APA Bureaucrats Try to Torpedo Anti-Torture Resolution

( – promoted by undercovercalico)

As Stephen Soldz, one of the supporters of an anti-torture referendum resolution now being mailed out to members of the American Psychological Association, reports:

The APA has launched a strong effort at spin and disinformation regarding the referendum. Unfortunately, some of our colleagues who should support this efforts have also parsed the text in such a way as to perceive a potential threat.

The referendum seems tame enough, stating:

Be it resolved 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 US Constitution (where appropriate), unless they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights.

The Incredible Lightness of Div. 48

A blow to the proponents of the referendum came from Executive Committee of APA’s Division 48, the  (ironically-named) Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict, and Violence. The statement by Division 48 is being passed around on the various APA listservs, as this is a battle largely being fought via e-mail, out of sight of the general public, and even much of APA membership, who may not pay attention to or even be members of the various listservs (which are generally populated by APA bureaucrats, bureaucrat wanna-bes, and members of the politicized opposition).

The EC at Division 48 states the referendum, whose “spirit” it “very much supports”, “lacks clarity,” is “unrealistic”, and “more aspirational than practical.” The meat of their opposition is expressed in a very particular fear:

As written, the petition/referendum also extends beyond psychologists involvement at detention sites for individuals held as “enemy combatants” to all contexts and could result in a prohibition against psychologists work in other environments within the United States (e.g., prisons, hospitals). Could psychologists work at supermax prisons, for example?….

… perhaps more importantly, we have concerns about the treatment of prisoners in U.S. correctional facilities and thus, do not want to take U.S. sites off the table for discussion related to human rights.

The opponents of the referendum have seized upon the apostasy of the Peace division, with APA President-elect James Bray circulating copies of the Division 48 Executive Committee position to other APA divisional listservs. The President of Division 48 has publicly stated that “the referendum in its current form would undermine the vital humanitarian work of many psychologists.”

But the defense of supermax prison jobs, and the concern about U.S. prison conditions rings hollow, being a disingenuous attempt to back institutional concerns in alliance with the Department of Defense and the CIA. In political terms, the coalition between so-called peace psychologists and pro-military types within APA represents a classic rotten bloc.

In one example of the right-wing acrimony whipped up by the threats against psychologist jobs — even jobs attending prisoners held in inhumane long-term isolation and/or indefinite detention — I came across this case of preposterous mock-heroic posturing, posted to a listserv from the division for media and psychology:

The referenced sponsoring coalition would have us turn the USA into a toothless lion in our defense against the deranged terrorists, which have set a fatwa limit of 10-Million innocent casualties per incident.

Defending the Resolution

Meanwhile, the backers of the referendum have released a statement clarifying the intent of the resolution:

Dear APA members:

   As sponsors and supporters of the referendum, we are aware that this is a period given to commentary from those who have introduced the referendum, and that-consistent with APA policy-such commentary will be considered in future policy decisions as valid interpretation of the resolution’s intent. We are also aware that there has been some concern voiced on several listservs that the resolution may have ‘unintended consequences’; namely that it may impact the work of psychologists working in existing U.S. jails, prisons, psychiatric facilities, and hospitals.

   While we believe a reading of the full referendum in its context resolves these concerns, we would like to be sure that there are no misunderstandings on this point. We are therefore using this commentary period to reiterate the application of the petition, its meaning, and intent:

   This referendum is focused on settings such as Guantánamo Bay and the CIA ‘black sites’ set up by the U.S. as part of its ‘global war on terror’; settings where the persons being detained are denied the protections of either constitutional or international law, settings which have been denounced by the United Nations, the Council of Europe, and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

   We are well aware of the harms and legal struggles facing certain prisons and jails inside the domestic U.S. criminal justice system. However, the referendum takes no position on such settings where prisoners have full access to independent counsel and constitutional protections; nor does the referendum take a position on settings that now exist within the domestic mental health system where clients and patients also possess these basic rights.

   For Psychologists for an Ethical APA

   Dan Aalbers

   dan.aalbers@gmail.com

   Ruth Fallenbaum

   ruthfallenbaum@comcast.net

   Brad Olson

   b-olson@northwestern.edu

As Soldz’s piece points out, The Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International has issued a statement in support of the referendum, as has former APA-PENS member Jean Marie Arrigo. Former head of APA’s Practice Directorate, Bryant Welch, has released a statement in support, as well:

This is the third consecutive annual convention in which APA has presented new reasons for refusing to explicitly state that psychologists are not to participate in detention centers where torture is being used. In 2006 we were told, among many things, that torture was not occurring, and that it was sufficient for APA to reiterate its 1986 resolution “opposing torture.” Last year we were told that psychologists’ presence at the detention centers was actually necessary to prevent the torture whose very existence these same APA officials denied the previous year. Bizarrely, APA outlawed nineteen specific forms of torture, as if in some way the large number of proscribed techniques would cripple torture efforts.

As a result, for the first time in APA history, APA rank and file members have secured the necessary signatures to petition the APA and force APA to submit the torture issue to a referendum by the membership.

Persisting in its support for psychologists’ participation in Bush detention centers and appearing insensitive to the moral concerns of its members, APA leaders are now advising APA members to oppose the referendum because the language of the referendum might be interpreted to preclude psychologists working in certain institutional settings. This argument is based on scenarios that are extremely far fetched and could readily be addressed even were they to occur. To the public, of course, the message would be that psychologists are not willing to stop torture now if there is even a remote risk of losing jobs in the future.

Since the Bush Administration will be out of office by the next time APA meets, this will be the last opportunity psychologists will have to remove this terrible stain from our reputation and our history.

Torture is not a nuanced issue. Vote No to torture. Vote YES on the referendum.

The voting will continue for the next month or so. If you know a psychologist, forward this story to them. Have them visit ethicalapa.com. Tell them about the presidential campaign of Steven Reisner, who aims to implement the policies the referendum represents.

APA and the National Security State

I, of course, am under no illusions that the APA will be reformed any time soon. It will be an immense victory to pass the resolution or elect Dr. Reisner. But the APA policy and organizational apparatus is fully intertwined in the governmental spiderweb of military, intelligence, and private consultation and “scientific” organizations, and academia, under the umbrella of serving the national security state. This wide-ranging set of special interests forms an extremely formidable opposition to those who would fundamentally change the policies and personnel responsible for the institution of a world-wide network of secret prisons and institutionalized torture.

But, as the cliche states, every journey must begin with the first steps. And a necessary first step is supporting the referendum being voted on this month at APA, and helping circulate the defense of that referendum as far and widely as you can.

Also posted at Invictus

6 comments

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    • Valtin on August 10, 2008 at 11:34 pm
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    a central battlefield in the struggle against torture shifts to the (virtual) hallways of APA.

    The membership will get a chance to speak. What will they say/do?

  1. what a hit their profession is taking because of their work as accomplices to torture?

  2. vis-a-vis the torture issue.  So much “fancy speak” and where will it all wind up?  I am hoping, but not counting on, some conscience by the APA — or will it, too, be all too reminiscent of our Administration and our Congress?  Since my knowledge of the APA’s members’ activities in Guantanemo and elsewhere, I am concerned about those who engaged in the participation of “torture” activities in the first place — it seems an utter betrayal from what I view as their intended “purpose” — one of healing — to say nothing of the APA’s seeming condonation of those efforts!  

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