Psychologists condemn torture

HOUSTON – The American Psychological Association’s (APA) Council of Representatives has introduced new wording in a resolution to clarify the ethical responsibilities of psychologists in harsh interrogation techniques, according to the March edition of its publication The National Psychologist. This action was a response to resounding condemnation by APA’s members who objected to the participation of psychologists in the Bush administration’s open defiance of international law banning torture.

Critics argued that resolutions passed in 2006 and this past summer at the APA convention left loopholes which would permit the participation of psychologists in interrogation of prisoners at Guantanamo and other locations around the world.

According to the article, council members “voted overwhelmingly to include wording that emphasizes an 'unequivocal condemnation' of all techniques considered torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners.” It pointed out that the new language “absolutely forbids any rationalization such as ‘I was just following orders.’”

Danny Wedding, Ph.D., director and professor of psychiatry at the Missouri Institute of Mental Health, declared, “It’s stronger now because it ties APA’s position to a number of international standards, such as the Geneva Accords. It’s as unequivocal as we can make it and it should quiet some of the critics of the association.”

On Feb. 15, 2008, Alan E. Kazdin, Ph.D., the president of the APA, and Norman B. Anderson, Ph.D., chief executive officer of APA, sent a letter to President George W. Bush urging passage of a bill banning torture and confining interrogation methods to those described in the U.S. Army Field Manual.

The letter in part read: On behalf of the American Psychological Association, we are writing to call upon you to definitively outlaw waterboarding and several other so-called ‘enhanced’ interrogation techniques by signing the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 (H.R. 2082).

As the world’s largest scientific and professional organization of psychologists, APA unequivocally condemns the use of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment under any and all conditions, including the detention and interrogation of both lawful and unlawful 'enemy combatants,' as defined by the U.S. Military Commissions Act of 2006. Enactment of H.R. 2082 would be an important step toward ensuring that detainees in the United States and at U.S. facilities abroad will not be subjected to the eight interrogation techniques that are defined as cruel, inhuman or degrading by the Army Field Manual.

This would be an important step forward in protecting the rights of detainees. As psychologists, we believe such 'enhanced' interrogation tactics are unethical, ineffective and highly likely to result in inaccurate information. Furthermore, the use of any information obtained through torture or other abusive techniques should not be permitted in any U.S. Court…. The bill was passed by both the House and Senate and differences were resolved and passed by the Senate on 2/13/08 in a vote of 51 to 45. Sen. John McCain voted against the legislation, even though he claims to be a victim of torture. Sens. Obama and Clinton failed to vote on the legislation on this date.

On March 8, as promised, President Bush vetoed the legislation.

On March 11, the House of Representatives attempted to override the veto, but failed. 225 voted to override and 188 voted to sustain the veto. Only three Democrats voted to sustain, whereas 185 Republicans stood with President Bush. 220 Democrats voted to override and they were supported by 5 of their Republican colleagues.

March 11, 2008 will stand as a day of infamy for the U.S. Government in the annals of history.

James Thompson is a psychologist and social justice activist in Houston.