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Physicians for Human Rights Commends Psychiatric Association for Prohibiting Member Participation in Detainee Interrogations

For Immediate Release

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) yesterday adopted an ethical rule prohibiting psychiatrists from participating in interrogation of prisoners and detainees, a measure strongly endorsed by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR). The APA action, a landmark in the fight to restore basic medical ethical principles, contributes to the steadily growing momentum against the Bush administration's authorization and use of psychological torture in the "war on terror."

On Friday of last week, the United Nation's Committee Against Torture condemned the Bush administration's record on psychological abuse, soundly rejecting the administration's efforts to weaken the legal protection against psychological torture by distinguishing it from physical abuse. The Committee urged the administration to rescind that distinction and to fully restore the absolute ban on psychological torture.

The authorization and use of psychologically abusive interrogation methods has posed an enormous challenge to the mental health professions, especially psychiatry. Psychiatrists and psychologists on "Behavioral Science Consulting Teams" ("BSCTs"), for example, have been directly implicated in the design and implementation of harmful techniques such as long-term isolation, forced nudity, sexual and cultural humiliation, threatening use of dogs, prolonged sleep deprivation, extreme sensory deprivation and overload, exposure to extremes of heat and cold, shackling in stress positions, and more.

PHR commended APA leadership for responding courageously and resolutely to this record of abuse. "The APA's decision to bar psychiatrists from the interrogation room stands as a powerful affirmation of the most basic principles of health professional ethics and human rights," said PHR Executive Director Leonard Rubenstein. "It not only offers clear and absolute protection against the misuse of psychiatric knowledge and expertise in interrogations, but it protects individual psychiatrists against the pressure to engage in harmful interrogation practices," Rubenstein added.

Rubenstein noted that current Department of Defense guidelines for health personnel – which reportedly are being revised – still call on psychiatrists, psychologists, and others to play an active role in interrogations, without holding these "consulting" or "advising" health professionals to traditional ethical standards. "Medical leadership in the Pentagon should respond immediately to the APA's new ethical rule by incorporating it directly into the new guidelines for military health personnel," Rubenstein said.

Rubenstein also expressed the hope that other leading health professional associations, who are also addressing the health professional role in interrogations, will adopt the approach taken by the psychiatry association.

"All associations representing health professionals must affirm their commitment to basic principles of medical ethics and human rights by repudiating the Bush Administration's authorization of psychological torture and inhumane interrogation tactics. Now is the time for health professionals to act," Rubenstein said.

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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