Thursday, September 18, 2008

NATIONAL:MEDICAL ETHICS: Hundreds Protest Psychologists' Role In Torture

(previously published here at

Outside the American Psychological Association's 116th annual convention this weekend in Boston, between 100 and 200 psychologists rallied together to protest the ongoing role of psychologists in military interrogations, particularly amid concerns of torture.

The demonstrators are among those mental health professionals who have criticized the long-standing relationship as a violation of their code of ethics. They are urging the implementation of an APA ban on its members participating in such military and intelligence operations.

A resolution petition has been submitted and the 148,000 members of the APA are submitting their ballot votes over the next month, with a decision due by late September. If passed, it would expand on the APA's existing policy, passed last year, which some say is adequate.

Some psychologists and health professionals maintain that without psychologists' participation, the interrogations would be more harmful and go unchecked and unaccounted for.

The current policy prohibits psychologists from taking part either directly or indirectly in 19 coercive procedures often considered forms of torture, including waterboarding, the use of hoods, forced nudity, stress positions, rape, mock execution, use of drugs, and exposure to extreme temperatures. The policy says this list is not exhaustive and also urges the U.S. government to discontinue such practices.

"Torture and abuse are always unethical and prohibited ... the question is how to best fight an administration policy that permits such practices," APA's ethics office director Stephen Behnke said to the Boston Globe.

In a statement released earlier this year, the APA describes its position that "No psychologist - APA member or not - should be directly or indirectly involved in any form of detention interrogation that could lead to psychological or physical harm to a detainee ... [and] doing so would be a clear violation of the profession's ethical standards."

At Saturday's rally, where people held signs that declared "Do No Harm" and "Abolish Torture," Nathaniel Raymond of Physicians for Human Rights, a Washington-based health professional organization, maintained at Saturday's rally that "it's about restoration of the values that define us. ... It's about who we are in the world."

The group's director, Leonard Rubenstein, also suggested that the APA should note the American Medical Association's policy of prohibiting physicians from participating in interrogations and divulging whether a prisoner's health would sustain torture.

Other groups that participated in the rally included professional coalitions such as Psychologists for an Ethical APA, Psychologists for Social Responsibility, and human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Heather J. Chin can be reached at

©The Evening Bulletin 2008

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