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Professional News
Psychologists Adopt Resolution Updating Position on Torture
Psychiatric News
Volume 42 Number 24 page 2-2

The American Psychological Association has adopted a resolution" unequivocally" opposing the use of torture and "other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment" of persons in United States custody and prohibiting any involvement by psychologists in such practices.

The board of the 148,000-member organization voted in August to reaffirm its 2006 resolution on the same topic. The new document says that torture is never justifiable and that psychologists may not participate in interrogations involving the 19 techniques enumerated in the resolution.

The resolution also added that torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment may arise from conditions of confinement and "... affirms the prerogative of psychologists to refuse to work in such settings..."

Psychologists with any knowledge of torture have an ethical responsibility to inform their superiors and those who violate the new standard may face action by the association's ethics committee.

The psychologists rejected an amendment stating: "The roles of psychologists in settings in which detainees are deprived of adequate protection of their human rights should be limited as health personnel to the provision of psychological treatment."

The AMA and APA previously approved statements opposing torture. APA's position, adopted in May 2006, says that "psychiatrists should not participate in, or otherwise assist or facilitate, the commission of torture of any person."

In addition, psychiatrists may not be in the room with military or civilian investigative or law enforcement authorities during an interrogation, suggest questions, or offer advice to authorities about interrogating specific detainees, according to the APA statement.

Although barred from direct participation in interrogation, psychiatrists may train civilian or military investigators in ways to recognize and respond to persons with mental illness or on the "possible medical or psychological effects of particular techniques and conditions of interrogation."

The American Psychological Association resolution does not prevent psychologists from taking part in interrogations in which torture is not used.

"Torture is not interrogation," explained Stephen Behnke, J.D., Ph.D., director of the psychology group's ethics office. "Torture is abuse. Interrogation requires great patience and skill."

In fact, psychologists have a legitimate role to play in interrogating persons in custody, Behnke told Psychiatric News.

"Interrogation is an inherently psychological practice, when conducted in an ethical and competent manner," he said.

The Department of Defense announced a year ago that military psychiatrists were not "ordinarily" to be used as consultants to interrogators," but may be so assigned" when psychologists are unavailable.

"Those circumstances do not exempt that psychiatrist from APA's statement," emphasized former APA President Steven Sharfstein, M.D., in an interview. "There are no exceptions."

The American Psychological Association's resolution against torture participation is posted at<www.apa.org/governance/resolutions/councilres0807.html>. APA's 2006 statement is posted at<www.psych.org/edu/other_res/lib_archives/archives/200601.pdf>.

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