February 20, 2008

APA’s Rhea Farberman responds to questions from the Swedish Journal of Psychology

February 19th, 2008

These are responses to questions posed by Eva Brita Järnefors, editor of the Swedish Journal of Psychology. The answers are by Rea Farberman, the Executive Director for Communications at the American Psychological Association. e.

This is part of a set of articles, together with U.S. psychologists accused of participating in torture by Eva Brita Järnefors and “That psychologists have prevented abuse against detainees is a fantasy” by Stephen Soldz [me]. I encourage you to read them all. The original of all three, in Swedish and English is available as a pdf here; all three can also be accessed in html from here.
“We want to see the documents of the `enhanced´interrogation techniques”

-We have written to U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, asking him to expedite the review of the documents that have provided the basis for the “enhanced” interrogation techniques, says Rea Farberman, the Executive Director for Communications at the American Psychological Association, APA, in Washington.

To inform about the APA policy adopted at the 2007 convention, you sent the 2007 resolution to key members of the Congress, to President George W Bush, and to key officials within the Dep. of Defense and CIA. Have you received any positive answers from these institutions?

The “responses” have come in the form of invitations to meet with both Congressional and Federal officials to share information. These meetings have given us the opportunity to more fully communicate APA’s position that torture and other forms of abusive treatment should never be permissible in any interrogations or detainee procedure as well as to underscore the ethical obligations and science that support that position. APA also submitted testimony on psychology and interrogation for a hearing before the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. That testimony addressed psychologists’ contributions to eliciting information; the need for strict ethical guidelines within interrogation policy; and the need for further research in this area.

APA says (web site: Media information) that psychologists, by staying engaged in military interrogations, “have a vital role to play in promoting the use of ethical interrogations to safeguard the welfare of detainees and facilitate communication with them”. During the last 5 years, psychologists have not, it would seem, been able to stop mistreatment of detainees to any large extent. The American Medical Association does not permit their members to remain involved in these types of interrogations. Have you considered their standpoint for APA´s members: No psychologists involved - no risk to legitimize torture and abuse?

There has been a considerable amount of study and dialogue about APA’s position, yes. The APA Council of Representatives (the Association’s policy making body) has considered the issue at each of its last four meetings. Council has passed numerous resolutions enunciating it’s no torture policy including one adopted this past summer which enumerated 19 interrogation techniques as torture and was hailed by the Washington Post as a “rebuke of Bush Administration policy”. We also had a series of sessions at APA’s 2007 convention devoted to debate and dialogue on the issue. Furthermore, the process begun by the 2005 APA PENS Task Force continues as the APA Ethics Committee works on a casebook and commentary designed to speak to any areas of ambiguity as to a psychologist’s role and ethical obligations vis-à-vis
detainee interrogations and/or treatment.

It is fair to note that while prisoner mistreatment has surely and regrettably taken place, we also know of instances of psychologists stepping in to prevent prisoner abuse or being sent into situations where abuse had taken place to prevent it from happening again. Dr. Michael Gelles, for example, was hailed by a medical ethicist for his “successful medical protest of prisoner abuse” at Guantanamo Bay. Dr. Larry James is a second example. He was sent to Abu Ghraib to take charge of implementing procedures to prevent further episodes of prisoner maltreatment. Furthermore, APA policy has been incorporated into Department of Defense policy regarding how interrogations are to be conducted. And now, there are human rights groups advocating that the revised Army Field Manual, which binds all Department of Defense interrogations,
be adopted as the uniform standard of interrogation for the entire government

What will be your next step in this question?

The Casebook I mentioned above is an important next step.APA has also written to U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, asking him to expedite the review of the Office of Legal Counsel documents that have provided the basis for the Bush administration’s “enhanced” interrogation techniques. APA encouraged him to issue a public report of his investigation and findings. It is also likely that members will continue to study the issue and voice their opinions through convention sessions and other types of member communications. Further deliberation by the APA Council could also take place if a member of that body wishes to place the subject on an agenda for a future Council meeting.

Eva Brita Järnefors

No comments: