Several months ago the media reported on charges that during interrogations
of prisoners held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in Iraq
and Afghanistan, psychiatrists and psychologists participated in abusive
At that time APA had no official position on the ethical and professional
issues attendant to such participation. Recognizing the need to provide
guidance to psychiatrists on this controversial issue, the APA Board of
Trustees approved a position statement at its October meeting in San
The statement was developed by the Council on Psychiatry and Law and its
Committee on Judicial Action in collaboration with the Committee on Ethics and
Committee on Misuse and Abuse of Psychiatry. Input was also provided by APA
members in the military.
Paul Appelbaum, M.D., chair of the Council on Psychiatry and Law and a
former APA president, pointed out at the Board meeting that the U.S. Army was
waiting for a statement from APA so it could add the Association's guidelines
to a statement it is developing on this issue. It already cites the more
permissive statement from the American Psychological Association
(Psychiatric News, August 19).
The APA statement makes it clear that "psychiatrists should not
participate in the interrogation of persons held in custody by military or
civilian investigative or law-enforcement authorities, whether in the United
States or elsewhere." It also indicates that psychiatrists should not
provide information to those same authorities about the "consequences of
specific techniques of interrogation" as they may be applied to a
In addition, the statement reiterates APA's position that psychiatrists"
should not participate in, or otherwise assist or facilitate, the
commission of torture," and psychiatrists who learn of such activity are
obligated to report it to someone "in a position to take corrective
Psychiatrists providing medical care to detainees, the statement points
out, should put the well-being of the patient they are treating before
requests to assist military or civilian authorities in interrogation-related
activities. Psychiatrists should also refrain from disclosing information from
detainees' medical records to anyone involved in interrogating those
The Assembly will review the statement at its November meeting; position
statements require both Board and Assembly approval.
The Board also approved the distribution of $300,000 in grants to 22 APA
district branches. The grants, which were made through APA's competitive-grant
program, ranged from $5,000 to $30,000 and will be used for projects targeted
at member recruitment, programs for members-in-training and early career
psychiatrists, public affairs, linkages with primary care, access-to-care
issues, and minority issues, among others. Grant requests were received from
47 of the 76 district branches and state associations and were evaluated by
the Council on Member and DB/SA Relations.
On other issues the Board voted to
The Trustees also were told of two actions regarding amicus curiae briefs
taken by the Board's Executive Committee.
In one, the committee voted "in principle" to have APA sign on
to a brief in a Maryland case in which former APA President Harold Eist, M.D.,
is challenging the validity of a reprimand and fine issued by the state's
Board of Physicians (see story below). The committee also approved a $5,000
contribution to the cost of Eist's litigation.
In the second case, the Executive Committee agreed "in
principle" to have APA sign on to an amicus brief in an abortion-related
case, Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, which is
before the U.S. Supreme Court. The brief is being submitted by the American
College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and concerns parental notification
laws when a minor wants to have an abortion and a young woman's health, but
not life, is threatened by continuing the pregnancy.
A draft summary of all the Board actions taken at its October
meeting will be posted soon in the Members' Corner area of APA's Web site,<www.psych.org>.▪