American Psychological Association: No More Participation In Torture, ‘Enhanced Interrogation Techniques’

The American Psychological Association has informed the U.S. government that it will no longer take part in torture, or “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Furthermore, the APA warns, if individual psychologists choose to be involved with the torture of detainees, they may face sanctions up to and including loss of license to practice.

This follows a civil suit by the ACLU against two psychologists whom the CIA recruited for interrogation of prisoners. The ACLU’s suit alleges that James Mitchell and John Jessen convinced the agency to implement torture and human experimentation outside all legal boundaries.

A series of actions that the U.S. Government calls “enhanced interrogation techniques” were designed, the ACLU says, to:

“…psychologically [destroy prisoners] through the infliction of severe mental and physical pain and suffering.”

The ACLU is bringing the suit on behalf of three plaintiffs, Suleiman Abdullah Salim, Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud, and the estate of Gul Rahman. The lawsuit alleges that Rahman died due to the torture he faced.

ACLU's plaintiffs in torture ('enhanced interrogation techniques') case. [Image via ACLU]Citing the CIA’s report on the interrogation techniques, which the ACLU initially requested in 2013, the ACLU says the prisoners were subjected to forced nudity, starvation, water dousing, and prolonged sleep deprivation, among other practices of psychological and physical abuse and torture.

Widney Brown, director of the group Physicians for Human Rights, spoke to Democracy Now about the decision to bar psychologists from participating in torture techniques as an interrogation tactic.

Essentially, the APA has voted to restore its previous ethics policy, which Brown says was actually weakened intentionally to permit psychologists to participate in interrogation by torture. They’ve addressed the White House and other Federal officials to apprise them of new (or restored) ethical standards on interrogation and torture.

Brown also notes how this will help protect psychologists, by giving government agencies a clear and specific standard saying that practitioners should not be asked to participate in interrogation by torture, and that any currently involved in such programs should be released from these duties.

Specifically, he cited a case where a nurse who refused to participate in force-feeding at Guantanamo Bay (pictured below) was threatened with court-martial. The new ethical standards would offer protection to a practitioner who found himself torn between an order to participate in torture and an oath that prohibits doing harm.

Lawsuit alleges torture in 'enhanced interrogation techniques' [Photo by John Moore/Getty Images]While the changes may be in part to protect psychologists from feeling forced to participate in torture or questionable interrogation techniques, the possible implications for those who might choose to be a part of such a program are still quite serious. Brown says a psychologist found to be involved in torture could be challenged by the American Psychological Association’s ethics board, and could lose his or her license to practice.

The ACLU has been collecting data on torture and interrogation programs over the past six years on a separate site called The Torture Report, where a collection of documents and narratives describes ethical issues with interrogation techniques and human rights violations the ACLU says have gone on since shortly after 9/11/2001.

The second chapter posted on this site includes accounts of the interrogation techniques used, with statements from prisoners themselves, President George W. Bush, government agents, and medical professionals.

One such prisoner tells of having a towel tied around his neck, and used as a sling to throw him around a room, of being confined in a small box, and of being strapped to a chair, naked, in an extremely cold room with loud music playing to prevent him from sleeping, while being allowed no solid food for a period of time he thinks may have been weeks.

One agent describes reporting torture and believing that the chain of command would ensure it ended. Further, another reports that these interrogation techniques actually shut down one prisoner who had, before, been giving information. At one point, the prisoner is said to have been waterboarded 82 times in one month, before the interrogation team concluded that he was not keeping back any further information.

The ACLU’s civil suit against Mitchell and Jessen will move forward, but the American Psychological Association hopes to prevent the involvement of psychologists in torture or “enhanced interrogation techniques” in the future.

[Photo by John Moore/Getty Images]