Friday, July 27, 2012

Psychologists, Ethics and Torture

Below is a live tweet record by @BrandonHamber of the panel discussion at the International Congress of Psychology 2012 in Cape Town.

The panel began with the screening of Doctors of the Dark Side followed by a discussion on the ethical issues facing psychologists given the controversy about psychologists involved in interrogations at Guantanamo Bay, and the American Psychological Association (APA) stance on the issue.

On the panel Leslie London (South Africa), Stephen Behnke (APA Ethics), Paul Kimmel (USA), Mike Wessells (APA), Chair: Umesh Bawa (South Africa) and moderator Norman Duncan (South Africa)

@BrandonHamber Tweet Record 27 July 2012

Just watched Doctors of the Dark Side. Films about role of physicians and psychologists in detainee torture #icp2102

There is now a panel discussion on the issue of torture and psychologists role in allowing it to happen #icp2012

Leslie London speaking first from South Africa #icp2012

London notes the failure of accountability is striking for psychologists who oversaw torture in Guantanamo Bay #icp2012

Failure to hold health professionals accountable will result in abuses in the future says London #icp2012

London says at least 29 doctors reported for involvement in apartheid, only one ever investigate #icp2012

Cannot have ethics without human rights says Leslie London #icp2012

Stephen Behnke adresses accountability from APA perspective. Says we cannot do anything about non APA members #icp2012

Stephen Behnke is the Director, APA Ethics Office #icp2012

Behnke says organisations have a responsibility to offer support to psychologists in these difficult positions #icp2012

APA made a list in 2007 of practices that are forbidden including water boarding. APA took to long to do that says Behnke #icp2012

When to know when to pull out of a situation or not is a difficult issue says Behnke #icp2012

Behnke uses the death penalty as an example. It is legal in US, APA has intervened to prevent it in some cases #icp2012

But it is difficult to know if we should pull out entirely or if we should have intervened in some cases says Behnke #icp2012

Discussion very polite so far, does not capture the massive tensions in the APA there have been over the years on this issue #ico2012

Mike Wessells former Director of Psychologists for Social Responsibility now talking #icp2012

Wessells says we need to think systemically because torture is an issue that is still not over, there are systemic pressures #icp2012

After 9/11 in US a distortion of issues and psychologists were not immune from the images and manipulation of Bush administration #icp2012

George Bush distorted the nature of law about torture #icp2012

No laws should throw out human rights says Wessells. Human rights standards have to be above national law #icp2012

Wessells says we need support for whistleblowers and accountability #icp2012

Torture does not happen because of bad apples, systemic and enabling factors need to be addressed says Wessells #icp2012

A coalition of all psychology associations is needed that rises above our own membership and offer moral guidance says Wessells #icp2012

It was unethical for psychologists to be at Guatanamo Bay because it was decreed beyond international standards says Wessells #icp2012

Floor getting heated, someone saying that surely we should have just been out of this altogether #icp2012

Another person from the floor asks if the APA should apologise for any of its actions #icp2012

Nora Soveass from UN Committee of Prevention of Torture raises the issue that convention also talks about prevention #icp2012

If there are no rights in an area, like the ICR not being allowed into a place, we should no be there says Sveaass #icp2012

Behnke now speaking. Says he agrees with Sveaass. There are no exceptional circumstances #icp2012

Behnke says the Bush memos on torture were horrific #icp2012

Behnke says APA was too slow, we took too long. But as we move forward, never again will US psychologist be involved in this #icp2012

Wessells on again says Sveaass reminds us that the specificity of what was happening in Guantanamo was known #icp2012

We need to do an honest retrospective and admit that big mistakes were made, we need a broader vision and not tinkering #icp2012

Another question what is being done to prevent this from happening again #icp2012

Behnke: APA is clear. No torture or involvement in this, and clear psychologists have to report torture if they're aware of issues #icp2012

Behnke says he agrees with Wessells we need to think systemically #icp2012

But Behnke says APA has not agreed about the issue of where we should be or not be, that is more controversial in the organisation #icp2012

Leslie London says international human rights law is our benchmark, without that we end up asking how much torture is torture #icp2012

Wessells says as long as we use language like do what is safe and legal its a problem, we need ethics that transcends national law #icp2102

Paul Kimmel ends and says we don't need lawyers but we need to be humanists, and go back to that to prevent torture #icp2012

Umesh Bawa, Chair from South Africa says we must remember we have said never again after Nuremberg and there was Rwanda etc. #icp2012

Bawa notes that there is continuing torture around the globe and calls for us to remember that as it is going on #icp2012

Bawa says we have to commit ourselves to defending human rights in all situations #icp2012

Panel ends. Will it make a difference? I don't know? Better we have it, but so much to be done and is the system as Wessells notes #icp2012

And here is a photo of the panel for good measure #icp2012

Here is a piece "The Ghost of Jeffrey Benzein Lives On" that I wrote about torture and professionals a while back, read here.

The discussion on APA and torture still bouncing in my head #icp2012

The more I think about it the more ridiculous the notion of lists of acceptable and unacceptable practices seem to me #icp2012

The fact 'torture' lists are needed suggests a moral and ethical vacuum at the core of the APA and training of psychologists #icp2012

Mike Wessells is correct there is a systematic problem in the profession and wider society #icp2012

Other resources:

Psychologists for Social Responsibility Documents on Torture

Coalition for an Ethical Psychology

10-Year "Psychology, Torture, and the APA" Timeline

Timeline of APA Policies & Actions

Torture at Abu Ghraib