Pentagon officials and APA leaders appear to be on the same page, or at
least a nearby one, when it comes to psychiatrists' participation in detainee
On June 6 Department of Defense officials announced that from here on they
would seek the help of psychologists, but not psychiatrists, when they want
advice on how to elicit information from detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba,
and other places where prisoner interrogations take place. The policy
distinguishes between physicians and "behavioral consultants,"
whom it describes as primarily psychologists, saying that psychologists
traditionally fulfill the type of role the Pentagon envisions for its"
behavioral consultants" during interrogations.
This follows by a just a few weeks a decision by the APA Board of Trustees
and Assembly to adopt a position statement prohibiting the participation of
psychiatrists in detainee interrogations (Psychiatric News, June 16).
The statement read, "No psychiatrist should participate directly in the
interrogation of persons held in custody by military or civilian investigative
or law-enforcement authorities.... [including] being present in the
interrogation room, asking or suggesting questions, or advising authorities on
the use of specific techniques of interrogation."
The American Psychological Association has taken a more permissive approach
to detainee interrogations that allows participation beyond that sanctioned by
APA, based on the principle that preventing harm to the public is an important
consideration along with the obligation to do no harm. The position of the
psychological association is that its members can advise interrogators on
questions and techniques and develop interrogation strategies as long as doing
so does "not threaten or cause physical injury or mental
suffering." Psychologists are barred from direct participation and from
assisting in interrogations that use coercion.
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs William Winkenwerder Jr.
indicated at a June 7 press conference that the American Psychological
Association's stance is closer to the military's than is APA's, and this
difference contributed to the Pentagon's decision to use psychologists as
advisors during interrogations.
The Pentagon's June announcement clarifies what it sees as the roles for
behavioral health personnel in interrogations and describes acceptable and
unacceptable actions on the part of these personnel. It points out that
military psychiatrists are not "ordinarily" to be used as
consultants to interrogators, "but may be so assigned" in limited
circumstances when psychologists are unavailable to advise interrogators.
On June 12 the New York Times weighed in on the issue of detainee
treatment, with an editorial condemning some of the controversial practices
that the military has allowed during interrogations. The editorial followed
the suicide of three prisoners at Guantanamo. The editorial stated that the"
only role for psychiatrists at [Guantanamo] seems to be to help prepare
prisoners for interrogation" and suggested that psychiatrists and other
medical personnel also take part in forced feedings and other inhumane
practices in detention facilities.
Steven Sharfstein, M.D., immediate past president of APA, sent a letter to
the newspaper taking issue with its conclusion regarding psychiatrists.
Moreover, Sharfstein explained that after touring the Guantanamo Bay detention
facility at the invitation of the Pentagon last October, it was clear that
psychiatrists were providing patient care.
"Since then," he wrote, "the American Psychiatric
Association has passed a clear, strong statement barring psychiatrists from
participating in interrogations. It is our position that the only role for
psychiatrists is that of healer, including psychiatrists who are in the
At its June meeting, the AMA House of Delegates debated the issue, arriving
at much the same conclusion as did APA (see article on
page 1). ▪