American Psychological Association members are currently voting upon a ground breaking Referendum that would pull psychologists out of US detention centers that violate international law or the Constitution. The key paragraph of the Referendum states:a
Be it resolved that psychologists may not work in settings where persons are held outside of, or in violation of, either International Law (e.g., the UN Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions) or the US Constitution (where appropriate), unless they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights
As Referendum voting has progressed, we have become concerned that APA staff have been intervening inappropriately, by rallying sentiment against the Referendum.
Coalition member Bryant Welch, who had worked for the APA as its Executive Director of the Practice Directorate for nearly a decade, has written APA CEO Norm Anderson expressing concern about this staff interference in the voting process. His initial letter was:
August 23, 2008
Norman Anderson, Ph.D.
CEO, American Psychological Association
750 First St. N.E
Washington, DC 20002
By Facsimile and First Class Mail
I regret we have not had any chances to talk since you became CEO. I have heard consistently from staff that you have brought kindness and concern for staff welfare to the APA. I know they appreciate it very much.
I am writing to express my concern at the current use of APA staff and central office resources to oppose the referendum currently before the APA membership. As you may know, I have been mortified by APA’s failure to join with the other organizations in taking an unequivocal position against the Bush Administration’s detention centers. The point of this movement by our sister organizations is obviously symbolic. It is designed to send the message to the American people that a government that treats its prisoners in the inhumane ways that the Bush Administration has deserves the moral condemnation of professional organizations like the APA. This is operationalized by a blanket refusal to participate in the detention centers.
APA’s attempt to treat the matter as a nuanced issue, of course, creates the appearance of equivocation on this important issue and makes us appear to be insensitive to the real and shocking behavior that is taking place in the detention centers. The arguments advanced in support of APA’s position strike most people outside of the APA as transparent rationalizations for colluding with the military. The military’s promise to prefer psychologists over psychiatrists in DOD interrogations as a result of our position even makes us look like immoral opportunists in the context of torture and abuse. This view has been reinforced by recent attempts to defeat the referendum because of a seemingly far-fetched hypothetical impact on psychologists in public work settings. Even were these concerns correct it, again, appears to make the moral issue of torture subservient to psychologists’ economic interests.
The detention center problem is going to be exacerbated by the recent decision of a military psychologist to plead the military equivalent of the Fifth Amendment. It is now clear that we have only seen the tip of the iceberg of psychologists’ involvement in the torture problem, and we will probably soon be reading psychological reports advising interrogators on how to “break” detainees. This is a scandal that will not be erased for decades, if ever. Trying to act like these reports in this process is the act of a few renegade psychologists, especially after APA’s equivocal position on the matter, only further undermines our public image and credibility.
This brings us to the current referendum and my reason for writing to you. The referendum is now the only potential damage control still available to APA on this matter. After the election, the Bush Administration will be gone, and whether it is McCain or Obama no one will have an incentive to cover up what has taken place at Gitmo and the black sites. In all likelihood, the atrocities will be horrible, and APA’s refusal to have joined with the other professions will subject the field to even more opprobrium. At that time, APA will be in no position to change its policy. It will be too late. We will stand exposed in the eyes of the world, and APA will be seen as complicit in what is certainly one of the most shameful chapters of US history. The positions that I believe in truth reflect longstanding organizational regression will, instead, be perceived as character flaws in psychologists themselves.
The passage of the referendum, at least, will let us say that the membership stepped in and expressed the true moral values of the field. The problem can then be honestly attributed to some flawed, but temporary, decisions that were repudiated by the members at large. It will with time, hopefully, be forgotten.
When I worked at APA it was an absolute rule that staff were not to participate in organizational political issues. After the reorganization by-laws vote, for example, a very senior staff member was advised by your predecessor to find alternative employment because he assisted in sending out a mailing in support of the reorganization plan. This principle was widely recognized in the APA.
In the current referendum campaign, it is very clear that this longstanding principle has been completely disregarded. The APA Ethics officer has been quite outspoken in opposition to the referendum and tireless in his efforts to defeat it. The director of public information and her staff have released numerous documents to the media and to the membership in support of the policy that was adopted by Council and the Board of Directors. At the recent APA Convention, five proponents of the referendum were literally followed through convention corridors to a coffee stand and their remarks surreptitiously tape recorded without their knowledge by a staff member from the APA public information office. She said it was her job to “find out what people are saying about the APA.” In the current political climate and given the nature of the issue at hand, this is very inappropriate and, quite frankly, bizarre and chilling.
This, of course, also puts the APA governance and central office in conflict with the APA by-laws. The principle of a referendum by the membership to overturn decisions by the Board of Directors and the Council of Representatives, guaranteed by the by-laws, is obviously rendered meaningless if the membership in seeking such relief can be opposed by a Board of Directors and Council of Representatives using the full staff and financial resources of the central office. These resources belong to the members, not the Board or the governance, and they should not be used to support a position the very nature of which is being challenged by the membership. I think the logic of this position is quite clear and compelling.
It is also important to note that this apparently new policy of putting mid-level staff out front on major political issues, frustrates organizational accountability. Ms. Farberman and Dr. Behnke are presumably not the policy makers on this issue and not acting on their own initiative. While the members have a right to know who is making the decisions on this important policy, this information is nowhere to be found in APA’s pronouncements either to the public or to the membership. Since Dr. Levant and Koocher have left office, one gets the sense that there is no one home at APA on the issue except for the aforementioned APA staff members. The current APA president in the context of this dispute, for example, is alleged to have said that presidents “have no power” in APA.
Accordingly, Norm, this extraordinary effort on the part of the staff to advance a position currently in dispute within the association creates a huge “tilt” in the election process and, I believe, will justify putting aside the results of any negative vote on the referendum should that occur. Hopefully, for the good of everyone, that will not happen. Winning the referendum vote, as the current governance hopes to do, will be a terrible pyrrhic victory for the APA governance, and it will be a defeat of disastrous proportions for the profession.
I hope you will reconsider what I believe is a serious and inappropriate misallocation of APA staff and resources. I also hope you will see to it that in future APA communications mid-level staff people are not used to obscure the identities of the higher-ups that are actually making the decisions, whoever they may be at this time. The membership has a right to know who these individuals are. Most importantly, the right to petition on a policy matter is a meaningful right only if one side to the dispute is not opposed by the vast resources of the APA central office.
I doubt if the current APA inner sanctum desires advice from me at this point, but I can assure you it is well-intended and based on years of experience and training in these kinds of matters. For what it is worth, I hope the governance will stop trying to rationalize and reframe their initial decision and, instead, support the referendum. It will be a lot easier for them to make that decision now than it will be to tolerate the contempt that will be directed toward them, the APA, and the profession of psychology if the referendum is defeated. Group think rationalizations by the APA governance and staff, including attempts to scapegoat the people who oppose them (which are also so reminiscent of the Bush Administration), simply will not wash outside the APA inner sanctum.
Thank you for your consideration of this matter, Norm. I regret that our only contact since you have assumed your position has been of this nature. I don’t think either of us could have imagined that APA would ever be in this situation with respect to something like torture.
Best personal regards,
Bryant L. Welch, J.D., Ph.D.
cc. Coalition for an Ethical Psychology
Board of Directors, American Psychological Association c/o Alan Kazdin, Ph.D.
CEO Dr. Anderson replied in a letter agreeing that staff should not advocate but denying that they do so. Bryant Welch has replied to Dr. Anderson:
September 11, 2008
Norman Anderson, Ph.D.
CEO, American Psychological Association
750 First St. N.E
Thank you for your letter of September 2nd responding to my concerns about staff participation in the ongoing APA-wide dispute about the role of psychologists in the Bush Administration detention centers. As I understand it, we both agree that APA staff and resources should in no way be used to advance or oppose the referendum.
As I also understand it, you believe that the role of staff to date has merely been to answer questions and explain APA policy. On this, I respectfully disagree.
I think, for example, if one examines the recent statements of the public affairs office, they are unquestionably designed to convince the public that existing APA policy is sufficient to prevent psychologists from engaging in inappropriate detention center behavior. In fact, they are very artfully crafted to that end. In some APA statements, it requires considerable familiarity with the torture issue and/or very careful reading of the APA documents to understand that in spite of these extant APA policies, psychologists are still able to participate in Gitmo interrogations while being in compliance with all APA anti-torture policies.
To illustrate my point about the staff statements, on August 17, 2008 the APA Central Office sent the following to the Boston Globe in response to anti-torture leader Stephen Soldz’ op-ed in the Boston Globe on August 10.
In his recent piece (“Ending the psychological mind games on detainees,” Op-ed, Aug. 10), Stephen Soldz seriously mischaracterizes both the actions and position of the American Psychological Association regarding psychologists’ involvement in the interrogation of detainees.
In a series of resolutions dating more than 20 years, the APA has resoundingly condemned torture and the involvement of any psychologist in torture or abuse.
One year ago, the association’s governing body passed a resolution condemning the abusive interrogation techniques that Soldz mentions.
This statement is very partisan advocacy. It argues the very points that are in contention within the referendum debate, whether APA has both “resoundingly condemned torture and the involvement of any psychologist in torture or abuse.” Clearly the message is that the referendum is unnecessary. Further, it is an APA staff member making a global statement that impugns the reliability of one of the leading spokespersons for the referendum.
I have also received allegations that the APA Ethics Officer has on numerous recent occasions advanced the argument that the referendum, if passed, would jeopardize employment opportunities for psychologists in public work settings, the very argument that Dr. Resnick advanced in his con statement on the referendum vote. Given that the APA is overseeing the referendum process, as you point out, these partisan staff statements are particularly worrisome and will inevitably cast doubt on the credibility and integrity of the referendum process.
I don’t think these APA statements about APA policy are being perceived in the same manner that you perceive them, and, thus, for the good of all of us, I hope you will reconsider the position you have outlined in your letter. For example, just a week after receiving the APA staff letter, the Boston Globe took the highly unusual step of making its own editorial statement that condemned APA’s policy on torture and directly contradicted the factual rendition provided by APA staff. The perceived disingenuousness of APA’s public statements is reflecting negatively on all members of the psychology profession.
Out in the public arena APA staff attempts to stretch existing APA policy to cover the current crisis created by the Bush Administration are viewed widely as transparent cover-ups by an organization that is collaborating with this same Administration in a moral drift unprecedented in psychology’s history and maybe even in America’s history.
Finally, it is hard to reconcile your dismissing the reality of APA staff partisanship with the fact that a member of the public affairs office literally followed five of us down several long corridors to record our conversation with a journalist without even telling us she was recording it. I can assure you we were not in need of her help to answer questions about APA policy or to interpret it. I doubt very much if she did this with any opponents of the referendum, and regardless, it is absolutely bizarre and inappropriate behavior under any circumstances.
I want to emphasize that in raising these specific examples I am not suggesting that the individual staff members are to blame. Instead, it is clear this is a systemic problem. I believe it is a violation of the APA by-laws.
I realize this issue has been very difficult for all of us, but I hope we can still find some way to prevent it from doing permanent and irrevocable damage to the profession.
Bryant L. Welch, J.D., Ph.D.
cc. Coalition for an Ethical Psychology
Board of Directors, American Psychological Association
September 12th, 2008