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Psychologists decide it is never ethical to assist torture

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D. was Director of Mental Help Net from 1999 to 2011. Dr. Dombeck received his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology in 1995 ...Read More

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APA MEMBERS APPROVE PETITION RESOLUTION ON DETAINEE SETTINGS

WASHINGTON—The petition resolution stating that psychologists may not work in settings where “persons are held outside of, or in violation of, either International Law (e.g., the UN Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions) or the US Constitution (where appropriate), unless they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights” was approved by a vote of the APA membership. The final vote tally was 8,792 voting in favor of the resolution; 6,157 voting against the resolution. To become policy, a petition resolution needs to be approved by a majority of those members voting.

Per the Association’s Rules and Bylaws, the resolution will become official APA policy as of the Association’s next annual meeting, which will take place in August 2009. At that time, the APA Council of Representatives will also determine what further action may be necessary to implement the policy.

The approval of the petition resolution represents a significant change in APA’s policy regarding the involvement of psychologists in interrogations. The petition resolution limits the roles of psychologists in certain defined settings where persons are detained to working directly for detainees or for an independent third party to protect human rights, or to providing treatment to other military personnel.

This new petition resolution expands on the 2007 APA resolution, which called on the U.S. government to ban at least 19 specific abusive interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, that are regarded as torture by international standards. The 2007 resolution also recognized that “torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment can result not only from the behavior of individuals, but also from the conditions of confinement,” and expressed “grave concern over settings in which detainees are deprived of adequate protection of their human rights.”

APA will continue to call upon the Department of Defense and Congress to safeguard the welfare and human rights of detainees held outside of the United States and to investigate their treatment to ensure the highest ethical standards are being upheld.

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world’s largest association of psychologists. APA’s membership includes more than 148,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.

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