UPDATING through August (with more URLS, references to be added in post itself and/or under Comments)
Toward encouraging psychologists and lay people to support this effort:
"The positive side to the story is that people like Reisner and Arrigo, and many others, are continuing to keep the pressure on the APA for long delayed reform"
August 13th, 2009
UN Special Rapporteur on Torture on Torture Calls on American Psychological Association to Withdraw Psychologists from Guantánamo Detention Camp
During last week’s American Psychological Association convention in Toronto, the APA’s President James Bray received a letter from the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak. The letter declared that, in Dr. Nowak’s professional opinion, the Guantanamo detention facility is still in violation of international law. It therefore asked the APA to follow its own policy, as expressed in a member-passed referendum last September, and request removal of psychologists from Guantanamo. It further asked the APA to remove its infamous standard 1.02, which built the Nuremberg “just following orders” Defense into the APA’s ethics code.
Here is a Press Release issued Saturday by the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology, of which I’m a member. The Press Release is followed by Nowak’s letter:
United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture Calls on American Psychological Association to Withdraw Psychologists from Guantánamo Detention Camp
Coalition for an Ethical Psychology demands APA comply with international law, medical ethics and its own policy prohibiting participation in human rights violations
August 8, 2009, Toronto — In a letter to the American Psychological Association, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak, warns that psychologists’ continued presence at Guantánamo Bay and similar detention settings violates international law, medical ethics, and APA’s own policy on psychologists and human rights. Dr. Nowak’s letter, issued during the association’s annual convention in Toronto, calls for both the removal of psychologists from those settings and for changes in the APA ethics code, which currently allows psychologists to follow military orders even if these conflict with medical ethics or human rights.
In 2008 the APA membership overwhelmingly approved a referendum prohibiting psychologists from working at sites that violate international law, specifically referencing the standards of the United Nations. In the wake of the letter from the UN Rapporteur, the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology echoed Dr. Nowak’s call for APA leadership to immediately implement the member-ratified policy.
“Given the crisis arising from Nowak’s findings, the APA leadership must act immediately to implement the members’ wishes as expressed in the referendum and call for the removal of psychologists from Guantánamo and other settings which remain outside of international law. Otherwise the APA and the profession of psychology risk further damage,” stated Stephen Soldz, co-founder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology and President-elect of Psychologists for Social Responsibility.
In his letter, Nowak states clearly that, by UN standards, “the overall conditions of detention at Guantanamo Bay continue to be outside of international law.” He goes on to state, “it is incumbent upon the APA to ensure that its standards comport with international law as well as the UN Principles of Medical Ethics [which] require an absolute ethical prohibition of psychologists’ presence or involvement in these operations.” As an accredited non-governmental organization at the United Nations, the APA is mandated to uphold United Nations standards; otherwise that status may be jeopardized.
Nowak’s letter comes in response to APA’s continued failure to prohibit psychologists’ participation in detainee interrogations and conditions, even after recently released Justice Department memos, Senate and Defense Department reports have confirmed that psychologists played crucial roles in helping to design, implement, and provide training for the Bush administration program of detainee abuse and torture.
“Even today, long after the end of the Bush administration, detainees continue to be held in abusive conditions and psychologists continue to lend their expertise to legitimize these abuses,” said Steven Reisner, advisor on Psychological Ethics for Physicians for Human Rights and a co-founder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology. “It is time to investigate and hold to account both the psychologists who devised and implemented the Bush administration programs of abuse and torture, and the APA for continued support of these psychologists, even after their essential role in the torture program was exposed.”
The Coalition further calls upon the APA to inform psychologists serving at Guantanamo and Bagram Air Base that they are serving in violation of APA policy.
As Nowak stated in his letter:
“Every day that you delay the referendum is another day where psychologists are, by their presence and participation in these operations, acquiescing in human rights violations. Following the APA’s own policy, on the other hand, would send a message that the health professionals maintain the highest ethical standards, refuse to participate in such violations, and do their part, with the support of their professional leadership, to bring these abuses and violations to an end.”
The Coalition for an Ethical Psychology is an organization committed to putting psychology on firm ethical foundation. It has been at the forefront of the efforts to change APA’s policies regarding detainee abuse.
Here is Nowak’s letter:
Dear President Bray,
In 2007, the American Psychological Association’s Council of Representatives passed a ‘Resolution against Torture, Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment.’ That resolution states:
[T]he American Psychological Association is an accredited non-governmental organization at the United Nations and so is committed to promote and protect human rights in accordance with the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights…[and] consistent with international human rights instruments, as well as guidelines developed for health professionals, including but not limited to: Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions; The United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; The United Nations Principles of Medical Ethics Relevant to the Role of Health Personnel, particularly Physicians, in the Protection of Prisoners and Detainees against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; and The World Medical Association Declaration of Tokyo: Guidelines for Physicians Concerning Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in Relation to Detention and Imprisonment.
This was followed by a referendum passed overwhelmingly by the APA membership and approved as APA policy by Council in February 2009. The referendum states, in part:
Whereas the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Mental Health and the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture have determined that treatment equivalent to torture has been taking place at the United States Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba….Be it resolved that psychologists may not work in settings where persons are held outside of, or in violation of, either International Law (e.g., the UN Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions) or the US Constitution (where appropriate), unless they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights.
Clearly, the APA takes its obligations as an accredited NGO at the United Nations and its responsibilities to follow international instruments regarding the treatment of detainees and the ethical guidelines for health professionals seriously.
This is why I am writing to you now – to inform you that I consider the very fact that detainees have been and still are kept at Guantanamo Bay detention facilities, to constitute arbitrary detention and, therefore a violation of Article 9 ICCPR. It is definitely good news that these facilities are going to be closed at the latest by January 2010, and that the conditions of detention have certainly improved. Nevertheless, force feeding of hunger strikers with cruel methods is continuing, and I am very concerned about the mental conditions of some of the long term detainees. Apart from sporadic visits by the ICRC and their lawyers, the detainees have been in total isolation from their families and the outside world for many years, and they are kept in total uncertainty about the length of their detention. Together with the rough physical treatment and past practice of torture I certainly conclude that the overall conditions of detention at Guantanamo Bay constitutes to be “outside, or in violation of, international law”.
Given the now public record of psychologists’ involvement in the design, supervision, implementation, and legitimization of a regime of physical and psychological torture at US military and intelligence facilities, including Guantánamo, it is incumbent upon the APA to ensure that its standards comport with international law as well as the UN Principles of Medical Ethics Relevant to the Role of Health Personnel. These instruments require an absolute ethical prohibition of psychologists’ presence or involvement in these operations.
Thus, in keeping with both the APA’s own policy and relevant international law and ethical guidelines, I request that you do all that is necessary to:
a) invoke the referendum and immediately request that the Obama administration, the Department of Defense, and the US intelligence agencies remove psychologists from Guantánamo and any other sites where international law is being violated or where inspectors are prohibited from assessing that conditions are in compliance with international law.
b) Amend the APA ethics code (standards 1.02 and 1.03) where it permits psychologists to follow domestic law and military orders and regulations even when these conflict with international law, the United Nations Principles of Medical Ethics and the APA’s own ethics code.
Every day that you delay invoking the referendum is another day where psychologists are, by their presence and participation in these operations, acquiescing in human rights violations. Following the APA’s own policy, on the other hand, would send a message that health professionals maintain the highest ethical standards, refuse to participate in such violations, and do their part, with the support of their professional leadership, to bring these abuses and violations to an end.
Univ.-Prof. Dr. Manfred Nowak, LL.M.
Professor for International Human Rights, University of Vienna
Director, Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Human Rights
UN Special Rapporteur on Torture
Freyung 6, 1. Hof, Stiege II.
1010 Wien, Austria
Tel: +43 1 42 77 27 456
Fax: +43 1 42 77 27 429
See also the Center for Constitutional Rights press release on Nowak’s letter.