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Psychology, Torture, and the APA

April 26, 2011

Psychology, Torture, and the APA: a 10-Year Timeline

The Coalition for an Ethical Psychology has developed an elegant graphic presentation of our ten-year history of detainee abuse and torture during the “war on terror,” Check out the Coalition’s Torture Timeline, which offers a temporal perspective on the troubled and troubling involvement of the American psychological profession – in particular the American Psychological Association – in prisoner interrogation.
            What a disastrous ten years this timeline documents! How many more “data-points” will the author/designers need to add during the next ten? Take a look, also, at the organization’s statement, “Reclaiming our Profession: Psychology Ten Years After 9/11.” Be sure, also, to check out some of this blog’s past coverage of this issue.

Human rights advocates, and increasingly the general public, have come to view our profession as home to the architects, abettors, and practitioners of abusive interrogations — even torture — and other ethical violations as part of a national security apparatus run amok. And they are not wrong. Regrettably, such misconduct has often overshadowed the very many psychologists who have played valuable roles as dedicated helping professionals, researchers, and educators during this time.
            But a profession’s legitimacy and reputation are neither established nor maintained by a simple count of those who act decently and responsibly compared to those who do not. Psychology rises or falls depending upon whether principle and integrity are chosen over expediency and opportunism. Such choices are not made solely by individuals and then reflected in their personal actions. Of even more importance, these choices are made by organizational leaders representing the profession as a whole…
            The approaching tenth anniversary of 9/11 must coincide with the rebirth of a principled American psychology, truly taking “do no harm” to heart. If not, it may represent a eulogy for our once proud profession. We owe it to those who have tragically suffered at psychology’s hands; we owe it to the next generation of psychologists; and we owe it to ourselves.

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