Frequently Asked Questions about the Resolution
Q: Who can sign?
A: APA members in good standing. This includes members, dues exempt members and fellows.
Q. Who cannot sign?
A. Unfortunately, associate members and APA affiliates cannot sign. This includes: students, high school teachers, 2-year college professors, and international affiliates.
Q: I am not a US citizen, can I still sign this petition?
A. Yes, as long as you joined the APA as a full member and not as an international affiliate.
Q: How can I find my APA membership number?
A. Your membership number is an 8-digit number that appears on most official correspondence such as your billing statement. You can also call the APA membership office at (800) 374-2721 (US & Canada Toll Free) or (202) 336-5580 (in DC) and ask for your membership number. Additionally, you can look up your number on the APA portal http://my.apa.org if you have previously registered.
Q: Why are you calling for psychologists to leave detention centers such as Guantanamo, similar settings in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the CIA black sites?
A. We have three overarching reasons for wanting psychologists out of these sites:
1. Our first ethical principle as psychologists is to “do no harm.” We know from multiple credible sources that psychologists have designed and participated in interrogations equivalent to torture. We believe that psychologists should not use their training and professional expertise to break down the human psyche.
2. These settings have been internationally condemned. They are inherently objectionable and we would condemn their existence even if the ICRC had not declared the conditions at Guantanamo “tantamount to torture”. We believe that all persons, including prisoners of war, are endowed with certain inalienable rights. We therefore fundamentally disagree with this administration’s consistent assertion that the detainees possess only the few privileges that the US decides to grant them.
3. By allowing psychologists to work within the system and within the chain of command at sites that are comprehensively designed to break down the human psyche, the APA, representing the field of psychology, confers professional legitimacy to these settings, and implicitly and explicitly endorses places and programs that violate basic human rights.
Memos prepared by Justice Department lawyers Jay Bybee and John Yoo state that in order for an action to legally be classified as "torture" it had to be intended to cause harm. As investigative reporter Jane Mayer points out, psychologist participation in interrogations is important to the U.S. government. Mayer argues that psychologists provide a sense of legitimacy. They could state that the abusive techniques are not intended to cause pain but to extract information.
The Justice Department memos made other objectionable claims in regard to what constituted “psychological torture.” They stated that for techniques to be deemed “psychological torture”, the infliction of severe mental pain was required. Moreover, those acts “must result in significant psychological harm of significant duration, e.g., lasting for months or even years”; Yoo and Bybee have even argued that DSM-IV criteria for PTSD or depression must be met for the victim of the interrogation to have been considered tortured. As clinicians in these sites, psychologists are in a position to determine and pronounce whether or not a detainee has suffered severe mental pain of “significant duration”, that is, whether the detainee has suffered torture.
In brief, this U.S. Administration has placed psychologists at the center of its legal justification of torture.
Q: Most psychologists abhor torture and would like to see Guantanamo and the black sites shut down, but we are told that interrogating psychologists also serve as “safety officers” who make interrogations “safe and ethical” in addition to “legal and effective.” If this is true, wouldn’t it be worse for detainees if the psychologists left?
A: No evidence has been shown to indicate that psychologists play any part in ensuring the safety of detainees. Indeed many abuses at Guantanamo occurred under the direction of Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCTs), which were led by psychologists and psychiatrists. Psychiatrists, in all probability due to firmer AMA and American Psychiatric Association policies, have since been removed from the teams. Most important, psychologists know from decades of research that good people do bad things in bad situations (cf. Ross and Nisbett, 1991, Zimbardo, 2007). Psychologists subject to the chain of command in an inherently abusive environment (i.e., the CIA black sites and Guantanamo Bay) are no less vulnerable to “drift” than anyone else; it is time to start applying the hard-learned lessons of psychology to psychologists.
Q: But I have heard that at least one psychologist, maybe others, did report abuses to his superiors.
A: There is one confirmed case of a Dr. Michael Gelles reporting up his chain of command on severely harmful behavior that was occurring outside of his command, and we commend him for doing so. Gelles’ actions were supported by his chain of command; many psychologists are directly under commands that order and/or tolerate abuse. There is not one documented case of a psychologist refusing to participate in abuse that was ordered or encouraged by his or her command.
The action of a single psychologist is not a solid basis for policy. It is our responsibility as psychologists to focus on the rules, on ethics, and on law, not just the exceptions to them. The belief that more psychologists are doing more good than harm while they work for the system, within the chain of command, is illusory. In fact, Dr. Larry James, a frequent and outspoken supporter of APA's current policy, was recently quoted by the Associated Press as saying “I learned a long, long time ago, if I'm going to be successful in the intel community, I'm meticulously — in a very, very dedicated way — going to stay in my lane. So if I don't have a specific need to know about something, I don't want to know about it. I don't ask about it."
Q: But aren’t there clinical psychologists at these sites who provide mental health services to the detainees and who never deal with interrogations?
A: This is a complex issue. No group needs and deserves psychological services more than victims of torture. Yet, there is a great deal of evidence that clinical psychologists have become part of Guantanamo’s behavior management system and have worked to keep detainees compliant by removing ‘comfort items,’ such as toilet paper. Furthermore, even if psychologists were removed from both the behavior management system and the interrogations process, they would still be subject to the chain of command within an inherently abusive, extra-legal environment. Thus, a psychologist might not know whether s/he has been sent a detainee for help in recuperating that detainee just enough to return for more abusive interrogations (from other psychologists) or whether information gathered by the clinician will be used to break down the ‘client’.
Q: Then how can we, as psychologists, help the detainees cope with the consequences of these detentions?
It is incumbent on us to fight abuses of human rights, and this catch-22 (in which psychological services are provided by the system that is also responsible for cruel and inhuman punishment) is just one of them. Yet excellent alternatives exist. Psychologists could (and should) work directly for the detainees in settings that violate human rights, much in the same way that an attorney offers and provides client services on a pro bono basis at these sites. This is an effort the American Psychological Association should undertake. Psychologists can also work for human rights organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross. Either of these alternatives removes psychologists from the chain of command and ensures that psychologists are working for the best interests of their client—not for a system that leads to the deterioration of mental health.
In no way does this referendum effort imply that psychologists should not work for the military. There are many other settings and activities that uphold human rights where military psychologists can have a positive influence.
Q: Yes, but the military and/or clandestine services may not agree to allow independent psychologists to operate inside their facilities. What then?
Then the APA should demand that independent psychologists be allowed access to these sites or that the detainees be transported to facilities that operate within the rule of law. The APA should fight to put psychology on the side of the tormented, not the tormentor.
Q: What happens if the APA loses the fight to allow independent psychologists access to these sites?
A: Then psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses, and psychiatric technicians will perform the jobs that psychologists have been performing -- for the benefit or the harm of detainees. We would hope, however, that the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association would eventually follow this moral lead and collaborate to ensure the best protection of detainees and their mental health.
Q: I’ve heard that conditions at Guantanamo were bad at one time but have since improved.
A: We wish that were true, but evidence suggests otherwise. What we know comes from leaked reports, partisan investigations, and heavily redacted freedom of information act (FOIA) documents – some of which are little more than blank sheets of paper. Obviously, such secrecy prevents oversight. We have evidence that detainees have been subject to conditions tantamount to torture. We know that the conditions inside Guantanamo are bad enough to have led many people to suicide, despite the U.S. attempt to frame these acts as tactical maneuvers. We will believe that conditions have improved when Guantanamo, the CIA black sites, and other illegal detention centers are subject to full investigations carried out by independent parties with complete access. The onus lies with the administration to prove the abuse has stopped, not with the critic to prove that it hasn’t.
Q. How would this referendum affect psychologists working in places where people are detained for reasons other than the ‘war on terror,’ such as U.S. prisons or juvenile halls?
A. This referendum would have no impact whatsoever on psychologists’ work in U.S. prisons or other facilities for a very simple reason: flawed as our justice system might be at times, anyone who is in a U.S. prison has arrived there through an open, judicial process. Unlike the people rounded up in Afghanistan and taken to Guantanamo, for instance, a U.S. prisoner has faced actual charges related to an alleged crime, can meet with an attorney, receive family visits and mail, is informed about the length of a time-limited sentence, and can even call a reporter to tell his or her story. It is precisely this series of violations of the Guantanamo detainees’ civil and human rights that makes working at those sites on behalf of their captors and interrogators unethical and unacceptable.