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APA Bans Psychologists from Torture Interrogations

On Sunday, the governing council of the American Psychological Association (APA) approved a resolution that prohibits psychologists from participating in interrogations where torture is being used.

The approved resolution condemns and absolutely prohibits psychologists from planning, designing, assisting in or participating in any activities including interrogations which involve the use of torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

The resolution lays out more than a dozen specific practices, including simulated drowning and forced nakedness, and aims to draw a clear line between providing care to detainees and playing advisory roles to interrogation teams. Anyone in violation could be expelled from the 148,000-member organization and possibly lose their state licenses, according to the new ruling, if they fail to report abuses or take part in them personally. Approximately half of psychologists in the U.S. belong to the APA.

Some members thought the resolution didn’t go far enough. But the APA council voted against a proposal to ban psychologists from taking part in any interrogations at U.S. military prisons “in which detainees are deprived of adequate protection of their human rights.” Critics of the proposed ban who spoke before the at the APA’s annual meeting in San Francisco said the presence of psychologists would help insure interrogators did not abuse prisoners.

Quoted in Newsweek, spokesperson Rhea Farberman said, “There is a small contingent of our members who’d like us to go farther, but we feel we can play a positive role in maintaining detainee welfare. Our council voted overwhelmingly to adopt the position it adopted. The small contingent wants us to have a total moratorium on working in these facilities, [arguing] that psychologists should not consult with interrogators altogether.”

The resolution unequivocally condemns and strictly prohibits psychologists from direct or indirect participation in a list of 19 unethical interrogation techniques including: mock execution; water-boarding or any other form of simulated drowning or suffocation; sexual humiliation; rape; cultural or religious humiliation; exploitation of phobias or psychopathology; induced hypothermia; and the use of psychotropic drugs or mind-altering substances for the purpose of eliciting information.

In addition, the following acts were banned for the purpose of eliciting information in an interrogations process: hooding; forced nakedness; stress positions; the use of dogs to threaten or intimidate; physical assault including slapping or shaking; exposure to extreme heat or cold; threats of harm or death; and isolation and/or sleep deprivation used in a manner that represents significant pain or suffering or in a manner that a reasonable person would judge to cause lasting harm; or the threatened use of any of the above techniques to the individual or to members of the individual’s family.

“We want to have an influence on the issue of torture, and that’s why we’re staying engaged. Others have divorced themselves from the process altogether—like the American Medical Association, which has said it won’t allow its members to be involved in interrogations in any way. But we think we can have more of an effect if we stay at the table,” said Farberman in the Newsweek interview.

The new resolution calls upon the United States Government, including the Congress, Department of Defense and Central Intelligence Agency, to prohibit the use of the identified techniques. The resolution additionally noted the likelihood that torture and other forms of cruel treatment lead to unreliable and/or inaccurate information. For that reason, it calls upon U.S. legal systems to reject testimony that results from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

This latest resolution builds on a 2006 Council of Representatives resolution reasserting the organization’s absolute opposition to all forms of torture and abuse, regardless of circumstance and linking the Association’s position to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Geneva Convention.

APA Bans Psychologists from Torture Interrogations

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). APA Bans Psychologists from Torture Interrogations. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 21, 2019, from
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Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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