[News] Mary Pipher Returns Award to Protest APA Torture Stance

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Sun Aug 26 19:48:02 EDT 2007


ZNet | Science

Mary Pipher Returns Award to American Psychological Association to 
Protest Torture Stance
by Stephen Soldz; August 25, 2007

For several years, psychologist members of the American Psychological 
Association (APA) have been fighting to change the APA's policies 
allowing psychologists to participate in interrogations widely 
reported to be abusive. As the association's 2007 Convention opened 
last week, the American Civil Liberties Union 
upon the APA to stop psychologists' participating in abusive interrogations:

"The history of torture is inexorably linked to the misuse of 
scientific and medical knowledge. As we move fully into the 21st 
century, it is no longer enough to denounce or to speak out against 
torture; rather, we must sever the connection between healers and 
tormentors once and for all. As guardians of the mind, psychologists 
are duty bound to promote the humane treatment of all people. We 
strongly urge the APA to adopt the strongest possible stance and 
issue a moratorium on the participation of its members in abusive treatment."

At the convention the APA decisively rejected this call, as well as 
that of hundreds of APA members at a rally and in numerous debates on 
the issue. The APA's Council of Representatives rejected, by an 
approximately 85% to 15% vote, the simple statement that:

"Be it resolved that... the roles of psychologists in settings in 
which detainees are deprived of adequate protection of their human 
rights, should be limited as health personnel to the provision of 
psychological treatment."

As an alternative, the association passed a 
proposed initially by the Board of Directors, declaring use of some 
of the most egregious techniques to be unethical. While the Board 
resolution constituted progress for the APA, the resolution 
unfortunately contained enough caveats and 
many added at the last minute without discussion with moratorium 
supporters, that observers were uncertain whether it condemned the 
CIA's "enhanced interrogation" techniques, as Physicians for Human 
argued, or whether, in fact, it continued abetting the CIA's torture, 
as Salon's 
Benjamin wondered.

While the APA had undoubtedly hoped for a major public relations 
boost from their resolution, putting the controversy behind them, the 
reverse seems to have occurred. Democracy Now! went to San Francisco 
and provided detailed coverage 
and <http://www.democracynow.org/index.pl?issue=20070820>after the 
convention, including the 
claim by association member Jean Maria Arrigo that a key APA ethics 
taskforce on which she served had been covertly controlled by the 
military-intelligence establishment, while Agence France-Presse, 
perhaps tongue in cheek, entitled their report 
psychologists limit roles in torture of military prisoners" and Salon 
entitled Mark Benjamin's convention report 
psychologists still abet torture?"

In the days since the convention ended, the APA has taken another hit 
as the first editorial in a mainstream paper, the 
Chronicle, stated quite clearly, "Psychologists have no place 
assisting interrogations at places such as Guantanamo Bay."

"The worst argument for psychologists' presence at interrogations 
comes from U.S. Army Col. Larry James, director of the psychology 
department of a military medical center," the Chronicle went on to explain.

"'If we lose psychologists from these facilities, people are going to 
die,' he said at the APA meeting. Psychologists, James suggested, can 
rein [in] or report overzealous violators.

"Any interrogation system that teeters so close to atrocities needs 
more than a psychologist. It requires thorough overhaul and specific 
bans of the most extreme methods. The Department of Defense has 
listed such prohibitions. The CIA has not.

"Torturing prisoners doesn't produce reliable data. It does, however, 
violate human rights and strip Americans of the right to protest 
torture of its own men and women. Above all, it blurs our credibility 
as a democracy worth defending.

"No American psychologist should have a part in an interrogation 
system with the potential to devolve into murder. No American should."

An even more dramatic development in the struggle occurred this week 
when psychologist and New York Times bestselling author Mary Pipher 
(author of 
Ophelia among many other books) decided to return her Presidential 
Citation award from the American Psychological Association in 
protest. Here is her letter to APA President Brehm explaining her decision:

August 21, 2007

American Psychological Association,

750 First Street, NE,

Washington, DC 20002-4242

President Brehm:

I am writing to inform you that I am returning my Presidential 
Citation dated 2/02/06 and awarded to me by then President of the 
American Psychological Association, Dr. Gerald Koocher. I have 
struggled for many months with this decision, and I make it with pain 
and sorrow. I was honored to receive this award and proud to be a 
member of APA. Over the years I have spoken at national conventions 
many times and had enjoyed an excellent relationship with the APA and 
its staff. With this letter, I feel as if I am ostracizing a good friend.

I do not want an award from an organization that sanctions its 
members' participation in the enhanced interrogations at CIA Black 
Sites and at Guantanamo. The presence of psychologists has both 
educated the interrogation teams in more skillful methods of breaking 
people down and legitimized the process of torture in defiance of the 
Geneva Conventions.

The behavior of psychologists on these enhanced interrogation teams 
violates our own Code of Ethics (2002) in which we pledge to respect 
the dignity and worth of all people, with special responsibility 
towards the most vulnerable. I consider prisoners in secret CIA-run 
facilities with no right of habeas corpus or access to attorneys, 
family or media to be highly vulnerable. I also believe that when any 
of us are degraded, all of human life is degraded. This letter is as 
much about us as it is about prisoners.

In our Ethics Code we agree to promote honesty and accuracy. Our 
involvement in these projects has been secretive and dishonest. 
Finally, as psychologists we vow to do no harm. Without question, we 
violate this oath when we allow people in our care to be deprived of 
sleep or subjected to sensory over-stimulation or deprivation.

I cannot accept the August 19, 2007 Reaffirmation of APA's Position 
Against Torture (Substitute Motion Three). Under this motion, 
psychologists will be allowed to continue working on interrogation 
teams that are not subject to the Geneva Conventions. This motion 
places our organization on the side of the CIA and Department of 
Defense and at odds with the United Nations, The Red Cross, the 
American Psychiatric Association and the American Medical 
Association. With this reaffirmation we have made a terrible mistake.

I know that the return of my Presidential Citation from Dr. Koocher 
will be of small import, but it is what I can do to disassociate 
myself from what I consider to be a heinous policy. All of my life I 
have tried my best to stand up for those with no voices and no power. 
The prisoners our government labels as enemy combatants are in this category.

I return my citation as a matter of conscience and in the hopes that 
the APA will reconsider its current unethical position. We have long 
been a wonderful organization that respected human rights and 
promoted tolerance, kindness, and peace. Nothing is more fundamental 
to our core orientation and professional service to others than our 
commitment to all people's inherent dignity, safety and welfare. I 
hope my letter may be useful in restoring the APA to its 
long-respected and important stance as a beacon of integrity and 
kindness for all human beings.


Dr. Mary Pipher

The Lincoln Journal Star has an article on Pipher's action: 
returns award in protest in which she explains the origins of the Letter:

"A report on Monday, by 'Democracy Now,' a national, daily, 
independent news program heard in Lincoln on radio station KZUM, set 
Pipher in motion.

"The report said the American Psychological Association's 
policymaking council had voted to reject a resolution at its annual 
convention Sunday that would have banned members from participating 
in interrogations at Guantanamo Bay and other U.S. detention centers 
around the world often referred to as 'black sites.'

"In its place, the council had approved a resolution prohibiting 
psychologists from direct or indirect participation in 19 'unethical' 
interrogation techniques and called on the U.S. government to ban their use.

"The list includes mock executions, simulated drowning or 
suffocation, sexual humiliation, exploitation of phobias, exposure to 
extreme heat or cold and isolation or sleep deprivation 'that 
represents significant pain or suffering, or in a manner that a 
reasonable person would judge to cause lasting harm.'

"The resolution left what Pipher sees as loopholes on such techniques 
as sensory and sleep deprivation, which cause people to fall apart 
very quickly. And it stopped far short of banning psychologists from 
participating in the interrogations of prisoners at the military 
sites, she said.

"The vote upset Pipher, who has worked with victims of torture and 
has seen the lifelong harm it can inflict."

It is to be hoped that other prominent psychologists will join Dr. 
Pipher and hundreds of other psychologists in their efforts to 
restore ethics and integrity to the profession of psychology, and to 
end the US regime of abuse and torture of detainees.

<mailto:ssoldz at bgsp.edu>Stephen Soldz is a psychoanalyst, 
psychologist, public health researcher, and faculty member at the 
<http://www.bgsp.edu/>Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. He is 
one of the founders of the Coalition for an Ethical APA. He maintains 
the <http://psychoanalystsopposewar.org/blog/>Psyche, Science, and 
Society blog, providing extensive coverage of the issue of 
psychologist involvement in interrogations.

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