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A French news service describes the vote of American Psychological Association on Sunday, 19 August 2007, about participation by psychologists in interrogation of prisoners.

US psychologists limit roles in torture of military prisoners

Date Published:

Aug 19, 2007 03:00 AM

Source: AFP News Brief


The American Psychological Association on Sunday banned members from taking part in more than a dozen tactics such as mock executions and water-boarding during questioning of military prisoners.

APA leaders voted nearly unanimously to limit involvement by members in coercive interrogations but the resolution fell short of a complete moratorium called for by some US psychologists.

The resolution issues an unequivocal condemnation and prohibits psychologists' participation in specific interrogation tactics including mock executions; water-boarding; isolation, and sleep deprivation.

"This is a move forward because it specifies techniques and includes lack of due process in the definition of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment," said APA member Neil Altman, author of the original proposal for a complete moratorium on psychologists' presence in detention centers.

"But it omitted language that would keep psychologists from being involved in other detainees-related operations in detention centers outside of interrogations."

Three members of the APA council of representatives voted against the resolution in protest.

"What I would like to see is for psychologists to be participating only in treatment, not interrogation," APA member Laurie Wagner told AFP.

"If psychologists need to be present to keep detainees from being killed, then the only way for us to protest is to leave those situations."

APA leaders voted down a substitute motion that would have limited psychologists to "ameliorative psychological treatment of detainees that are deprived of adequate protection of human rights."

"Without the amendment that would call on our colleagues to not participate in these inhumane situations, it's all just words," said Bernice Lott, a member of the APA council of representatives.

Many within the APA believe that psychologists must remain present to act as safety officers.

"I just came here from Cuba," said APA council representative Colonel Larry James. "If we remove psychologists from Guantanamo, innocent people are going to die."

Beth Wiggins of the APA law division agreed.

"Walking away from these situations would make us passive bystanders," she said.

The vote took place during the APA's annual conference in San Francisco.

Demonstrators outside the proceedings stood on boxes and covered themselves with black hoods with wires trailing from their arms to symbolize prisoner abuses at clandestine US military facilities and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

With 148,000 members, the APA is the largest professional organization in the mental health field.


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Matt Morrissey

Matt Morrissey is on the MFI Choice in Mental Health Campaign Committee. Matt is a psychiatric survivor with a master’s in counseling who directs the adult day program at Full Spectrum Progressive Mental Health, which is a nonprofit center in San Francisco that offers voluntary programs for adults and adolescents in severe emotional distress. Full Spectrum is a Sponsor Group in MFI. Matt is shown here speaking at an MFI co-sponsored protest in front of the American Psychiatric Association. (Photo by Tom Olin)
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