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PHR Urges Ban on Psychologists’ Participation in Interrogations

Toronto Meeting Provides Opportunity for Key Ethics Reforms

For Immediate Release

The American Psychological Association (APA) should prohibit psychologists’ involvement in interrogations and other activities inconsistent with the profession’s “do no harm” ethic, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) said this week during the APA’s annual meeting in Toronto. PHR also urged the U.S. Department of Justice to appoint a special prosecutor and conduct a full criminal investigation into health professionals’ role in the U.S. torture program.

“The American Psychological Association must seize this historical opportunity to reject any place for psychologists in the interrogation chamber,” said Widney Brown, PHR’s director of programs, who is expected to speak Thursday at a town hall meeting organized by Psychologists for Social Responsibility. “This is a defining moment for all health professionals. The APA’s leadership must immediately adopt policies that respect human rights so psychologists can never again be used to aid and abet torture.”

Last month, an independent 542-page report by former federal prosecutor David Hoffman confirmed that the APA colluded with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), the CIA, and other government officials to support the use of torture techniques on national security detainees. PHR has issued a preliminary analysis of the report, highlighting several types of improper conduct by the APA and key APA officials:

  1. The APA agreed on a strategy of deferring to DoD’s preferences;
  2. The APA wrote DoD military guidelines directly into APA ethics policy;
  3. The APA approved psychologists’ role in monitoring the safety and effectiveness of interrogations;
  4. The APA rejected the inclusion of human rights standards in its ethics code under pressure from DoD psychologists;
  5. The APA disregarded evidence of detainee abuse and avoided conducting a meaningful ethical review and offering ethics guidance;
  6. The APA engaged in a deceptive public relations campaign to portray its efforts as consistent with human rights protections;
  7. The APA obstructed efforts to adopt stronger ethical standards by resorting to deceptive wording pre-approved by DoD officials;
  8. The APA mishandled ethics complaints in order to protect psychologists implicated in detainee abuses; and
  9. APA officials engaged in additional unethical behavior that supported CIA torture.

Last week, PHR sent a letter to APA’s leadership, encouraging the association to adopt a ban on psychologists’ participation in interrogations, to remove psychologists involved in unethical activities at Guantánamo and other places of unlawful detention, and to call on the U.S. government to prohibit all interrogation practices that do not comply with U.S. obligations under the U.N. Convention against Torture, including the use of sleep deprivation, prolonged isolation, and sensory deprivation.

In its preliminary analysis of the Hoffman report, PHR also urged U.S. courts to restore detainees’ right to seek remedy for ill-treatment and torture.

PHR has repeatedly called on the APA to repeal guidelines allowing psychologists to participate in interrogations, a policy that is out of line with positions of the American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association, and American College of Physicians. Since 2005, PHR has documented the systematic use of torture on detainees and repeatedly called for an end to the use of ill-treatment and torture, 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.

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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Kevin Short

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