November 16, 2011

Psychologists and Advocates Call for Annulment of American Psychological Association Report on Military Interrogations

Posted by Dr. Trudy Bond, Psychologist

A coalition of concerned psychologists and advocates is calling upon the American Psychological Association (APA) to drop an influential policy document that allows its members to participate in abusive military interrogations.  The movement to nullify the “PENS Report” has already drawn support from more than a dozen high profile advocacy groups – including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Center for Justice and Accountability, and Physicians for Human Rights – and nearly 1,000 individuals, from health professionals to military officials.

The report, by the APA’s Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS), is of critical importance because it is the defining document endorsing psychologists’ engagement in national security detainee interrogations.  Despite evidence that psychologists were involved in and helped promote abusive interrogation tactics at Guantánamo Bay Detention Center, Bagram Air Base, and CIA “black sites,” the PENS Task Force nevertheless concluded in its 2005 report that psychologists play a critical role in keeping interrogations “safe, legal, ethical and effective.”  With this stance, the APA–the largest association of psychologists worldwide–became the sole major professional health care organization to support practices contrary to the international human rights standards that ought to be the benchmark against which professional codes of ethics are judged.

The call for annulment reflects the reality that the PENS Report remains an influential and authoritative guiding operational document within the American psychology and national security establishment.  The U.S. Department of Defense continues to disseminate the report to psychologists involved in intelligence and interrogation operations.  It also serves as a foundational ethics document in the 2011 book Ethical Practice in Operational Psychology, published by the APA Press, that seeks to advance an area of specialization involving psychologists in aggressive counterintelligence and counterterrorism operations. In addition, the PENS Report is repeatedly cited by the APA Ethics Committee in the current draft of its National Security Commentary.

Merely updating or correcting deficiencies in the report would not address the petitioners’ concerns.  The PENS Report emerged from institutional processes that were both illegitimate and inconsistent with APA’s own standards.  In particular, these processes were tainted by inherent bias in the Task Force membership (e.g., six of the nine voting members were on the payroll of the U.S. military and/or intelligence agencies); significant conflicts of interest (e.g., unacknowledged participants included high-level APA staff involved in lobbying military/intelligence agencies for psychology funding); irregularities in the report approval process (e.g., the APA Board failed to submit the report for review and approval by the full governing council); and unwarranted secrecy associated with the report (e.g., unusual prohibitions on Task Force members’ freedom to discuss the report).

Individuals interested in reading the annulment statement and signing the petition can do so at www.ethicalpsychology.org/pens, where additional information about the call for annulment, including a list of organizational and individual signers to date, is also available.  For more information, contact Trudy Bond at coalition@ethicalpsychology.org.

This post was written by Dr. Trudy Bond, a psychologist and one of four Ohio residents to file a professional misconduct complaint against Dr. Larry James,  former Chief Psychologist at the Guantánamo prison and current Dean of Wright State University’s School of Professional Psychology.  The International Human Rights Clinic, in partnership with local counsel, filed the complaint with the Ohio Psychology Board on behalf of  Dr. Bond and the other complainants.  Dr. Trudy Bond is an independent psychologist who has been treating patients for the past 30 years.

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