APA: Do Not Take a "See No Evil" Approach to Torture

APA's governing body is considering undoing its stance against torture.

Posted Apr 22, 2018


In an earlier post I suggested that APA has failed to heal from the torture scandal and that APA should follow the time-honored steps toward recovery required of all entities that have done harm. Those steps are as follows: Take responsibility, apologize to those harmed, make amends, and explain the steps being taken to be sure it never happens again. It is debatable whether APA has taken responsibility for its failures. It appears to me that APA has essentially claimed that there were a few bad actors—mostly ignoring the bad policies and practices that created an environment in which support for torture was able to thrive. APA did not apologize to those most harmed. Indeed, APA claims it has apologized--but it has only apologized to its own members, not to the detainees who were wrongly tortured due to APA's failure to provide ethical and moral leadership. APA has definitely not made amends. APA has taken some steps to be sure it will not happen again, but it is now considering undoing those steps. The organization should have been able to take a stand against undoing steps towards healing and rejected efforts to undo the  policies designed to prevent harm, but evidently it still is not able to do either.

There are now items up for a vote by APA's governing body, the Council of Representatives. The first would have APA undo its stance on removing military psychologists from "Guantánamo Bay detention facility, 'black sites,' vessels in international waters, or sites where detainees are interrogated under foreign jurisdiction 'unless they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights' or providing treatment to military personnel." (text from NBI 23B passed by Council in August, 2015) The governing body is considering pretending that this statement does not mean what it clearly says, and implying that it really means that military psychologists can provide treatment to detainees, while not working directly for the detainees, but working for, and being paid by, the military-security complex. It is blatantly obvious that providing care arranged by the client is quite different from providing care paid for by the entity that sees the client as its enemy.

Perhaps even more consequential for psychologists' relationship with the public, there is an item under consideration that would remove the report regarding APA's failures--a report prepared by an independent reviewer hired by APA-- from APA’s own website. This attempt to "See no Evil" should give us all pause. Psychologists developed, implemented, and oversaw torture. APA failed to provide ethical leadership to stop these actions. This should horrify us all. And in our horror, we should all be demanding that APA take actions to be sure it never happens again--not take actions to bury this history. Instead, our colleagues on the governing body are considering hiding this sordid part of our history That would be an act of cowardice and stupidity. 

APA can begin to heal by taking responsibility for its misdeeds, apologizing, making amends, and seeing to it that it never happens again. Not by pretending it never happened in the first place.

Council, the governing body of APA, should vote NO on Items 35B and 13D.  If it fails to do so, I believe that APA will have shown it cannot differentiate between helping society and threatening society, and, in that case,  its members should vote no-confidence in its leadership.