Upfront

In a special vote, APA members approved a resolution that prohibits any psychologist from working in detainee settings in which international law or the U.S. Constitution is violated, unless the psychologist is working directly for detainees or for an independent third party to protect human rights, or providing treatment to military personnel.

The vote was 8,792 to 6,157. Balloting was open from Aug. 1 to Sept. 15.

"The membership has spoken," says APA President Alan E. Kazdin, PhD." Now the role of APA governance is to embrace this policy and work to make sure that the resolution is clear, well communicated and implemented."

APA members have been debating psychologists' role in interrogations since the news first emerged about abuses at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. APA's Council of Representatives passed resolutions that forbid psychologists from participating in specific interrogation techniques, and the association urged President Bush, the Department of Defense, the CIA and Congress to ensure that all professional ethical standards are upheld in the treatment of detainees worldwide.

But some APA members believed that these and other APA measures did not go far enough. They asserted that psychologists' involvement in any detainee interrogations contradicted the field's mission to help, rather than harm, and that psychologists' presence at such military and CIA detention sites presented an ethical conflict.

Other members argued that psychologists should be involved in such interrogations to help prevent them from straying into cruel, degrading or inhuman treatment.

In June, the continuing and contentious debate led a group of members to petition for a membership vote on the issue. APA's bylaws allow for such votes when 1 percent of the membership signs a petition calling for action. APA mailed the ballot to members Aug. 1; an independent third party counted them.

Per APA's bylaws and rules, the resolution will become policy as of APA's next Annual Convention in August, but some members hope to make the policy effective sooner. In addition, some questions remain about the effect the new policy will have on psychologists in specific work settings. At Monitor press time, Kazdin was expected to appoint an advisory group composed of members of APA's Board of Directors and Council of Representatives, with representation from the petition sponsors as well, to:

  • Determine the issues that need clarification concerning the resolution, including its scope of coverage.

  • Identify possible ways to clarify these issues for the council to review at its February meeting."This has been a healthy process for the association—which makes me proud to be a member of APA," says Kazdin.

—S. Martin