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The APA Moves to Ban Psychologists from Aiding in (Some) Interrogations

Great job on doing the bare-minimum right thing 10 years too late.
August 8, 2015, 10:00am

The role of psychologists and medical personnel in what is really, definitely not torture ("enhanced interrogation") has been long debated or even just plain ignored, but things hit a new peak early last month with the release of a brutal report implicating a number of non-CIA psychologists and the American Psychological Association itself in aiding harsh Bush-era interrogations. In short, the APA's ethics office "prioritized the protection of psychologists—even those who might have engaged in unethical behavior—above the protection of the public," according to the report.

On Friday, the association's council of representatives formally moved to ensure that Bush-era collusion doesn't happen again with a 156-to-1 vote in favor of banning psychologists from participating in, "national security interrogations at sites found to be in violation of international law," in the words of an APA statement sent to reporters. The council also voted to establish a panel tasked with reviewing the APA's ethics policies and procedures, which, according to the July report, had proven to be quite malleable when it came to the wants of DOD officials.

Under the ban, psychologists will still be allowed to consult government agencies on broad policies, but participation at more specific levels is off-limits: "psychologists shall not conduct, supervise, be in the presence of, or otherwise assist any national security interrogations 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 interrogation."

Somehow, all of this garbage has been going on for over a decade. Circa 2004, CIA insiders first began expressing concern to the APA about the role of non-CIA psychologists in interrogations, specifically that they were performing duties that violated the association's ethics code. (Yes, it was CIA staffers were raising ethics concerns about the psychologists' roles to the APA.) This led to the creation of an APA task force to study and offer guidance on the situation. The results of this non-effort are detailed in last month's report.

"But association and government officials filled the task force with national security insiders," a piece in the New York Times notes, "and it concluded in 2005 that it was fine for psychologists to remain involved, the report found." Until now, at least.