Psychologists and the Torture Question
DEPARTMENT No Comment
BY Scott Horton
PUBLISHED August 28, 2007
A few weeks ago, I reported that two major professional organizations-the lawyers (ABA) and the psychologists (APA)-appeared poised to condemn the Bush Administration’s torture policies and to stake out principled positions against their members’ collaboration in these practices. Well they did, sort-of.
The 400,000-member American Bar Association passed a resolution which was unequivocal and very strong in its terms. They condemned President Bush’s July 20, 2007 Executive Order, calling it illegal, and they called on Congress to overturn it through legislation. They even committed their resources to lobbying for Congressional action on the issue. The vote in the House of Delegates was 545 to 1. Rather lopsided.
However, the American Psychological Association took a far more nuanced position. They condemned some of the techniques that Bush authorized as “torture.” That was a step forward. But they turned down a resolution counseling members to refrain from involvement in highly coercive interrogation process, largely on the strength of members associated with the Department of Defense who argued that the presence of psychologists was essential to prohibit abuse. Indeed, Agence France Press captioned its report this way: “US psychologists limit roles in torture of military prisoners”. I think this is far from commentary. AFP got the story just right.