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PHR Calls for Investigation of American Psychological Association's Ties to Pentagon

Newly released internal American Psychological Association documents indicate that the 2005 APA's ethics task force on national security interrogations developed its ethics policy to conform with Pentagon guidelines governing psychologist participation in interrogations.

Cambridge, MA (Vocus) May 5, 2009 -- Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is calling for an independent, outside investigation of the American Psychological Association (APA). This call comes in the wake of newly released internal APA documents which have just been posted online by and ProPublica (in PDF).

The emails indicate that the 2005 APA's ethics task force on national security interrogations developed its ethics policy to conform with Pentagon guidelines governing psychologist participation in interrogations.

Physicians for Human Rights also calls on the Pentagon's Inspector General to investigate whether any federal employees exerted influence over the APA's Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS).

"These serious allegations require an independent investigation to determine whether APA leadership engaged in unethical conduct," stated Steven Reisner, Ph.D., PHR Advisor for Psychological Ethics. "The American public deserves to know if there were inappropriate contacts or conflicts of interest between APA officials and the Pentagon."

PHR has been a longstanding and outspoken critic of the APA's PENS policy governing psychologist involvement in interrogations, calling for a "bright line" prohibition against health professional participation in interrogations. Though the APA membership passed a 2008 referendum banning psychologists from facilities that violate US and international human rights law, PHR believes that the PENS policy must be immediately revoked.

"In 2005 PHR first called for the APA's ethics policy on interrogations to be rescinded," added Dr. Reisner. "Now is the time for the APA to replace those flawed guidelines with standards that put a psychologist's ethical obligations to human rights principles ahead of following orders."

The recently released Senate Armed Services Committee report detailing detainee abuse by the Department of Defense confirms that psychologists rationalized, designed, supervised, and implemented the Bush Administration's torture program.

"The Senate Armed Services Committee report confirms that psychologists were central to the Bush Administration's use of torture," said Nathaniel Raymond, Director of PHR's Campaign Against Torture. "In the context of these revelations, the American public needs to know why a supposedly independent ethics policy was written by some of the very personnel allegedly implicated in detainee abuse."

"These emails show that several of the military psychologists formulating APA ethics policy were giving themselves get-out-of-jail-free cards. Their report asserted that it was ethical to follow military policy while the OLC memos allowing torture were still in effect," said Stephen Soldz, board member of Psychologists for Social Responsibility.

Since 2005, PHR has documented the systematic use of psychological torture by the US during its interrogations of detainees at Guantanamo, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and elsewhere in its groundbreaking reports Break Them Down, Leave No Marks, and Broken Laws, Broken Lives. The organization has repeatedly called for an end to the use of the SERE tactics by US personnel, the dismantling of the Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCT) teams, and a full Congressional investigation of the use of psychological torture by the US Government.

PHR has worked to mobilize the health professional community, particularly the professional associations, to adopt strong ethical prohibitions against direct participation in interrogations. PHR shared the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize.

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