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Anti-Torture Psychologists Respond to Attack From APA Division Chief

TortureChamberBodrumTurkey_bazylek100-Flickr

Torture Chamber. Bodrum, Turkey.

The battle within the American Psychological Association (APA) to bring that organization into line with other human rights groups and attorney organizations in opposing the use of psychological personnel in national security interrogations accelerated last month when a prominent APA official came out strongly against a petition to annul APA’s ethics policy on national security and interrogations.

In June 2005, the APA published their report on Psychological Ethics and National Security (the PENS report). APA, stung by criticism that psychologists had been involved in torture at Guantanamo and elsewhere, nevertheless stacked the panel hastily assembled that Spring with over fifty percent military and/or military connected members.

These were not just any military individuals, but included the former Chief of Psychology at Guantanamo, a SERE psychologist who supported use of SERE techniques in interrogations, and a Special Forces top psychologist who, according to an investigation by the Senate Armed Services Committee, had actually trained interrogators in use of SERE torture techniques in interrogations.

Reposted below is a letter from the Coalition for Ethical Psychology (CEP), responding to an October 26 letter from the President of the American Psychological Association’s Division 42, Psychologists in Independent Practice, who had written a reply to CEP’s request for support for their call for annulment of the APA’s PENS report.

The original petition to annul the PENS report was posted at CEP’s website in October 2011. The petition called PENS “the defining document endorsing psychologists’ engagement in detainee interrogations.”

The petition continued: “Despite evidence that psychologists were involved in abusive interrogations, the PENS Task Force concluded that psychologists play a critical role in keeping interrogations ‘safe, legal, ethical and effective.’ With this stance, the APA, the largest association of psychologists worldwide, became the sole major professional healthcare organization to support practices contrary to the international human rights standards that ought to be the benchmark against which professional codes of ethics are judged.”

The political heat around the anti-PENS petition increased noticeably when CEP came out publicly against a so-called “member-initiated task force” to “reconcile policies related to psychologists’ involvement in national security settings.” This task force, actually established with APA Board and staff support, was opposed to the annulment petition, and likely was formed to blunt the impact of CEP’s call for annulment, which was gaining much support. One of the prominent members of this new “task force” is William Strickland, the president and CEO of the long-time military contractor-research group, Human Resource Research Organization (HumRRO),

A number of APA divisions have signed onto CEP’s petition, including Div. 6 (Behavioral Neuroscience & Comparative Psychology), Div. 27 (Society for Community Research and Action), Div. 39 (Psychoanalysis), and others. The CEP petition also gained the support of the ACLU, Center for Constitutional Rights, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Physicians for Human Rights, and other organizations, as well as prominent individuals, including past APA President Philip Zimbardo, psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, and Nobel Prize winning geneticist Richard Lewontin, among many others. [cont’d.]

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Anti-Torture Psychologists Respond to Attack from APA Division Chief

TortureChamberBodrumTurkey_bazylek100-Flickr

Torture Chamber. Bodrum, Turkey.

The battle within the American Psychological Association (APA) to bring that organization into line with other human rights groups and attorney organizations in opposing the use of psychological personnel in national security interrogations accelerated last month when a prominent APA official came out strongly against a petition to annul APA’s ethics policy on national security and interrogations.

In June 2005, the APA published their report on Psychological Ethics and National Security (the PENS report). APA, stung by criticism that psychologists had been involved in torture at Guantanamo and elsewhere, nevertheless stacked the panel hastily assembled that Spring with over fifty percent military and/or military connected members.

These were not just any military individuals, but included the former Chief of Psychology at Guantanamo, a SERE psychologist who supported use of SERE techniques in interrogations, and a Special Forces top psychologist who, according to an investigation by the Senate Armed Services Committee, had actually trained interrogators in use of SERE torture techniques in interrogations.

Reposted below is a letter from the Coalition for Ethical Psychology (CEP), responding to an October 26  letter from the President of the American Psychological Association’s Division 42, Psychologists in Independent Practice, who had written a reply to CEP’s request for support for their call for annulment of the APA’s PENS report.

The original petition to annul the PENS report was posted at CEP’s website in October 2011. The petition called PENS “the defining document endorsing psychologists’ engagement in detainee interrogations.”

The petition continued: “Despite evidence that psychologists were involved in abusive interrogations, the PENS Task Force concluded that psychologists play a critical role in keeping interrogations ‘safe, legal, ethical and effective.’ With this stance, the APA, the largest association of psychologists worldwide, became the sole major professional healthcare organization to support practices contrary to the international human rights standards that ought to be the benchmark against which professional codes of ethics are judged.”

The political heat around the anti-PENS petition increased noticeably when CEP came out publicly against a so-called “member-initiated task force” to “reconcile policies related to psychologists’ involvement in national security settings.” This task force, actually established with APA Board and staff support, was opposed to the annulment petition, and likely was formed to blunt the impact of CEP’s call for annulment, which was gaining much support. One of the prominent members of this new “task force” is William Strickland, the president and CEO of the long-time military contractor-research group, Human Resource Research Organization (HumRRO),

A number of APA divisions have signed onto CEP’s petition, including Div. 6 (Behavioral Neuroscience & Comparative Psychology), Div. 27 (Society for Community Research and Action), Div. 39 (Psychoanalysis), and others. The CEP petition also gained the support of the ACLU, Center for Constitutional Rights, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Physicians for Human Rights, and other organizations, as well as prominent individuals, including past APA President Philip Zimbardo, psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, and Nobel Prize winning geneticist Richard Lewontin, among many others.

“Harming our practice of psychology”

The Div. 42 letter was written by Jeffrey Younggren, a psychologist who has long presented himself or been recognized as an expert in psychological ethics, and who has a long-time association with military psychology, including a posting as Colonel in the United States Army Reserve to the Office of the Surgeon General, 1999 – 2002, and four medals for service to the Department of Defense.

Readers interested in Dr. Younggren and the Division 42 board’s point of view on PENS are encouraged to read their letter.

Quoted directly below is a portion of Younggren’s letter, wherein he describes the response of Div. 42’s Board to CEP’s original request to them for support of PENS annulment. Dr. Younggren concludes Div. 42 “will not introduce or sign onto any resolution about recalling or annulling the PENS report,” but his discussion goes farther than a mere statement of position on annulment.  He lambasted CEP itself (bold emphases are added for emphasis):

We request that your Coalition stop using the press to spread all negative information about its dissatisfaction with APA. You are harming our practice of psychology by giving false and biased information and therefore, impacting negatively on the ability of people who need psychological services to receive them from ethical and competent psychologists in independent practice….

[The PENS report] was properly vetted at the APA COR [Council of Representatives] meeting that voted to accept it. It is not APA policy. Rather COR merely accepted the information that may or may not be used in formulation of formal APA policies. Annulment [of PENS] would disenfranchise the COR members who voted to accept the report in 2005 and further would be disrespectful to the work done by members whose contribution may have helped the report be more honest than if only members who agreed with the Coalition’s were represented on it….

By distributing copies of this letter, we will ask APA to maintain a vigorous response to any further complaints publicized by the Coalition in the media that may damage our members’ independent practice of psychology. We believe that only by giving a partial story to the media, the Coalition is damaging the entire field of psychology.

PENS, Younggren, and APA’s Council of Representatives

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Jeff Kaye

Jeff Kaye

Jeffrey Kaye is a psychologist in private practice in San Francisco, where he works with adults and couples in psychotherapy. He worked over 10 years professionally with torture victims and asylum applicants. Active in the anti-torture movement since 2006, he has his own blog, Invictus. He has published previously at Truthout, Alternet, and The Public Record.