Note: An expanded version of this post has been published on CounterPunch as Why Mary Pipher Returned Her APA Award.
In a dramatic development in the struggle to get psychologists out of abusive interrogations (aka “torture”) , psychologist and author Mary Pipher (author of Reviving Ophelia among many other books) has decided to return her Presidential Citation award from the American Psychological Association in protest. Here is her letter to APA President Brehm:
August 21, 2007
American Psychological Association, 750 First Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002-4242
I am writing to inform you that I am returning my Presidential Citation dated 2/02/06 and awarded to me by then President of the American Psychological Association, Dr. Gerald Koocher. I have struggled for many months with this decision, and I make it with pain and sorrow. I was honored to receive this award and proud to be a member of APA. Over the years I have spoken at national conventions many times and had enjoyed an excellent relationship with the APA and its staff. With this letter, I feel as if I am ostracizing a good friend.
I do not want an award from an organization that sanctions its members’ participation in the enhanced interrogations at CIA Black Sites and at Guantanamo. The presence of psychologists has both educated the interrogation teams in more skillful methods of breaking people down and legitimized the process of torture in defiance of the Geneva Conventions.
The behavior of psychologists on these enhanced interrogation teams violates our own Code of Ethics (2002) in which we pledge to respect the dignity and worth of all people, with special responsibility towards the most vulnerable. I consider prisoners in secret CIA-run facilities with no right of habeas corpus or access to attorneys, family or media to be highly vulnerable. I also believe that when any of us are degraded, all of human life is degraded. This letter is as much about us as it is about prisoners.
In our Ethics Code we agree to promote honesty and accuracy. Our involvement in these projects has been secretive and dishonest. Finally, as psychologists we vow to do no harm. Without question, we violate this oath when we allow people in our care to be deprived of sleep or subjected to sensory over-stimulation or deprivation.
I cannot accept the August 19, 2007 Reaffirmation of APA’s Position Against Torture (Substitute Motion Three.) Under this motion, psychologists will be allowed to continue working on interrogation teams that are not subject to the Geneva Conventions. This motion places our organization on the side of the CIA and Department of Defense and at odds with the United Nations, The Red Cross, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Medical Association. With this reaffirmation we have made a terrible mistake.
I know that the return of my Presidential Citation from Dr. Koocher will be of small import, but it is what I can do to disassociate myself from what I consider to be a heinous policy. All of my life I have tried my best to stand up for those with no voices and no power. The prisoners our government labels as enemy combatants are in this category.
I return my citation as a matter of conscience and in the hopes that the APA will reconsider its current unethical position. We have long been a wonderful organization that respected human rights and promoted tolerance, kindness, and peace. Nothing is more fundamental to our core orientation and professional service to others than our commitment to all people’s inherent dignity, safety and welfare. I hope my letter may be useful in restoring the APA to its long-respected and important stance as a beacon of integrity and kindness for all human beings.
Dr. Mary Pipher
The Lincoln Journal Star has an article on Pipher’s action: Pipher returns award in protest. Here is their article:
Pipher returns award in protest
By JoANNE YOUNG / Lincoln Journal Star
Thursday, Aug 23, 2007
Lincoln author and psychologist Mary Pipher says she didn’t act impulsively when deciding to protest the actions taken by her professional organization.
She thought about it for more than a year. She listened to what others had to say, read articles and reports.
On Tuesday, she sent a three-page letter to the president of the American Psychological Association, Sharon Stephens Brehm, to say she is returning her 2006 Presidential Citation, given to recognize her work in helping to resettle refugees.
“I have struggled for many months with this decision and I make it with pain and sorrow,” she said in the letter. “I do not want an award from an organization that sanctions its members’ participation in the enhanced interrogations at CIA ‘black sites’ and at Guantanamo.”
A report on Monday, by “Democracy Now,” a national, daily, independent news program heard in Lincoln on radio station KZUM, set Pipher in motion.
The report said the American Psychological Association’s policymaking council had voted to reject a resolution at its annual convention Sunday that would have banned members from participating in interrogations at Guantanamo Bay and other U.S. detention centers around the world often referred to as “black sites.”
In its place, the council had approved a resolution prohibiting psychologists from direct or indirect participation in 19 “unethical” interrogation techniques and called on the U.S. government to ban their use.
The list includes mock executions, simulated drowning or suffocation, sexual humiliation, exploitation of phobias, exposure to extreme heat or cold and isolation or sleep deprivation “that represents significant pain or suffering, or in a manner that a reasonable person would judge to cause lasting harm.”
The resolution left what Pipher sees as loopholes on such techniques as sensory and sleep deprivation, which cause people to fall apart very quickly. And it stopped far short of banning psychologists from participating in the interrogations of prisoners at the military sites, she said.
The vote upset Pipher, who has worked with victims of torture and has seen the lifelong harm it can inflict.
Many innocent people get tortured, she said.
The presence of the psychologists has educated the interrogation teams in more skillful methods of breaking people down and legitimized the process of torture in defiance of the Geneva Conventions, she said.
The association’s code of ethics pledges to respect the dignity and worth of all people, especially the most vulnerable, she said. And prisoners in secret CIA-run facilities, with no right of habeas corpus or access to attorneys, family or media are highly vulnerable.
“I also believe that when any of us are degraded, all of human life is degraded,” she told the association.
Without their psychologist partners, she believes the secret “black sites” would have to shut down.
The former association president, Gerald Koocher, has said in interviews that the association doesn’t tell its members they can’t work for a given employer. Psychologists at the prison sites have brought about positive changes, he said.
Pipher has been following the association’s response to the issue since at least June 2006, four months after she received the framed citation, when she heard another “Democracy Now” interview with Koocher.
She thought at the time about how Koocher, who had signed her citation, was taking a position diametrically opposed to her own. She thought about returning the award then. But she waited.
Over the next months, she read other articles in “The New Yorker,” “Vanity Fair” and “Salon.com” that outlined how psychologists have helped design interrogations and train those who do them.
According to “Democracy Now,” association members were outraged by the revelations and introduced a moratorium resolution that called for a ban on participation.
In her letter to the association president, Pipher said she had been honored to receive her award and proud to be a member of the group during her career. She retired in 2000. With her rejection of the award, she feels she is ostracizing a good friend.
But Sunday’s resolution placed the association on the side of the CIA and Department of Defense, and at odds with the United Nations, the Red Cross, the American Psychiatric Association and American Medical Association, she said.
“I know that the return of my Presidential Citation … will be of small import,” she said in her letter to the association, “but it is what I can do to disassociate myself from what I consider to be a heinous policy.”
Her hope is that the organization will reconsider its position.
Pamela Willenz, manager of the association’s public affairs office, said in an e-mail Wednesday that the association had no response to Pipher’s letter because those people who could speak on the issue were traveling back to Washington, D.C., from the annual convention in San Francisco.
A Monday news release from the association said its policy condemns and prohibits psychologists from planning, designing, assisting in or participating in interrogations that involve torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
It is to be hoped that many other prominent psychologists will similarly act on this vital issue of conscience.
2 comments August 24th, 2007