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Saturday, 18 October 2008 06:41

Clinician's Digest

Written by  Ari Rosenberg
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A Battle for the APA's Soul

By Garry Cooper

As the controversy has grown about waterboarding and other "enhanced interrogation" techniques used with suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay and other secret prisons around the world, the role of psychologists in these practices has also become the focus of intense debate. At its annual convention this summer in San Francisco, the American Psychological Association (APA) specifically proscribed its members from assisting directly in more than 20 kinds of interrogation procedures, including those involving prolonged isolation, sensory deprivation, and sensory assaults. It also reaffirmed the duty of psychologists at these facilities to report any abuses they witness and threatened sanctions against psychologists who fail to do so. Nevertheless many critics continue to insist that APA hasn't gone far enough.

Specifically they've urged the APA to follow the lead of the American Psychiatric and American Medical associations, which have forbidden their members from associating even indirectly in the enhanced interrogations of suspected terrorists. Among the most recent higher-profile protestors of the APA's policies are psychologist and bestselling author Mary Pipher, who's returned her 2006 APA Presidential Citation. Marybeth Shinn, past president of two APA divisions, and Uwe Jacobs, clinical director of Survivors International, have publicly resigned from the organization. In addition, six college and university psychology departments have formally called for the APA to strengthen its prohibition, and more than 220 members of the organization have pledged to withhold their dues in protest. These protests have been accompanied by a wave of negative media coverage, including articles in Harpers, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Education, the New Scientist, and the online version of Newsweek.

The APA continues to insist that psychologists can play a vital role in helping interrogators control their excesses. Without psychologists to report abuses, the organization maintains, the detainees would truly be left alone, subject to their interrogators' frustration and sadism.

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