Colleagues in Australia, facing a visit from former American Psychological Association President Gerald Koocher, are mobilizing to raise APA’s unacceptable positions on psychologists and torture with their Australian Psychological Society prior to the APS September Conference, where Dr. Koocher is scheduled to speak:
Psychologists, torture and the 2007 APS Conference keynote speaker
The membership of the APS should know something about the controversial invitation of Dr Gerald P. Koocher, Past President of the American Psychological Association (APA), to.be a keynote speaker at this year’s APS Conference in Brisbane.
The ABC’s Four Corners program about torture on June 4 and 11 reminded us that it should be of particular concern to psychologists: in the USA psychologists have had a long connection with military and CIA interrogation techniques; Behavioral Science Consultation. Team (B2SCT or “biscuiot teams; are involved in the interrogation of detainees in the so called ‘war on terror’, and these interrogation techniques amount to torture under the United Nations and indeed common sense definitions.
In an earlier ABC program, Lateline, on March 26, the US bioethicist Stephen Miles made the point that since psychiatrists (and other bodies representing health professionals in the USA) have come out against involvement in ‘interrogations’ like those carried out at Guantanamo, the US Defense Department now approves only of psychologists to participate in the organisation or management of interrogation teams. This is because the APA took the position that it’s OK to participate in such interrogations – something that has put it in opposition to other health professions, even if it recommends it to the US defence establishment.
The APA was at that time under the presidency of Dr Koocher, and he was actively involved in organising the APA’s response to the criticism in the media and by some psychologists that the involvement was contrary to the ‘do no harm’ principle underlying its professional code. Dr Koocher used his APA presidency to defuse criticism of the APA’s soft stance on psychologists’ involvement in interrogations that many rightly see as torture. Dr Koocher is criticised by a number of APA members, and also the wider media, because he refused to condemn the involvement, is seen as having helped the APA to exculpate psychologists involved in torture, and to prevent it from endorsing clear and unequivocal rejection of this involvement.
We urge any one who cares about the principle that psychologists should do no harm to raise the issue with their local APS, and to make their views on the issue known to the APS Conference Organising Committee.
Members of staff and graduate students, School of Psychology, University of Wollongong, and regional psychologists
Response from Amanda Gordon, APS President
The issues concerning Professor Gerald Koocher came to the attention of the APS after he had been invited to be a keynote speaker at this year’s APS National Conference. Since learning about the controversy, we have planned a Public Forum at the Conference on Lessons from Guantanamo Bay: Ethical Issues for Psychologists Working in the Military, Intelligence and Detention Facilities, in which Professor Koocher has been invited to participate. We felt it was vitally important to provide members with the opportunity to hear first hand the APA’s position on these issues and to consider their application in the Australian context.
The APS, like the APA, condemns the use of torture and any psychological practice that is demeaning or serves to inflict suffering. Like the APA, the APS needs to have a debate about the ethics of psychologists working in sections of the military, in the Australian Federal Police and State police investigation units, and in immigration detention and related facilities. It needs to consider whether the APS Code of Ethics is sufficiently robust to be applied to members who work in those settings and whether the APS is in a position to dictate where and for whom its members will or will not work.
If you are attending this year’s Conference, I encourage you to come along and participate in the Public Forum in which these crucial issues will be aired.
August 23rd, 2007