Goodbye to Torture at the APA

by Jens David Ohlin

Today, the American Psychological Association formally voted to end their enrollment in national security interrogations. This would seem to finally put an end to the organization’s involvement in post-9/11 torture against security detainees.

The vote comes on the heels of the Hoffman Report, which was prepared by attorney David Hoffman of Sidley Austin LLP.  Hoffman was hired by the APA to perform an internal investigation of the organization’s role in post-9/11 security interrogations that involved torture. The results of the report were damning. It was already common knowledge that psychologists were deeply involved in overseeing the interrogations that used torture, and that a few psychologists received millions of dollars from the CIA for their work. But the Hoffman Report conclusively established that key figures within the APA worked closely with administration officials (indeed colluded with them) to ensure that the organization’s ethical guidelines continued to permit the involvement of psychologists.

After the Report’s release, it was a little bit unclear what action the organization would take. Since much of the APA’s leadership was involved in the mess, reformers within the organization were seeking the removal or resignation of several officers. Some of those resignations happened in July.

Today comes the second part of the reform: a decision by the organization to ban its members from participation in all national security interrogations, whether or not they involve torture. Here is an excerpt from the resolution which passed overwhelmingly:

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that, in keeping with Principle A (Beneficence and Nonmaleficence) of the Ethics Code to “take care to do no harm,”4 psychologists shall not conduct, supervise, be in the presence of, or otherwise assist any national security interrogations5 for any military or intelligence entities, including private contractors working on their behalf, nor advise on conditions of confinement insofar as these might facilitate such an interrogation6. This prohibition does not apply to domestic law enforcement interrogations or domestic detention settings where detainees are afforded all of the protections of the United States Constitution, including the 5th Amendment rights against self-incrimination (“Miranda” rights) and 6th Amendment rights to “effective assistance” of legal counsel.

Fn4 Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct. (2002, as amended in 2010), American Psychologist, 57, 12, p. 3.

Fn5 For the purposes of this policy statement, “national security interrogations” refer to the interrogation of any detainee in the custody of any agency or subsidiary agency that reports to the Director of National Intelligence, the Secretary of Defense, the Director of Homeland Security, or the National Security Council, including joint elements such as the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group. This also includes any operations by those agencies with any allied governments or non-state actors, including private contractors. This does not include those detainees held under domestic law enforcement where Miranda Rights and the U.S. Constitution apply.

Fn6 Psychologists may provide consultation with regard to policy pertaining to information gathering methods which are humane so long as they do not violate the prohibitions of this Resolution and are not related to any specific national security interrogation or detention conditions.

Interestingly, the ban does not apply to domestic law enforcement interrogations.

5 Responses

  1. I was there and the role of psychologists in domestic law enforcement interrogation was raised by the Virgin Island representative and was warmly received. It was not germane to this resolution but the discussions and addressing of that will be taken up in a next phase. La luta continua!

  2. Thanks for the post . All that think with domestic law , is really bothering some. What do they mean by that ?? For if already stated , then what to be implied here, is the VIIIth amendment ,forbidding cruel and unusual punishment .One may argue punishment , not treatment , yet :

    The US is obliged by the ” International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ” forbidding what is a Jus cogens ( natural and compelling law ) reads so ( article 7 ) :

    ” No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In particular, no one shall be subjected without his free consent to medical or scientific experimentation.”

    Many conventions , forbid clearly participation of medical staffs or paramedical ones in security affairs ( also jus cogens , and customary international law in fact ) it’s a shame , that such think only now , has been drafted .

    Anyway , what Miranda right has to do here ?? For tortures, and enhanced investigations of such, are meant for making one who stays silent, to talk . I shall dig further here , to check it out …..


  3. In my comment above , mistakenly written :

    ” enhanced investigations ” instead of :

    enhanced interrogations of course ….Thanks

  4. The other American professional medical groups had already passed policies years ago against this kind of collusion. The APA is the last one after a ten year struggle. It took this long because of having to overcome the aggressive resistance of very powerful people in the organization over the years – some
    of whom have been fired or resigned.

  5. time for prosecutions for complicity. If not here, elsewhere!

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