor of the Moratorium.
Unfortunately, the APA leadership have just spat upon that argument. They have once again made clear that participation in the abuses America’s detention centers is a defining principle for the country’s organized psychology. No moral principles, no legal arguments, no political positions, and certainly not human decency, will be allowed to interfere with that defining principle.
In pursuing the Moratorium, proponents have deliberately downplayed the extensive evidence that psychologists are not simply unwitting victims of abuse, but are crucial instruments of it. As shown through the reporting Jane Mayer, of Mark Benjamin, of Bill Dedman, and of Steven Miles, demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that the psychologist-led Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCTs) utilized torture techniques learned from the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) program (where psychologists play a prominent role) and “reverse engineered” them to develop techniques to break down detainees. As Benjamin of Salon states:
There are striking similarities between the reported detainee abuse at both Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib and the techniques used on soldiers going through SERE school, including forced nudity, stress positions, isolation, sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation and exhaustion from exercise.
Thus, the APA leadership are not simply protecting their access to top Defense and Intelligence officials who can aid them in the pursuit of money, prestige, and influence for psychologists, at the same time, these leaders are actively abetttng the administration’s torture policy as Art Levine explained last January in the Washington Monthly: Collective Unconscionable: How psychologists, the most liberal of professionals, abetted Bush’s torture policy.
It is now up to the APA’s members to decide if they wish to continue abetting torture, or whether they will, against all odds, force the organization to take a truly moral position and pass the Moratorium over the objections of the leadership. APA members, and others, who wish to join this struggle of civilization against organized barbarism can go to psyact.org/?q=do-NO-harm where they can sign a petition, and join email lists focussed upon the issue. There are plans for a wide variety of activities before and during the Association’s August Convention. This struggle will determine the moral future of psychology for decades to come as psychologists decide whether they are a profession dedicated to the good of society as well as to personal survival and growth, or whether the pursuit of money, jobs, and influence will come to dominate all.