With the recent conviction of Jose Padilla (discussed here yesterday) it seems that the topic of psychological torture has been pushed to the forefront. On Sunday, the American Psychological Association decided against prohibiting APA members from taking part in interrogations in U.S. detention centers. According to reports, the measure was up for vote due to alleged participation of psychologists and psychiatrists in improperly questioning detainees.
Having taken part in military interrogations since 2002, it has recently been reported that psychiatrists and psychologists have aided military interrogators by developing techniques which play on the prisoners’ fears in order to obtain information. The APA, in voting against further participation in such questioning, has passed a resolution which prohibits members from playing a part in such future forms of psychological torture and has delineated specific instances of torture which they find to be “ particularly inhumane”.
Proponents of such a ban on any and all participation by APA members in prisoner questioning believe that such refusal to participate in future questioning would send a message of their disapproval of such methods. However, in refusing to pass the proposed measure, the APA relied on the fact that the presence of a psychiatrist or psychologist at such questioning may be the only way to ensure psychological or physical torture does not take place, and in some instances may be the only way to ensure that such questioning does not result in death to the detainees.
While it may be true, as some claim, that such resolutions passed by the APA provide loopholes that may allow psychologists to recommend such methods as sensory deprivation or isolation, total withdrawal by the APA would open the door allowing non-APA members from assisting in interrogation and potentially furthering psychological torture without fear of APA sanctions. By maintaining some involvement, it seems the APA is at least providing some safeguards that their member psychiatrists and psychologists will stay within the parameters set, keep the use of such interrogation methods within these guidelines and report any methods that fall outside these limits.