Michael Otterman, at his American Torture web site, discusses attempts to strengthen the Australian Psychological Society (APS) and American Psychological Association’s (APA) anti-torture resolutions. In particular, he deals with the issue of defining the term “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment,” (CIDTP) which, along with torture, are unethical and banned for psychologist participation. As we’ve discussed here, the APA, in 2006, based its definition of CIDTP on the United States Reservations to the UN Convention Against Torture, which sets a high, and flexible bar for defining activities as CIDTP. These Reservations, based as they are on US Constitutional jurisprudence, define CIDTP as those forms of treatment of detainees that “shocks the conscience.” As Otterman and law professor David Luban point out, this definition has been consistently manipulated by the Bush administration in such a way that any treatment by our government, almost by definition, does not “shock the conscience” and is therefore legal.
In its 2007 Resolution, the APA moved away from sole reliance on the US Reservations and included also references to international conventions. Otterman suggests including the UN’s 1988 Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, which, in its Principle 7 clarifies
“The term “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” should be interpreted so as to extend the widest possible protection against abuses, whether physical or mental, including the holding of a detained or imprisoned person in conditions which deprive him, temporarily or permanently. of the use of any of his natural senses, such as sight or hearing, or of his awareness of place and the passing of time.”
This wording is especially appropriate for use by psychologists as it clarifies that isolation and sensory deprivation, which together constitute the essence of the American psychological torture paradigm, are forms of CIDTP. As I reported a couple of weeks ago, isolation, according to a 2003 Standard Operating Procedures Manual, was in routine use with all new detainees at Guantanamo at the time. The APA Ethics Director, in a letter to Harpers magazine last week stated that, according to the 2007 resolution, isolation and sensory deprivation were, in fact, unethical:
“With the recent posting on the Internet of what has been identified as the U.S. military¹s 2003 operating manual for the Guantanamo detention center, attention has been directed to the use of isolation and sensory deprivation as interrogation procedures. APA policy specifically prohibits using any such technique, alone or in combination with other techniques for the purpose of breaking down a detainee. In a recent, public exchange (found at www.apa.org) with an author of APA¹s 2007 resolution, I directly addressed this issue: Given the concerns that have been expressed let me state clearly and unequivocally the 2007 Resolution should never be interpreted as allowing isolation, sensory deprivation and over-stimulation, or sleep deprivation either alone or in combination to be used as interrogation techniques to break down a detainee in order to elicit information.”
This statement is welcome, indeed. For the three months since the 2007 Convention, we have been pushing for this clarification. Perhaps the APA is now ready to take the next step and formally adopt the criterion for CIDTP from the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment. Then the question of possible “loopholes” in the 2007 Resolution could be ended.
November 26th, 2007