Veterans: Do Not Send Military Psychologists Back to Gitmo

Veterans Advise APA to Resist Pressure and Maintain Their Ethical Stand

Posted Jul 31, 2018

Veterans:  Do Not Send Military Psychologists back to Guantanamo

     The American Psychological Association's continued failure to take the steps required for healing from psychologists' role in the Bush-era torture scandal have led to grave consequences. One consequence is that APA is now encouraging undoing of the steps it took to prevent a repeat of its tacit approval of indefensible actions in indefensible settings such as the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp. APA is encouraging undoing these steps, despite the fact that, just three years ago, the governing body, representing the membership, voted nearly unanimously to put them into effect, and despite the fact that the current Commander in Chief has advocated a return to torture, wrongly believing in its effectiveness.  

     APA's governing body is both encouraged and faced with thinly veiled warnings by proponents of New Business Item 35B, which would undo a critically important element of its 2015 member supported stance. Advocates for the division of military psychology are implying, in a disingenuous manner, that if APA does not send military psychologists back to Guantanamo, it would be denying treatment to detainees, and would be party to violating the Geneva Conventions. Neither of these is true. (For factual answers to frequently asked questions about the misleading statements being made in support of sending military psychologists back to Guantanamo, see

     Moreover, it is the explicit and publicly stated intention of the military psychology division not only to have military psychologists provide treatment, but to have them return to the role of supporting interrogations—exactly the roles that APA was worried about because, interrogations at such sites have included torture.  I quote here from the December 2017 Division 19 Newsletter.

     APA policy prohibiting psychologists from being present or supporting any national security or defense-related interrogation or detention operation is inappropriate and demonstrates a troubling overreach of authorities by the association…We welcome those who would support the return of these services…

     While supporters of the military division in APA advocate for a return of military psychologists to Guantanamo, many veterans, including members of a prominent veterans’ group, disagree.

    Monisha Rios, MSW, a service-disabled Army veteran, Veterans For Peace National Board Member, and upcoming research psychologist whose work is focused on the impacts of militarized and weaponized psychology, says “Members of Veterans For Peace, ‘a global organization of Military veterans and allies’ are keeping an increasingly close eye on military psychology and the APA’s historically profitable relationship with war.  The U.S.-based group, founded in 1985, consists of more than 140 national and international chapters whose statement of purpose speaks to a ‘greater responsibility to serve the cause of world peace’ with an expressed ‘obligation to heal the wounds of wars.’  We fulfill this obligation by increasing ‘public awareness of the causes and costs of war’ and seeking ‘justice for veterans and victims of war.’” (Quotes from

According to Rios,  

"Military psychology is a double-edged sword. Like any narrative about the U.S. military and war, the stories told about military psychology are most often centered on the ‘glory’ and ‘honor’ of its ‘service’.  Yet these narratives exclude the lived realities of Others whose lives are adversely affected by the spectrum of military psychology’s applications in global society.  These exclusions, intentional or otherwise, prohibit healing and perpetuate harm across the board.  That includes harm to U.S. veterans and active duty personnel as well as those prescribed as enemies and everyone in between - even to military psychologists - who are not immune to moral injury. We have to get real about the roles U.S. psychologists have played in all U.S. involved wars since 1917 and not overlook the other than honorable impacts our profession has on the world.  Then we can look at how we work together to heal those wounds." 

     Board Certified Psychologist and Army war veteran Dr. Harold Hall, Director of the Pacific Institute for the Study of Conflict and Aggression, also disagrees with APA’s movements to undo its 2015 decisions. Following are excerpts from messages written by Hall to a member of the Council of Representatives, the governing body of APA, Hall wrote

     “Under no circumstances should military psychologists do "therapy", or any kind of intervention however named with Guantanamo detainees (or at any other military detainment facility where detainees have been tortured and/or exposed to UN-defined -CIDT). Allowing military psychologists to treat detainees at GITMO will open the floodgates for the military and intelligence agencies to reinstate torture globally, anywhere at any time. We should fight this tooth and nail. The reasons offered by Div 48 members and the ban against allowing military psychologists to treat detainees at GITMO are valid. It is common sense that you can't do genuine therapy in a torture chamber. Further, the replicated empirical literature shows context of intervention greatly matters, and that aversive contexts of intervention degrades accuracy, effectiveness and the psychological integrity of both intervener and those intervened upon. We as a data based profession should use data based, empirically supported arguments to uphold our views.” 


“Realistically, it is the rare person on active duty, even bright, knowledgeable PhDs in psychology, all commissioned officers, who will defy orders and other pressures from command, regardless of written policy. I also firmly believe that 35B, for the many reasons expressed in this message and by many well-meaning, ethical and thoughtful APA psychologists, is a giant step backwards in morality and, in the long run, is actually contrary to our national interests as a free democracy.”  

     And just across the bay from the Moscone Center, where psychologists will decide whether to undo their historic 2015 decision, the East Bay Chapter of Veterans For Peace are also chagrined by the possibility that military psychologists will return to Guantanamo and other sites where torture has taken place. Following is an excerpt from an open letter to the American Psychological Association from East Bay Veterans For Peace, prepared on behalf of the group by chapter president Dr. Eugene Ruyle, Marine Veteran and Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at California State University, Long Beach.

 Our East Bay Chapter of Veterans for Peace was distressed to learn that the APA is planning to lift its 2015 ban on “any involvement by psychologists in national security interrogations conducted by the United States government.” (NY Times, Aug. 7, 2015), and authorized me, as President, to send this statement on behalf of our Chapter.

  We understand that some of your members who work for the military may feel that the 2015 ban “is inappropriate and demonstrates a troubling overreach of authorities by the association.” We remind them that it is not just the APA than bans torture but the entire human community as expressed in both international and U.S. law. These activities are not only immoral and unethical, but illegal and may expose your members to criminal prosecution.

At APA's annual convention in San Francisco next week, a convention that names the United States Army among its sponsors, the governing body will make the key decision, while many, including veterans, are watching.