Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Psychology and torture

This letter, regarding the refusal of the American Psychological Association to prohibit the involvement of psychologists in military interrogations, was addressed to the President (Cheryl Foxcroft) of the Psychological Society of South Africa (PsySSA) a number of weeks ago. Not sure whether it had been discussed by PsySSA or whether we will get any feedback from them... Will keep you posted about developments.

Dr. Cheryl Foxcroft
Psychological Society of South Africa

Dear Dr. Foxcroft

We are writing to you in your capacity as president of the Psychological Society of South Africa. It has come to the attention of many in the psychology profession that the American Psychological Association has steadfastly refused to prohibit its members from participating in military interrogations conducted at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and Abu Ghraib, Iraq. The refusal of the APA to ban its members from such activities has serious human rights implications, as prisoners are held without trial and many are subjected to inhumane treatment, including torture.

While the APA policy requires its members to adhere to the code of ethics for psychologists, which includes a statement prohibiting torture and inhuman treatment, they may still consult to military interrogators and provide psychological advice. Psychologists consulting to military interrogators are used to break down prisoners and exploit their emotional and psychological vulnerabilities in order to extract information. Both the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association have prohibited their members from participating in military interrogations. For this reason the United States military has relied on psychologists rather than psychiatrists to assist in these interrogations.

The group, Physicians for Human Rights, has called on the APA to prohibit psychologists from participating in interrogations (see their statement at this website). So far APA has refused to change its policy.

This letter is a request that PSYSSA, in view of its relationship with APA, strongly and publicly condemn APA’s policy on psychologists’ consulting to military interrogators, and its president, Dr. Gerald Koocher’s, steadfast defense of this policy. Dr. Koocher has stated repeatedly that psychologists have a special knowledge to contribute to military interrogations and have a valuable role to play in helping to protect the United States. By not expressly prohibiting its members from consulting to military interrogators, the APA appears to be condoning human rights violations. In view of our own history of oppression and human rights violations in South Africa, PSYSSA under your leadership has a duty to insist that the APA abandon its policy. We also suggest that if PSYSSA’s public condemnation of the APA’s position does not result in any change in its policy, PSYSSA should distance itself from the APA. Failure to do so may be construed as apathy or even complicity with violating the human rights of prisoners.

Yours Sincerely

Department of Psychology
Stellenbosch University