September 17th, 2007
Psychologist Frank Summers has sent the following letter to the American Psychological Association’s CEO explaining why he is continuing to withhold dues for q2008:
September 15, 2007
Norman Anderson, Chief Executive Officer
American Psychological Association
750 First Street
Washington, DC 20002-4242
Dear Mr. Anderson:
I am writing to inform you of the reasons why I will not pay my 2008 dues. Having been a member of the APA for the past 31 years, I have not made this decision lightly. I have been considering some form of dissociation from the APA for some time, but after the events of the recent convention I have come to the conclusion that our organization is fundamentally corrupt, and I cannot in good conscience write a check in support of a professional association that has so little regard for ethics. I am certainly aware of the seriousness of this charge, and in what follows I will try to explain to you why I feel justified in making it.
The main ethical breach for which I judge APA is, of course, its refusal to oppose its members’ involvement in illegal detention centers. As I am sure you are aware, these institutions hold people who are taken from their homes without being charged, held indefinitely, given no chance to defend themselves, and have no right to counsel. This denial of due process violates both United States and international law. Detaining people indefinitely without charging them in itself constitutes a violation of the Geneva Convention. I would expect that the illegality of these camps would be sufficient reason for APA to oppose its members’ involvement, as has been the case for the American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association, the World Medical Association, and the national organization of anthropologists. The only relevant professional organization that has refused to take an unequivocal stand against participation in these illegal camps is the APA.
The United Nations Commission on Human Rights, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and Human Rights Watch have all concluded that both the conditions of confinement and the methods of interrogation at these camps violate international law. Moreover, these independent organizations have found that health care professionals have colluded in the use of techniques that amount to torture in violation of the Geneva Convention, the International Covenant against Torture, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to all of which the United State is a signatory. Any organization concerned about the ethical behavior of its members would at a very minimum be alarmed that three independent investigations have concluded that such illegal and unethical practices are routinely conducted in settings where psychologists are intimately involved. And, an organization that makes ethics a priority would take a clear ethical stand against such sordid practices. Unfortunately, the APA has been silent except when pushed by pressure from members who have ethical concerns, and then, has been dragged grudgingly to prohibit certain illegal activities, but left loopholes for the practice of others, as it did in passing “Resolution Number 3″ in San Francisco.
I became aware of the ethical vacuum that dominates the APA leadership in my very first contact on this issue. When I first became aware of charges that psychologists were involved in coercive interrogations, possibly even amounting to torture, at the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, I wrote of my concern to the then President of our organization, Dr. Gerald Koocher. Rather than expressing concern about the allegations, Dr. Koocher was arrogant, condescending, and dismissive in his response, telling me that I had no evidence and was being misled by media accounts. Now I had not indicated the source of my information to Dr. Koocher, so how could he be so sure that my sources were media and, even more tellingly, how could he be so sure, without conducting any investigation, that the charges were groundless? Because he had drawn hasty conclusions without any inquiry and was so arrogant in his response, it was clear to me that Dr. Koocher had interest in neither the truth nor the ethical concerns raised by a series of reports that were, in fact, based on investigations. When I conveyed the evidence to Dr. Koocher from the United Nations Commission report on human rights and asked for a response, he told me “don’t hold your breath.” Such behavior is not only disreputable; it reflects an organization that makes its top priority the protection of its members participation in illegal camps, rather than ensuring their adherence to ethical principles.
The APA’s defense that psychologists are ensuring that interrogations in detention camps are “safe, ethical, and legal” is patently untrue. The use of interrogations techniques that violate international law is well documented by the aforementioned United Nations report, Human Rights Watch, and the ICRC. At Guantanamo in 2003 alone, with a staff of psychologists, there were more than 350 acts of self-harm, mass suicide attempts, and massive hunger strikes. When Al-Qahtani was tortured, a psychologist was there participating. Where were the psychologists keeping interrogations “safe, ethical, and legal” when Paul Vance, an American contractor in Iraq, whose only crime was informing the F.B.I. of illegal activities, was abused in the interrogation process?
The dishonorable nature of the APA is reflected in the way it has conducted itself since the allegations first surfaced. I could not possibly recount all the deceptive, flagrantly manipulative, and unscrupulous acts of which the APA has been guilty, so I will confine myself to the PENS report. Six of the nine members were military personnel or had close ties to the military. Col. Larry James and Col. Morgan Banks, for example, had played major roles in Guantanamo. Banks is not even an APA member. The conflict of interest for these six members is so flagrant that their presence on the task force is nothing less than unconscionable. If they were to question the ethical practices of psychologists in detention camps, they would be raising those questions about their own behavior. The rationalization that the members were chosen for their “expertise” is the way conflict of interest is typically rationalized by unethical organizations. The Bush Administration uses the same rationale to put Dick Cheney at the head of its task force on energy. Equally disturbing is the fact that APA tried to keep the PENS task force membership secret. Now that we know who the members were, it is clear why APA tried to keep their identities secret. This is the way an organization operates that has abdicated ethics in favor of short-term self interest.
I understand that the APA is trying to protect and advance its profitable relationship with the military, and I am not faulting that motive, but when narrow self-interest conflicts with ethics and legality, I believe I have a right to expect the APA will have the moral backbone to stand for what is right. The fact that APA chooses not to take a moral stand is shameful, and has had a ripple effect of immorality that issues in dishonorable ways of operating. In short, there is nothing left of APA but short-term careerism. It has become a superficial, morally bankrupt, greedy organization. And, therefore, I will not support it.
Frank Summers, Ph.D., ABPP