Effect Measure

American psychologists do the right thing

Hats off to fellow blogger Stephen Soldz and his colleagues, leaders of a coalition within the American Psychological Association that campaigned to put the APA on record declaring participation in torture interrogations at US prisons at Guantanamo Bay and similar prison camps an unethical breach of professional standards. The referendum victory (59%) comes after previous failures to ban professional complicity by APA members in interrogations where there is good reason to believe international law is being violated.

The ban means those who are American Psychological Association members can’t assist the U.S. military at these sites. They can only work there for humanitarian purposes or with non-governmental groups, according to Stephen Soldz, a Boston psychologist. Soldz is founder of an ethics coalition that has long supported the ban.

“This is a repudiation by the membership of a policy that has been doggedly pursued by APA leadership for year after year,” Soldz said Thursday. “The membership has now spoken and it’s now incumbent upon APA to immediately implement this.”

The new policy should take effect at the association’s next annual meeting in August 2009. However, its council likely will discuss whether to act sooner, said spokeswoman Rhea Farberman.

The interrogation ban brings the psychologists more in line with the American Medical Association and American Psychiatric Association. In 2005, the psychologists association adopted a position that said, for national security purposes, it was ethical to act as consultants for interrogation and information-gathering. (http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5hceFgkpyWSLRtf5t-Wbx2JNVvniQD9398LVO4)

The mail referendum was a triumph for a grass roots organizing effort that started with an online petition. The leadership has pledged to heed the wishes of the membership. If the APA council recommends the ban be made part of APA’s ethics code, participation in planning, conducting or managing the aftermath of such interrogations could result in revoking APA membership. Perhaps more importantly, it adds another professional voice to the chorus of condemnation from the medical and public health professions.

Because this is an important milestone in an ongoing struggle, we reprint the full statement of the Coalition. Kudos to all involved:

American Psychological Association Members Pass Historic Ban on Psychologist Participation in U.S. Detention Facilities


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Today, the membership of the American Psychological Association (APA) passed a referendum banning participation of APA member psychologists in U.S. detention facilities, such as Guantanamo or the CIA’s secret “black sites” operating outside of or in violation of international law or the Constitution. The Coalition for an Ethical Psychology congratulates our colleagues, and in particular, we congratulate the referendum authors – Dan Aalbers, Brad Olson, and Ruth Fallenbaum – as well as the activists withholding dues and otherwise protesting professional collusion with unethical behavior.

Dan Aalbers, one of the referendum’s authors, stated: “This is a decisive victory for the membership of the APA and for human rights advocates everywhere. This new policy will ensure that psychologists work for the abused and not the abusers at places like Guantanamo Bay and the CIA black sites. We expect that the APA’s leadership will immediately take action to ensure that psychologists are removed from the chain of command at places where human rights are violated or said not to apply.”

In recent years revelations from the press, Congress, and Defense Department documents revealed that psychologists have played a central role in Bush administration detainee abuse. These reports conclusively demonstrate that psychologists designed, implemented, disseminated, and standardized detention and interrogation practices that frequently amounted to torture.

The passage of this referendum constitutes a decisive repudiation of the APA leadership’s long-standing policy encouraging psychologist participation in interrogations and other activities in military and CIA detention facilities that have repeatedly been found to violate international law and the Constitution. In 2005, the APA’s orchestrated Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security [PENS] declared that psychologists’ participation in interrogations in these sites helped keep interrogations there “safe, legal, an ethical.” Although APA followed this report with resolutions ostensibly condemning participation in torture, the resolutions continued to permit psychologists to serve in sites where human rights are routinely violated. The APA membership has now rejected APA policy in favor of one refusing psychologist participation in the running of detention facilities operating against the law and professional ethics.

“For years APA leadership has insisted that our professions’ contributions to the Bush administration detentions made things better. It turns out that the APA membership wasn’t convinced” said Stephen Soldz, a psychologist on the faculty of the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis and a founder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology.

Passage of the referendum culminates years of struggle by numerous APA members to change policies that conflict with the best traditions of psychology as a profession. The referendum is a clear statement that APA members take seriously the professions’ highest ethical aspiration:

“Psychologists strive to benefit those with whom they work and take care to do no harm.” Members are not willing to continue colluding with the Bush administration’s systematic policies of detainee abuse that often amount to torture.

Referendum proponents collected over 1,000 signatures, forcing APA to submit the policy change to a mail ballot of the entire membership. The ballots went out on August 1 and votes received as of Monday, September 15th were counted. The referendum passed with 8,792 [58.8% ] YES votes to 6,157 votes against. The turnout was the highest ever in APA history.

“With this vote APA members have taken a major step toward restoring unimpeachable ethical standards by prohibiting its members from participating at sites that violate human rights and international law. But until APA communicates this new policy to the White House, the Department of Defense and the CIA, the abuses might continue. We must assure that the policy is implemented quickly” said Steven Reisner, a New York psychologist who is running for APA President.

Passage of the referendum is an important first step in righting APA policies that have cast shame upon the profession. The Coalition for an Ethical Psychology calls upon APA to take additional steps to turn the organization around.

  • Although the referendum pulls psychologists out of detention sites where human rights are being violated, we call upon APA to take a further step and put APA policy in line with that of the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association and ban psychologists from any direct role in the interrogation of specific individuals in any national security setting.
  • We call upon the APA to initiate and fund an independent panel to investigate and create a public record regarding the participation of U.S. psychologists in torture and other detainee abuse. The panel should also investigate organizational, policy, and ethical policies contributing to this abuse and make recommendations for change.
  • The APA should proceed expeditiously to modify its ethics code to remove clauses allowing ethical violations when psychological ethics are in conflict with “law, regulations, or other governing legal authority.”
  • The APA should act quickly on ethics complaints against psychologists reported to have contributed to U.S. torture and detention abuses.
  • Finally, the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology calls upon APA members to follow up this victory by electing a President, Steven Reisner, who is steadfastly committed to ending psychologist collusion with detainee abuse.

The Coalition for an Ethical Psychology includes Jean Maria Arrigo, Brad Olson, Steven Reisner, Stephen Soldz, and Bryant Welch (Science, Psyche, Society)


  1. #1 M. Randolph Kruger
    September 21, 2008

    Well Revere, whether you like it or not… this is going to drive this into the hands of less ethical people and outside of the US so that neither the shrinks or the law can get at them. They will no longer be detained, they will be black op’d and then they’ll just disappear.

    Its not that I dont want PRISONERS treated ethically under Geneva, I want terrorists dealt with.

    Its been said on more than one occasion and that is that the law is for those who will follow it. Everyone keeps trying to treat what is happening as a law breaking operation by people intent on killing us. Thats not what is really going on. These people are either combatants or terrorists. There needs to be a declaration of war against nations and those that support them and then by name the organizations. They can then register with the Geneva as to what their uniforms are and the so on. Then we can shoot them on sight or take them prisoner as combatants. Military guys dont care either way. Their rights are specified under Geneva if they are combatants. As terrorists we can do just about anything we want to them if there is a declaration of war. Those we shoot on sight period and none of this mental damage stuff. .

    Else we get this limbo like some guy that they picked up didnt have any habeas corpus as though its some sort of trial operation. They are not breaking the law per se. They have declared war on us and we should respond in kind. Then those people can be detained, interrogated, and held indefinitely. Its all about how you designate them. You object to their treatment and I do to a much lesser degree. One thing is sure they are on the move and on the attack all around the world. We had another embassy bombed in yet another haven for them ….Yemen. One American and 18 Yemeni’s including the terrorists themselves.


    Now who do I see about their rights?

    Two wrongs dont make a right? Try telling that to someone who thinks that martyrdom is the way to heaven and that an eye for an eye is the way to go. They’ll really get a giggle as they are beheading you on TV.

    Again, who do I see about those peoples rights?

  2. #2 caia
    September 21, 2008

    Randy, the U.S. is already sending prisoners overseas to be interrogated without any protections. So don’t worry, innocent men like Maher Arar are still being extraordinarily renditioned to Syria and tortured. Personally, that doesn’t make me feel any safer, but YMMV.

    APA participation wasn’t protecting anyone’s human rights or civil liberties. Those psychologists were nothing but a fig leaf for U.S. interrogators, to say, “see, we have psychologists on hand, it can’t be that bad.”

    This takes away that fig leaf.

  3. #3 Stephen Soldz
    September 21, 2008

    caia, unfortunately the psychologists were not just “a fig leaf for U.S. interrogators.” Rather, they designed, trained for, disseminated, and standardized the abusive techniques. They were the backbone of the “enhanced interrogation” program. this idea of them keeping interrogations “safe, legal, and ethical” was apparently made up as a fig leaf.

    The way they kep interrogations “safe and legal” was that, as was made clear by the Justice Department’s Yoo-Bybee memos, an interrogator was safe from torture charges (“legal”) if an expert, a psychologist, said that the interrogation tactics were a proper way to obtain information and wouldn’t cause permanent harm. Then, if the detainee was harmed, they could claim, “the expert said it was ok.” The Yoo-Bybee memos make this clear.

    A loser version of this criterion was proposed by the CIA attorney Fredman duting an October 2, 2002 meeting (according to the minutes released among other documents by the Senate Armed Services Committee last June 17). In a discussion of what was torture he said the definition was vague. “if the detainee dies, you did it wrong.” This is the system the psychologists were part of. I am very proud that APA members have now said “NO!”

  4. #4 NM
    September 21, 2008

    Oh good only 41% of the APA support psychologists colluding with torture?

    Imagine for a second how such a vote might have gone in a public health, medicine or nursing professional body.

    Whilst this statement is less of a disgrace to the psychologists than the previous situation it’s not exactly a resounding demonstration of the high moral standing of the profession.

  5. #5 A.
    September 21, 2008

    Randy, the problem with “it’s not that I dont want PRISONERS treated ethically under Geneva, I want terrorists dealt with” is that you have yet to describe how you would tell the difference between the guilty (whom it’s apparently OK to torture) and the innocent (whom it’s not, except maybe if they’re Muslims). The U.S. government hasn’t proved that it can reliably tell the difference, so how would you do it? Torture them? Anyone who gets waterboarded would confess to any crime under the sun, just to make it stop. And no one here, yourself included, is an exception to that.

    So, how do you propose avoiding the torture and imprisonment of innocent people? Or do you even care?

    Also, why should anyone take anything you say seriously when you can’t even fact-check your own posts properly — including posting a set of very well-known quotes, long attributed to Dan Quayle, as if they were from Al Gore?

  6. #6 Phila
    September 21, 2008

    Thats not what is really going on. These people are either combatants or terrorists.

    Or innocent people who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But hey, you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs, right?

    Besides, if they’re innocent, but confess to being terrorists under torture, the problem’s solved. No takebacks!

  7. #7 M. Randolph Kruger
    September 22, 2008

    Phila and A. Now theres the rub now isnt it? On one hand you have an enemy that the libs/Dems would try to apply law enforcement techniques to. Those Gitmo detainees were taking in combat and to me that make them organized army troops. You might want to differ but follow along.

    Signatories to the Geneva can interrogate a prisoner its in there. In a lot of cases we never bothered. If they wore a uniform in WWII there were specifics and yes, waterboarding was used along with a lot of other stuff. In Vietnam our guys were fighting irregulars and therefore they were not afforded the Geneva Convention.

    This is where everyone fucked up and that includes the libs/Dems/conservatives/Republicans. It was their status from the get go. If you took a guy who was wearing a traditional Arab or middle eastern garb, was he a terrorist or a combatant? No one ever specified and the Bush Administration never requested a clarification until it was already too late. Me, they were army simply because they were mostly not Iraqi’s and insurgents from Iran. They held military rank and therefore we should have just gone in and leveled the Republican Guards barracks along with their party headquarters in Iran… They could have just declared war on us then and then we could have legally acted against them. They aint that stupid.

    But… we got this resolution from Congress to go to Iraq. It was neither fast, nor too terribly furious. Tommy Franks had too few troops in country and YES I blame Rumsfeld for that one. He systematically cut the numbers to keep the costs down since there was no great coalition this time. And I would say we planted about 800 total unnecessarily.

    So is there a war when there is a resolution? What is a war on terror? Well if its state sponsored then we simply have to go and do the host country. We got one, and there are about 5 more. How we handle it doesnt matter when it comes to Geneva. Remember Obama said we were strafing women and children? If you aint looked lately they are carrying body bombs and tossing grenades into the passing vehicles. And who in the Hell set all of those roadside bombs? If they are doing stuff like that are they soldiers, terrorists or guys with a bent. Once you define that things get a lot easier. Abu Ghraib didnt have to happen and I put that at the feet of Rumsfeld too. Not so much the general abuse, but who was doing it. Were they combatant soldiers? if so, then it was patently wrong. If they were terrorists then we should have just marched them out back and shot them. That would be for terrorists and guys with a bent. We couldnt sentence them to prison. They wanted information and they should have just given them to the CIA and sent them on their way.

    But that would be the military purist in me. I fought all my wars with a semblance of honor. I dont recall beheading people. But i was present at a waterboarding of a different type. One that they absolutely couldnt drown from, but it sure produced results. But these guys were in uniform. If they werent, we turned them over to the locals and they had no compunction about doing all sorts of things.

    So I pose the question you A and Phila…. What are the prisoners in Gitmo to you? Terrorists, combatants, or criminals? Now remember where they were taken prisoner, who took them and what they were doing when they were taken.

    I leave you with the dilemma. I bet you come up with the same answers that I did and that is that we should have just declared war against specific countries and groups. None of this ACLU bullshit thats kicking about. Spies and saboteurs are shot during wartime. No question about it. But what are these guys to you?

  8. #8 M. Randolp;h Kruger
    September 22, 2008

    Caia-Sorry, but I didnt include your Arar thing in the above. I will be brief. At the time he was taken the government was under the gun to target anyone who might be a terrorist. No, I dont condone their behavior but I think I might have done it too.

    He was transported to Amman Jordan and then ended up in Syrian hands… And THEY tortured him. We just detained and questioned him. The other guy in question I believe was later arrested but then released by the Canucks. He was under surveillance for a long time there.

    But it goes back to what I posted above. Are we at war or not? Get that definition down and all this other malarkey goes out the window. And A. I did that on purpose. If we are going to be subjected to all sorts of BS about Palin I think that tit for tat is fine…. Good for you to check though. Some ARE Gores quotes though. I leave it to you to figure out which ones are and arent.

    You can take the rest totally seriously……

  9. #9 Jonathon Singleton
    September 22, 2008

    Stephen Soldz, “caia, unfortunately the psychologists were not just ‘a fig leaf for U.S. interrogators.’ Rather, they designed, trained for, disseminated, and standardized the abusive techniques. They were the backbone of the ‘enhanced interrogation’ program. this idea of them keeping interrogations ‘safe, legal, and ethical’ was apparently made up as a fig leaf…”

    Mr Soldz, thank you for your extraordinary personal efforts in this team effort to dissociate the APA membership from colluding with barbaric neo-nazi practices (war crimes against humanity) authored — and practiced these last eight years — by the Bush administration.

    This welcome situation is not altogether different from the 1975 American Psychological Association resolution supporting the 1973 the American Psychiatric Association removal of homosexuality from the DSM — thereby dissociating the science of psychology from the phobias of violent bigotry. Refer to APA, “Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality” @ http://www.apahelpcenter.org/articles/article.php?id=31

    Stephen, I am also “…proud that APA members have now said “NO!””

  10. #10 yogi-one
    September 22, 2008

    A lot of the detainees at Gitmo were handed over to US authorities because the US was paying $4000 a head for turned in “terrorists”. Four grand is an astronomical sum in Afghanistan, and you can bet your bottom dollar there’s plenty of Afghan tribal leaders and warlords who want that kind of money very badly.

    And we know the Taliban were recruiting at gunpoint, and threatening to kill people’s wives and kids if they didn’t join up.

    With a very few exceptions, the reality is simply that these people are not the gung-ho jihadis you are postulating.

    Your Texas-style justice of simply wiping out whole countries is entirely un-American. There is nothing American or patriotic in killing many innocent people in revenge and calling it either justice or self defense.

    It is torture, plain and simple, it is un-American, a sin in the eyes of God, against the teachings of Jesus, and morally indefensible.

    You better read the Constitution and the Bill of Rights a few more times.

  11. #11 M. Randolph Kruger
    September 22, 2008

    Yogi-I think I know it pretty well and I also know that its a very fluid document. The Patriot Act, and others I have said for a long time should have sunset clauses…Congress could reauthorize or not at the end of the sunset date or create new laws.

    They got what they wanted and they have been interdicting and pissing people off ever since. They have stopped a LOT of ops against US assets as a result. Since I was a part of that killing machine lets put it into perspective….that being that we were attacked so it means that the normal channels did not work. That is that Osama and others felt the need to attack the US on three continents. This revved up the war machine. It did take out a huge number of people who would kill us in Afghanistan and many more in Iraq. But were we the police with extreme firepower or were we just the military? You be the judge. That was all done lawfully and in accordance with that Constitution you tout up. But, that same Constitution and Bill of Rights says we are to be safe in our homes and person, and that we will NOT be denied the right to life, liberty or pursuit of happiness, or property without due process of law. I would say that was effectively done on quite a few occasions in Africa leading up to 9/11. Bill Clintons response? Close embassies in Africa and lob a cruise missile attack into Afghanistan.

    If a country harbors knowingly terrorists then its state sponsored terrorism and under the war clause in the UN Charter they can be attacked under that document. We DO have to declare war though and for years hot pursuit has been in effect.

    As for it being un-American or patriotic there is nothing less true. What would you do for your country? Would I push the button on a country if they were constantly and consistently attacking the US…. Yogi… I would smoke them to the ground and make no mistake of it.

    Again… Are we at war or are we in a police action? Decide.

  12. #12 Jonathon Singleton
    September 25, 2008

    Revere, “[Importantly, this APA referendum ] adds another professional voice to the chorus of condemnation from the medical and public health professions…”

    Staying on the subject of “professionalism in medicine”, I’ve read through Obama and McCain’s election plans for reforming the U.S. health care system (published online at NEJM). I’m really not surprised at all. The differences between the two positions ARE apparent on one topic — independent versus commercial oversight on science and medical information resourced by medical students, doctors, etc…

    Published at http://www.nejm.org September 24, 2008 (10.1056/NEJMp0807677)

    Modern Health Care for All Americans

    Barack Obama

    Excerpt: Our medical training institutions are the finest in the world, but we need to ensure that doctors have ready access to the best information on medical advances throughout their careers. The best source of information on the value of a drug or a new technology is not the company that produces and markets it, but rather a careful and independent evaluation of patient outcomes. I will develop an independent national institute to work with the medical community to evaluate and disseminate information on the comparative effectiveness of drugs, devices, treatments, and procedures…


    Published at http://www.nejm.org September 24, 2008 (10.1056/NEJMp0807607)

    Access to Quality and Affordable Health Care for Every American

    John McCain

    Excerpt: I support a comprehensive and inclusive approach to lowering costs and reforming our health care system with a focus on…

    Quality: Strengthening health care quality requires promoting research and development of new treatment models, promoting wellness, investing in technology, and empowering Americans with better information on quality.

    Affordability: We need genuine competition in the health sector to ensure that drug companies, insurance companies, hospitals, and every other aspect of the health care system are responding to the needs of American families…