Are the American Psychological Association's Detainee Interrogation Policies Ethical and Effective? Key Claims, Documents, and Results

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Written by Kenneth S. Pope

The journal *Zeitschrift fur Psychologie / Journal of Psychology* will soon publish an article I wrote: “Are the American Psychological Association’s Detainee Interrogation Policies Ethical and Effective? Key Claims, Documents, and Results.”

Here’s how the article begins:

“The devastating events of 9-11 brought a tangle of complex issues, dangerous realities, and hard choices.

To help meet these challenges, the United States began interrogating detainees.

The interrogation settings included the Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq, the Detention Center at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan, and Camps Delta, Iguana, and X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.

The American Psychological Association (APA) played a key role in supporting detainee interrogations and highlighted psychologists’ contributions to this aspect of national security.

For example, APA submitted a statement on psychology and interrogations to the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence explaining that “psychologists have important contributions to make in eliciting information that can be used to prevent violence and protect our nation’s security”; that “conducting an interrogation is inherently a psychological endeavor”; and that “psychology is central to this process” (American Psychological Association, 2007b).

U.S. officials also saw a central role for psychologists: “Pentagon officials said . . . they would try to use only psychologists, not psychiatrists, to help interrogators devise strategies to get information from detainees at places like Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  The new policy follows by little more than two weeks an overwhelming vote by the American Psychiatric Association discouraging its members from participating in those efforts” (Lewis, 2006).

APA promoted support for its interrogation policies in its press releases, its journals, its web site, its Internet lists, its conventions, the APA Monitor on Psychology, and other venues.

This article assumes that the public interest, the profession, and psychological science are best served when we meet the vigorous promotion of policies, claims, and conclusion with equally vigorous critical examination.

Critical thinking about policies, claims, and conclusions is essential no matter how prestigious, authoritative, trusted, or respected the source, or how widely-accepted, strongly held, and seemingly self-evident the policies, claims, and conclusions.

This article’s approach is not to provide a simplified set of supposed answers, preemptive conclusions, or confident certainties.

Its purpose is to highlight key APA policies, procedures, and public statements that seem in urgent need of rethinking and to suggest some questions that may be useful in a serious assessment.”


To read the entire article, click here.