Thursday, September 11, 2008

Guantanamo prompts psychologists' soul-searching - New Scientist

Guantanamo Bay has become an international symbol for human rights abuse. Now psychologists are trying to decide if it is ethical for them to attend interrogations at the US military base.

Last year the American Psychological Association (APA) reaffirmed its position against cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment (New Scientist, 29 September 2007, p 18). It currently prohibits its members from being involved with torture or abuse. However, members are allowed to participate in military interrogations, provided they don't involve practices such as waterboarding. Psychologists can help interrogators understand detainees and the best way to question them, explains Stephen Behnke, the APA's director of ethics.

Now some APA members are attacking this stance on account of interrogation techniques used at Guantanamo, sometimes overseen by psychologists. Detainees are alleged to have been subjected to sleep deprivation and isolation techniques, practices that the UN Commission on Human Rights classifies as torture. While some APA members argue that psychologists can help make such interrogations more accountable, about 400 others are withholding their membership dues in protest. Protestors dressed in orange overalls also showed up at last week's APA meeting in Boston.

To try to resolve the issue, the APA will soon vote on a resolution that would prohibit members from working in settings where people are held in violation of international law.