APA Should Stand Strong Against Psychologist Complicity With Torture

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UPDATE: On August 8, the APA voted to continue its ban against military psychologists from working at Guantanamo.

Psychologists as a group have a long history of abuse to contend with, including their contributions to the legacy of torture. Psychologists had a hand in creating the torture programs employed by the CIA at “black sites” and the military at sites like Guantanamo Bay.

In 2015, the American Psychological Association (APA) enacted a policy to prevent psychologists from complicity in torture and abuse.  Under the policy, psychologists are prohibited from working at sites the UN deems to be in breach of international law—like Guantanamo Bay—unless they are employed by an independent human rights group or a detainee themselves.

Now the APA is considering rolling back that protection, allowing military and other governmental psychologists to work at these sites again. Government psychologists’ complicity in abusive detainment and interrogation has undermined their credibility and ability to create therapeutic relationships with detainees. Moreover, this move puts psychologists in danger of returning to their former roles as architects of torture.

Trump has publically stated his support for torture and doubled down by promoting Gina Haspel, who played an operational role in the CIA’s torture program, to the head of the organization. The skies are darkening and the APA has the opportunity to stand strong against torture. We urge them to use it.

On August 6, Defending Rights & Dissent joined with eight other anti-torture groups in calling on the APA continue its anti-torture stance, stating:

Actions taken by stakeholders like the APA—particularly ones with accredited status at the United Nations—matter deeply in this environment. Current APA policy sends a clear message that the association and the psychology profession are committed to strong human rights and ethical protections for national security detainees. We urge the APA to reaffirm that commitment.

Read the full letter here.

The APA Council of Representatives is scheduled to vote on the resolution on August 8.