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PHR Urges APA Not to Roll Back Anti-Torture Protections

For Immediate Release

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) today urged the American Psychological Association (APA) to reaffirm rather than weaken its 2015 resolution banning psychologists from participating in national security interrogations and serving at illegal detention sites like Guantánamo Bay. The APA, the largest professional organization of psychologists in the U.S., is currently holding its annual meeting in Denver, Colorado, where some members of the governing Council of Representatives are pushing to dismantle those prohibitions.

“The APA has made tremendous progress since last year’s disturbing revelations that the APA and the U.S. government colluded to develop ethics policies that permitted torture and ill-treatment,” said PHR’s Sarah Dougherty. “The APA should be strengthening its commitment to prohibiting participation in unlawful detention systems like Guantánamo Bay. The APA’s Council of Representatives did the right thing in 2015. This is not the time to cave to pressure from a few people to disregard long-established ethical principles such as ‘do no harm.’ The Council must uphold all provisions of the resolution, including the bans on psychologists participating in national security interrogations and being present at illegal detention sites.”

In July 2015, an independent review documented that some APA officials had conspired with the Defense Department – and, to a lesser extent, with the CIA – in connection with the post-9/11 torture program. Last summer, the APA voted to ban psychologists from participating in national security interrogations and to withdraw their presence from Guantánamo and other sites operating in violation of international law, unless those psychologists are providing mental health care to U.S. service members or working independently and outside the military chain of command.

“It’s virtually impossible for detainees at Guantánamo to have a trusting, therapeutic relationship with clinicians who are viewed as part of a system that has brutalized and held them unjustly,” said PHR’s Dougherty. “PHR has documented that even when military psychologists were practicing at Guantánamo, detainee conditions like PTSD were being underdiagnosed. These men are in desperate need of adequate medical and mental health care after years of systematic abuse without recourse to the law.

“The APA’s current policies allow truly therapeutic care to be provided by independent clinicians who can serve a patient’s best interests, without any element of coercion, exploitation, or abuse. Rolling back these policies would erase that progress.”

At the group’s 2016 annual meeting, the APA did vote to incorporate in its Ethics Code the association’s ban on participating in torture and ill-treatment, consistent with the definition set forth in the UN Convention Against Torture. PHR welcomed the stronger language in line with international standards and urged the APA to similarly incorporate the aforementioned bans in the Ethics Code.

“Even though some Council members are angling to weaken reforms the APA has put in place, revising the Ethics Code is a bright spot in this week’s proceedings,” said PHR’s Dougherty. “It demonstrates the APA’s commitment to ensuring that torture and inhumane, illegal practices are in gross violation of the core tenets of psychological practice, and we urge the APA to continue on this path.”

Since 2005, PHR has documented the systematic use of detainee torture by U.S. personnel in a series of reports. PHR has repeatedly called for an end to the torture and ill-treatment of detainees, an end to indefinite detention without trial, the closure of Guantánamo, a federal investigation into the role of health professionals in the U.S. torture program, and full criminal and professional accountability for any health professionals involved.

In addition, PHR medical director Dr. Vincent Iacopino and PHR expert Brig. General Stephen Xenakis have documented neglect and concealment of medical evidence of intentional harm at Guantánamo.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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