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Coercive interrogation

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Coercive interrogation is an interrogation which uses enhanced interrogation techniques and is so harsh that it amounts to torture


Role of psychologistsEdit

The role of psychologists in coersive interrogations has been controversial for some time.

During Gerald Koocher's term as APA president, the organization experienced disagreements over whether the organization should dictate the role of psychologists in coercive interrogations. Koocher stated in interviews that the APA had never told psychologists that they could or could not work for specific employers. He also highlighted that psychologists had brought about good at interrogation camps.[1]

That year psychologist and author Mary Pipher was awarded an APA Presidential Citation. Pipher returned the award to the APA more than a year later, saying, "I do not want an award from an organization that sanctions its members’ participation in the enhanced interrogations at CIA ‘black sites’ and at Guantanamo." A proposed resolution before the APA would have banned members from participating in coercive interrogations. Instead, the organization issued a resolution that condemned nineteen specific types of torture. Pipher began to question her acceptance of the award when she realized that it was signed by Koocher, whose opinion was the opposite of her own on the issue.[1]

APA positionEdit

The APA absolutely condemns the use of any of the following practices by military interrogators trying to elicit anti-terrorism information from detainees, on the ground that "there are no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether induced by a state of war or threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, that may be invoked as a justification" for them:[2]

  • An absolute prohibition against the following techniques therefore arises from, is understood in the context of, and is interpreted according to these texts: mock executions; water-boarding or any other form of simulated drowning or suffocation; sexual humiliation; rape; cultural or religious humiliation; exploitation of fears, phobias or psychopathology; induced hypothermia; the use of psychotropic drugs or mind-altering substances; 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; isolation; sensory deprivation and over-stimulation; sleep deprivation; or the threatened use of any of the above techniques to an individual or to members of an individual’s family.[2]

When it emerged that psychologists as part of the Behavioral Science Consultation Team were advising interrogators in Guantánamo and other U.S. facilities on improving the effectiveness of the "Enhanced interrogation techniques", the Association called on the U.S. government to prohibit the use of unethical interrogation techniques and labeled specific techniques as torture.[3][citation needed] Critics pointed out that the APA declined to advise its members not to participate in such interrogations.[4] This was in contrast to the American Psychiatric Association ban in May 2006 of all direct participation in interrogations by psychiatrists,[5] and the American Medical Association ban in June 2006 of the direct participation in interrogations by physicians.[6]

In September 2008, APA’s members passed a 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 U.S. Constitution (where appropriate), unless they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights.”[7] The resolution became official APA policy in February 2009.

Amending the Ethics Code

In February 2010 APA's Council of Representatives voted to amend the association's Code of Ethics[8] to make clear that its standards can never be interpreted to justify or defend violating human rights. Following are the two ethical standards and the changes adopted. Language that is in bold was newly adopted:

1.02, Conflicts Between Ethics and Law, Regulations, or Other Governing Legal Authority

If psychologists’ ethical responsibilities conflict with law, regulations, or other governing legal authority, psychologists clarify the nature of the conflict, make known their commitment to the Ethics Code and take reasonable steps to resolve the conflict consistent with the General Principles and Ethical Standards of the Ethics Code. Under no circumstances may this standard be used to justify or defend violating human rights.

1.03, Conflicts Between Ethics and Organizational Demands

If the demands of an organization with which psychologists are affiliated or for whom they are working are in conflict with this Ethics Code, psychologists clarify the nature of the conflict, make known their commitment to the Ethics Code, and take reasonable steps to resolve the conflict consistent with the General Principles and Ethical Standards of the Ethics Code. Under no circumstances may this standard be used to justify or defend violating human rights.


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