The Society for the
Psychological
Study of Social Issues

    

SPSSI Reaffirms its Longstanding Opposition to Torture and Longstanding Commitment to Human Rights

Approved by the SPSSI Executive Committee on August 7th, 2018

The Council of Representatives of the American Psychological Association (APA) will vote on a proposed resolution at its next meeting on August 8th and 10th of 2018. The proposed resolution is entitled “NBI 35B/Aug 2017, Resolution to Amend Council’s 2009, 2013, and 2015 Resolutions to Clarify that Psychologists May Provide Treatment to Detainees or Military Personnel in National Security Settings.” The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI, APA Division 9) opposes the proposed resolution and its divisional representatives to the APA Council of Representatives will be voting against its adoption.

Historical Background on the Proposed Resolution. According to current APA policy, “psychologists may not work in settings where persons are held outside of, or in violation of, either International Law (e.g., the UN Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions) or the US Constitution (where appropriate), unless they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights.”

Under proposed resolution NBI 35B/Aug 2017, the language in quotes would be modified to read (underlined material to be added): “Psychologists may not work in settings where persons are held outside of, or in violation of, either International Law (e.g., the UN Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions) or the US Constitution (where appropriate), unless they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights, or they are working in a health care role for the express purpose of providing psychological treatment to detainees or military personnel.” In essence, psychologists who work for the military would be permitted to treat detainees if they are working in a health care role for the express purpose of providing psychological treatment.

SPSSI’s Longstanding Opposition to Torture. SPSSI has been an outspoken voice for human rights since its founding in 1936.  Accordingly, SPSSI has long been a vocal opponent of torture. In June of 2005, the Report of the American Psychological Association Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS Report) was released. A number of items in the PENS Report concerned SPSSI, so much so that it charged a task force with examining the research on interrogations and drafting a statement for SPSSI to review. The resulting statement—The Use of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane, or Degrading Treatment as Interrogation Devices—was authored by Mark Costanzo, Ellen Gerrity, and M. Brinton Lykes and approved by the SPSSI in June of 2006.

At that time, the main argument of SPSSI’s statement was that the United States and its military should immediately ban the use of torture and that psychologists should be expressly prohibited from using their expertise to plan, design, assist, or participate in interrogations that make use of torture and other forms of cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment. In making this argument, the authors discussed how the use of torture as an interrogation device was contrary to ethical standards of conduct of psychologists and in violation of international law. Importantly, the authors also called for an end to the practice because a rich body of research evidence suggests that torture produces severe and lasting trauma as well as other negative consequences for victims, perpetrators, and societies. For example:

  • Torture is directly linked to posttraumatic stress disorder and other symptoms and disabilities, including anxiety, depression, impaired memory, insomnia, and nightmares.[1]
     
  • Health providers can lend a dangerous sense of legitimacy to situations involving torture.[2]
     
  • The acceptance of torture in military or law enforcement situations has far-reaching implications for society, including through an erosion of moral codes.[3]

In addition to condemning the use of torture and other cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment as interrogation devices, SPSSI’s 2006 statement called for an independent investigation of the extent to which psychologists had been involved with using torture, and the sanctioning of any psychologists found to have participated in the design or conduct of such interrogations. The statement also called for the APA and other scholarly/professional associations of psychologists to condemn the use of torture as an interrogation device and forbid psychologists from engaging in it. Finally, the statement called on the APA to develop specific guidelines and explicit codes of conduct for psychologists working in contexts of war and imprisonment.

Clarifying What Roles Psychologists May and May Not Play in National Security Settings. In the years following the release of the 2005 PENS Report and SPSSI’s 2006 statement, a series of resolutions were adopted by the APA related to ethics and interrogations. These resolutions were explicitly created because psychologists were shown to be active contributors to torture as an interrogation device at both Guantánamo Bay and at CIA black sites. The major purpose of these resolutions was to ensure that such abuses never occurred again. To safeguard against possible future abuses, the APA adopted a 2009 Resolution that concluded with:

Be it resolved that psychologists may not work in settings where persons are held outside of, or in violation of, either International Law (e.g., the UN Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions) or the US Constitution (where appropriate), unless they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights.

At the time, SPSSI’s strongly supported the 2009 Resolution, and its current position is unchanged. Thus, regarding the proposed resolution (“NBI 35B/Aug 2017, Resolution to Amend Council’s 2009, 2013, and 2015 Resolutions to Clarify that Psychologists May Provide Treatment to Detainees or Military Personnel in National Security Settings”), SPSSI is in agreement with the Board of Psychology in the Public Interest (BAPPI), which opposes the main motion of the proposed resolution. SPSSI finds the arguments made by BAPPI compelling and does not believe that either the science or ethics supports re-engaging psychologists in settings where persons are held outside of, or in violation of, either International Law or the US Constitution, regardless of whether they are working for detainees or military personnel.

Therefore, be it resolved that SPSSI:

  1. Reaffirms its longstanding opposition to torture and its commitment to human rights as articulated in SPSSI’s 2006 statement entitled “The Use of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane, or Degrading Treatment as Interrogation Devices”;
     
  2. Opposes the proposed resolution through the vote of its divisional representatives to the APA Council of Representatives when the Council next meets in August of 2018;
     
  3. Urges its members to contact the other APA divisions and APA state, provincial, and territorial psychological associations of which they are members and encourage those groups to also oppose the proposed resolution; and
     
  4. Exhorts its members to share SPSSI’s position with colleagues who may then also urge their divisions and state, provincial, and territorial psychological associations to oppose the proposed resolution.
 

Footnotes:

[1] See, for example, Basoglu, M., Jaranson, J.M., Mollica, R., & Kastrup, M. (2001). Torture and mental health: A research overview.  In E. Gerrity, T.M. Keane, & F. Tuma (Eds.), The mental health consequences of torture (pp. 35-62).  NY: Kluwer;

[2] See, for example, Lifton, R.J. (2004). Doctors and torture. New England Journal of Medicine, 351(5): 415-416.

[3] See, for example Roht-Arriaza, N. (1995). Punishment, redress, and pardon: Theoretical and psychological approaches. In N. Roht-Arriaza (Ed.), Impunity and human rights in international law and practice (pp. 13-23). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.


Research that produces nothing but books will not suffice.
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