August 31st, 2007
Steven Reisner recently responded to some arguments against the Amendment on interrogations that was overwhelmingly defeated at the American Psychological Association Convention two weeks ago. the defeated amendment stated:
BE IT RESOLVED that the objectives of the APA shall be to advance psychology as a science and profession and as a means of promoting health, education and welfare (Bylaws of the APa: Article 1) and, therefore, the roles of psychologists in settings in which detainees are deprived of adequate protection of their human rights, should be limited as health personnel to the provision of psychological treatment.
A poster on the list summarized the arguments against this amendment on the APA Council of representatives thusly:
The debate focused on several points
1. Psychologists should not be associated in any way with national security interrogations or detention centers due in part to the obvious abuses that have and do occur.
2. Psychologists are in a unique position to be an “ethical presence” in training interrogators and during the conduct of interrogations, and
3. The moratorium may end up with unintended consequences for psychologists practicing in other settings. For example, would such prohibitions restrict forensic psychologists or those working in prisons, group homes, inpatient hospitals, police departments, etc. where clients do not consent to their evaluation and treatment? The ethical code does not restrict psychologists from practice in specific settings. Rather, the code calls on psychologists, regardless of setting, to adhere to the guidelines and principles and to work on behalf of their patients/clients.
Reisner deftly analyzed and demolished these arguments, pointing out, along the way, the silliness of the claims that psychologists have any special expertise or moral calliber that will make it likely that they will not go along with and prevent abuse:
I find this response, on the part of elected representatives to be quite depressing, because it makes clear that the reps believed the resolution and the debate was about something different than it actually was.
1. There was no issue about whether psychologists should “be associated in any way with national security interrogations or detention centers due in part to the obvious abuses that have and do occur.” Even though many of us believe that this is a reasonable position, the debate was about whether psychologists should be involved in interrogations where detainees are “deprived of adequate protection of their human rights.” The belief that the resolution would prohibit psychologists from being in certain settings is a false, hot-button issue. Would the COR reps argue that psychologists should be able to participate in interrogations in a concentration camp? Or, as was brought up repeatedly during the mini-convention, in a detention camp for the Japanese in California during WW II? It is obvious that participating in the machinery of human rights violations is a violation of ethics. The two interrogators invited by the APA Board, Steve Kleinman and Mike Gelles, both agreed that the language of the amendment would actually be protective of interrogators, because it would make it clear to their superiors that such a circumstance is unethical in itself.
2. The argument that psychologists “are in a unique position to be an “ethical presence” in training nterrogators and during the conduct of interrogations>” is, unfortunately based on no data other than Col. Larry James’ fear tactic argument that if psychologists are not there “people will die!” In fact, the one research, Craig Haney, of the University of California-Sant Cruz, who presented at the mini-convention on an analogous subject (studying the roles of psychologists working in prisons where prisoners rights were terribly abused) found, after 30 years of research, that in no case did a psychologist’
s presence reduce or mitigate the abuse. On the other hand, we do know that psychologists working in detainee interrogations were in fact responsible for terrible abuses, and, in fact, developed the protocols of abuse. This is, therefore, an emotional argument, but has no basis in fact or logic. Why should psychologists take on the role of ethics police for the CIA, and what gives them special ability, or authority, to do so?
3. The idea that “The moratorium may end up with unintended consequences for psychologists practicing in other settings“, is also a fear-based, rather than a fact or logic based argument. First, the resolution and moratorium were clear that they applied only to detainee centers (in fact, the psychologists who worked in prisons and campaigned for prisoners’ rights were unhappy that it did not apply to prisons!). They were written that way precisely because of these concerns. It is unclear to me why the COR representatives would, and second, would it really be a problem if we applied the same to prisons or hospitals where people were deprived of “adequate protection of their human rights?” I for one only wish that the APA could support psychologists working for the good of prisoners and patients in that way.
So, our problem has to do with the psychological state of our elected members, when facing such a vote. The fact that Council reps respond to the emotional and economic valence of the issue, as opposed to the data and international ethical standards, reveals precisely why psychologists are NOT the ones to uphold ethical standards under the pressure of military orders and the high emotions of abusive interrogations. It is precisely why cooler heads have always determined independently what the appropriate ethical standards should be for those in a position where their judgement might be impaired by pressure from superiors, pressure from the emotions of the moment to get information, and the overblown threat, manipulated for political ends, that has accompanied the United States’, and now APA’s, policy in detainee interrogations.