Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Against the participation of psychologists in torture


A Call for Annulment of APA’s PENS Report

Over the decade since the horrendous attacks of 9/11, the world has been shocked by the specter of abusive interrogations and the torture of national security prisoners by agents of the United States government. Although psychologists in the U.S. have made significant contributions to societal welfare on many fronts during this period, the profession tragically has also witnessed psychologists acting as planners, consultants, researchers, and overseers to these abusive interrogations. Moreover, in the guise of keeping interrogations “safe, legal, ethical and effective," psychologists were used to provide legal protection for otherwise illegal treatment of prisoners.

The American Psychological Association’s (APA) 2005 Report of the Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security (the PENS Report) is the defining document endorsing psychologists’ engagement in detainee interrogations. Despite evidence that psychologists were involved in abusive interrogations, the PENS Task Force concluded that psychologists play a critical role in keeping interrogations “safe, legal, ethical and effective.” With this stance, the APA, the largest association of psychologists worldwide, became the sole major professional healthcare organization to support practices contrary to the international human rights standards that ought to be the benchmark against which professional codes of ethics are judged.

The PENS Report remains highly influential today. Negating efforts by APA members to limit the damages – including passage of an unprecedented member-initiated referendum in 2008 – the Department of Defense continues to disseminate the PENS Report in its instructions to psychologists involved in intelligence operations. The Report also has been adopted, at least informally, as the foundational ethics document for “operational psychology” as an area of specialization involving psychologists in counterintelligence and counterterrorism operations. And the PENS Report is repeatedly cited as a resource for ethical decision-making in the APA Ethics Committee’s new National Security Commentary, a “casebook” for which the APA is currently soliciting feedback.

Equally troubling, the PENS Report was the result of institutional processes that were illegitimate, inconsistent with APA’s own standards, and far outside the norms of transparency, independence, diversity, and deliberation for similar task forces established by professional associations. Deeply problematic aspects include the inherent bias in the Task Force membership (e.g., six of the nine voting members were on the payroll of the U.S. military and/or intelligence agencies, with five having served in chains of command accused of prisoner abuses); significant conflicts of interest (e.g., unacknowledged participants included the spouse of a Guantánamo intelligence psychologist and several high-level lobbyists for Department of Defense and CIA funding for psychologists); irregularities in the report approval process (e.g., the Board’s use of emergency powers that preempted standard review mechanisms); and unwarranted secrecy associated with the Report (e.g., unusual prohibitions on Task Force members’ freedom to discuss the Report). These realities point to the impossibility and inadequacy of merely updating or correcting deficiencies in the PENS Report.

We the undersigned organizations and individuals – health professionals, social scientists, social justice and human rights scholars and activists, and concerned military and intelligence professionals – therefore declare that the PENS Report is illegitimate. We call upon the American Psychological Association to take immediate steps to annul the PENS Report.  At the same time, in our own efforts, we aim to make the illegitimacy of the PENS Report more broadly known within our communities.


(Visit www.ethicalpsychology.org/pens to add your signature)

Organizational Signers

Coalition for an Ethical Psychology
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
Center for Constitutional Rights
Center for Justice and Accountability
Defence for Children International – Palestine Section
Division 32, Society for Humanistic Psychology, American Psychological Association
Executive Committee of the Society for Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology (APA Division 24)
International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School
Massachusetts Campaign Against Torture
National Religious Campaign Against Torture
Network of Spiritual Progressives
New York Campaign Against Torture
Physicians for Human Rights
Program for Torture Victims
Psychoactive – Mental Health Professionals for Human Rights, Israel
Psychologists for Social Responsibility
Veterans for Peace
Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity

Individual Signers

Note: Affiliations that appear below are for identification purposes only

Roy Eidelson, PhD, Past President, Psychologists for Social Responsibility; Associate Director, Solomon Asch Center for Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict, Bryn Mawr College

Jean Maria Arrigo, PhD, APA PENS Task Force Member, Project on Ethics and Art in Testimony

Michael Wessells, PhD, APA PENS Task Force Member, Professor of Clinical Population and Family Health, Columbia University

Stephen Soldz, PhD, Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis; Past President, Psychologists for Social Responsibility

Steven Reisner, PhD, Candidate for APA President; Clinical Assistant Professor, NYU Medical School; Faculty and Supervisor, International Trauma Studies Program, New York City

Brad Olson, PhD, President-Elect, Psychologists for Social Responsibility, National Louis University, Chicago, IL

Bryant Welch, PhD, Program Director and Professor of Psychology, California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco, CA

Trudy Bond, PhD, Independent Psychologist; Steering Committee, Psychologists for Social Responsibility

Philip Zimbardo, President, American Psychological Association (2002); Professor Emeritus, Department of Psychology, Stanford University

Stephen N. Xenakis, MD, Brigadier General (Ret), U.S. Army

Nathaniel A. Raymond, Former Director of the Campaign Against Torture at Physicians for Human Rights

Leonard Rubenstein, Senior Scholar, Center for Public Health and Human Rights, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health

Noam Chomsky, Institute Professor (ret.), Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Robert Jay Lifton, Lecturer in Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School/Cambridge Health Alliance; Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Psychology, The City University of New York

Manfred Nowak, Professor for International Law and Human Rights, University of Vienna; Director, Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Human Rights

David Remes, Appeal for Justice; Guantánamo habeas attorney since 2004

Gerald Gray, LCSW, Co-Director, Institute for Redress & Recovery, Santa Clara University School of Law

Morton Deutsch, Past President, APA Divisions 8 (Society for Personality and Social Psychology), 9 (Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues), and 48 (Peace Psychology); Professor Emeritus, Psychology and Education, Teachers College, Columbia University

Nora Sveaass, UN Committee Against Torture; Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Oslo, Norway

Daniel Ellsberg, PhD, Economics (Harvard 1962), Senior Fellow, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, Director Truth-Telling Project, Kensington CA

Herbert C. Kelman, PhD, Cabot Professor of Social Ethics, Emeritus, Harvard University; Past President, APA Divisions 8 (Society for Personality and Social Psychology) and 9 (Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues); past member, APA Board of Directors, Board of Social and Ethical Responsibility, and Ethics Committee; Cambridge, Massachusetts

Steven H. Miles, MD, Professor of Medicine and Bioethics, University of Minnesota

Udo Schuklenk, PhD Ontario Research Chair in Bioethics, Queen's University, Kingston, Canada

George Hunsinger, Professor of Systematic Theology, Princeton Theological Seminary

Vincent Iacopino, MD, PhD, Senior Medical Advisor, Physicians for Human Rights; Adjunct Professor of Medicine, University of Minnesota Medical School; Senior Research Fellow, Human Rights Center, University of California, Berkeley

David DeBatto, former US Army Counterintelligence Special Agent and Iraq war veteran

Buz Eisenberg, Chair, International Justice Network; Attorney for Guantánamo detainees since 2005

Michael Ratner, President Emeritus, Center for Constitutional Rights

Vince Warren, Executive Director, Center for Constitutional Rights

Susan Opotow, Past President, APA Division 9 (Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues); Professor, City University of New York

Richard Wagner, Past President, APA Division 48 (Peace Psychology); Professor Emeritus, Bates College

Marc Pilisuk, Past President, APA Division 48 (Peace Psychology); Professor Emeritus, University of California; Professor, Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center

Ethel Tobach, PhD, Past President, APA Division 48 (Peace Psychology); American Museum of Natural History, New York

Joseph de Rivera, Past President, APA Division 48 (Peace Psychology); Research Professor, Clark University

Marybeth Shinn, PhD, Professor, Vanderbilt University, Nashville TN

James Coyne, PhD, Director, Behavioral Oncology Program, Abramson Cancer Center and Professor of Psychology, Department of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

Luisa Saffiotti, PhD, President, Psychologists for Social Responsibility

Jancis Long, PhD, Past President, Psychologists for Social Responsibility

Frank Summers, PhD, President-Elect (as of January 2012), APA Division 39 (Psychoanalysis); Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and the Behavioral Sciences, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University

Alice Shaw, PhD, President, Section IX, APA Division 39 (Psychoanalysis for Social Responsibility)

Jules Lobel, President, Center for Constitutional Rights; Bessie McKee Walthour Endowed Chair Professor of Law, University of Pittsburgh Law School

Bernice Lott, Professor Emerita of Psychology and Women’s Studies, University of Rhode Island

Ruth Fallenbaum, WithholdAPADues Steering Committee

Dan Aalbers, WithholdAPADues Steering Committee

Anthony Marsella, Past President, Psychologists for Social Responsibility; Emeritus Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Hawaii

Ghislaine Boulanger, PhD, WithholdAPADues Steering Committee

Jean L. Hill, PhD, President-Elect, APA Division 27 (Society for Community Research and Action); Professor of Psychology, New Mexico Highlands University

Joseph Margulies, Attorney, MacArthur Justice Center, Clinical Professor, Northwestern Law School

Martha Davis, PhD, Visiting Scholar (ret.), John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York

Kristine Huskey, Director, Anti-Torture Program, Physicians for Human Rights; Guantanamo detainee habeas counsel (2002-2011)

Scott Horton, Columbia University School of Law

William P. Quigley, Professor of Law, Loyola University New Orleans

Rabbi Michael Lerner, Editor, Tikkun Magazine; Executive Director, The Institute for Labor and Mental Health

Scott Allen, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, School of Medicine, University of California, Riverside

M. Brinton Lykes, PhD, Professor of Community-Cultural Psychology, Boston College; Co-Founder, Ignacio Martin-Baro Fund for Mental Health and Human Rights

David Luban, University Professor in Law and Philosophy, Georgetown University

Jeffrey S. Kaye, PhD, Clinician, Survivors International, San Francisco

Sibel Edmonds, Founder & Director, National Security Whistleblowers Coalition (NSWBC)

David Sloan-Rossiter, Boston Institute for Psychotherapy; Massachusetts Institute for Psychoanalysis

Stephen R. Shalom, Department of Political Science, William Paterson University

Andrea Cousins, PhD, PsyD, Massachusetts Campaign Against Torture (MACAT), Northampton, MA

Lynne Layton, PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychology, Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School

Deborah Popowski, Clinical Instructor, International Human Rights Clinic; Lecturer on Law, Harvard Law School

Shara Sand, PsyD, Assistant Professor, LaGuardia Community College; Past Chair, Divisions for Social Justice, American Psychological Association; Past President, Division of Social Justice, New York State Psychological Association

Jose Quiroga, MD, Co-founder and Medical Director, Program for Torture Victims

Ana Deutsch, MFT, Co-founder and Clinical Director, Program for Torture Victims

Coleen Rowley, retired FBI agent and former Minneapolis FBI Legal Counsel

Donald Bersoff, PhD, J.D., Earle Mack School of Law, Candidate for APA President, Radnor

Michelle Fine, PhD, Distinguished Professor of Psychology, The Graduate Center, Montclair

Dan Christie, PhD, Past President, Div 48 (peace psychology); Past President, Psychologists for Social Responsibility; Prof Emeritus, Ohio State University, USA, Delaware, Ohio

Paul Kimmel, PhD, Past President of APA Division 48 (Peace Psychology) and Psychologists for Social Responsibility, Saybrook University, Panama City Panama

Lisa Hajjar, Associate Professor of Sociology, UC Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara CA

Uwe Jacobs, PhD, CA

Tom Hayden, Peace and Justice Resource Center, Culver City, CA

Eduardo Diaz, PhD, Past President-APA Division 48 (Peace Psychology), Miami-Dade County Florida

Dan Mayton, PhD, Professor of Psychology, Lewis-Clark State College, Lewiston Idaho

Karen Hollis, PhD, President, APA Division 3 (Experimental Psychology); Past President, APA Division 6 (Behavioral Neuroscience and Comparative Psychology), Granby MA

Kwang-Kuo Hwang, Ph.D., Psychology, National Chair Professor, National Taiwan University; President, International Association of Indigenous and Cultural, Taipei Taiwan

Maureen O'Connor, PhD Psychology; JD, Professor, City University of New York, Brooklyn NY

Corann Okorodudu, Professor of Psychology & Africana Studies, West Deptford New Jersey



Hector Betancourt, PhD, Past President, APA Division 48, Peace Psychology, Professor of Psychology, Loma Linda University, Loma Linda California



James Lamiell, PhD, Professor of Psychology, Dept. of Psychology, Georgetown University, Oakton Virginia



Joan Chrisler, PhD, Connecticut College, Milford CT

Jonathan Hafetz, JD, Seton Hall University School of Law, Brooklyn, New York

Are churches responsible for bad consequences if their believers take their guidance seriously?


It happens all the time. Religious groups (call them churches, cults or whatever rocks your boat), busily marketing their superior wares, sometimes resort to suggestions along the lines that if their followers pray hard enough their ailments will be healed, without any need for medical interventions. There are plenty of examples of this, both with regard to religious groups in the West as well as with regard to cults like Falun Gong in the East or charismatic churches in Africa. To give you just two recent examples. I was recently in China, visiting both the Chinese as well as the Shanghai Academy of the Social Sciences, as well as community groups agitating against Falun Gong in the country. 

Falun Gong in China
Falun Gong is a nasty, racist, homophobic and misogynist cult that has successfully misled some of its adherents to not seek medical care and instead focus on its exercise regime as a means to fight illness. I met a man in Shanghai who told the story of how his family fell apart, his wife (like him and his daughter Falun Gong adherents) did not seek care for her cancer and died eventually. The woman believed that following the Falun Gong guru's teachings would translate into her being cured (without having to seek expensive medical care). The Chinese authorities have outlawed Falun Gong because they consider the organisation a destructive cult. Us Westerners get of course all flustered about this, because we believe that religious freedom is of greater importance than preventing the harm caused by these groups. 

Synagoge Church of all Nations in Britain
In East London the evangelical Synagoge Church of all Nations reportedly promises its followers miracle healing. As a result of this several people with HIV infection chose to stop taking HIV medication. At least three reportedly have died as a result of this choice. The BBC reports that a growing number of evangelical churches in the UK is making wild healing promises (no big surprise, they're outcompeting each other on this front in order to attract followers). Unlike Falun Gong in China, the Synagoge Church of all Nations as well as others like it may continues its practices unhindered in Britain and other Western countries, and more people will predictably die. 

I think it is reasonable to ask why religious freedom is somehow valued higher than other convictions (of an ideological kind) in the West. If a complementary medicine company made such false healing claims for its products, it obviously could not hide behind the religious freedom mantra, hence state authorities in the West would prosecute the company for making demonstrably false claims resulting into harm. I do wonder why there is this special dispensation in the context of religious belief, at least when this belief is uncontroversially harmful (as is the case in the context of miracle healings). 

Should groups who make such claims not be forced to provide evidence in support of their claims, and lacking that evidence should they not be prevented from making such claims? Why is the religious freedom mantra seen to be a more significant societal value than harm prevention? Most of the liberal reasons for permitting such religious groups to spread their deadly teachings are unsound. Just think of John Stuart Mill's famous justifications for permitting such ideologies to be spread without hindrance: 1)  we better be careful with censorship as they might be right after all - in this context surely an implausible proposition; 2) society can learn from debating their erroneous ways by getting a better understanding of why they're wrong, hence we are better off letting them continue to spread their views - what exactly are we learning in the case under consideration other than that poorly educated, vulnerable people tend to fall for such deadly quacks, no surprise in that; 3) people grow as persons if permitted to follow their eccentricities - in our case there's little growth as people die as a result of bad choices they make based on religious propaganda. Much of Mill's case seems based on all sides involved in freedom of expression cases having a serious (of sometimes faulty) case, ie that at least they believe what they say. This is a somewhat doubtful proposition in the case of money grabbing cults, they're in it for revenue generation and gains in political influence. If they were genuinely concerned about their members well-being they'd stop peddling lies about the benefits associated with following the cult rules, given that all the available empirical evidence points against their case..

I am not suggesting here that the Chinese answer to the problem of destructive cults is perfect compared to what we have in the West, but at least there is some recognition that harmful propaganda must be confronted and cannot be led go unanswered by the state under the guise of protecting religious freedom. Surely people's well-being must come first. Well, truth be told, I am ambivalent about this matter. Any comments are very much welcome.