Health professionals must fight a Trump administration expansion of torture

It was profoundly distressing to hear Donald Trump on the campaign trail vowing a return to abusing prisoners with “a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” Those thoughts threaten to reverse the work that I and others have done over the last decade to end torture as an official US government policy and to prevent health professionals’ participation in detainee abuse.

This piece originally appeared at Stat News on January 25, 2017.
It is re-published here with the author’s permission. 

As a psychologist, I know the extreme damage that torture — the systematic infliction of severe pain and degradation — does to its victims and to its perpetrators. My colleagues and I helped transform the American Psychological Association’s policies, establishing a firm barrier between psychological practice and national security interrogations and forbidding psychologist involvement in detainee care at detention sites, like the Guantánamo Bay detention camp in Cuba, which violates international law. As a result, a year ago the New York Times reported that Gen. John Kelly had ordered the removal of psychologists from all involvement with detainees at Guantánamo.

Since Trump’s election, signals on torture have been mixed. His national security advisor, Mike Flynn, has at times endorsed the used of torturous “enhanced interrogation” techniques. His new CIA director, Mike Pompeo, has not ruled out changing US laws to allow waterboarding and other torture.

Despite President Obama’s efforts to close Guantánamo, it remains open. The new administration is even considering expanding its population of detainees. And it is conceivable that additional detention sites may be opened to hold detainees in harsh conditions for extended and indefinite periods without trial.

During the George W. Bush administration, the US adopted interrogation techniques that our State Department had traditionally denounced as torture when used by others. The most famous of these was waterboarding, in which drowning is induced and then interrupted, inducing panic and terror. While waterboarding got the most attention, many of the other techniques, including excruciating stress positions, exposure to extreme hot and cold, and prolonged sleep deprivation in painful positions for up to 180 hours, were also deemed torture and had been denounced by the State Department.

Torture is so repugnant that virtually every country, even those that surreptitiously practice it, feel a need to disclaim it. The United Nations’s Convention Against Torture has been signed by 160 countries. For hundreds of years, opposition to the use of torture has been an important measure of a country’s evolution toward civilized values. The return to torture in the Bush administration set back that progress, not only in our country but also around the world, as other nations took it as a green light for barbarous practices.

While ISIS would no doubt engage in barbarities regardless of US torture policy, it is no accident that the prisoners they execute in gruesome videos are cloaked in orange jumpsuits.

The US is again in danger of becoming a country where torturous barbarity is publicly endorsed as official policy. To prevent this, it is vital that every institution of civil society speak out.

Among these institutions, the health professions have great leverage. They must use it, and their constituencies must demand they use it. Wherever there is systematic torture, there are often health professionals, vetting prisoners for further abuse and treating them afterward to keep them alive, at least until the torturers are done with them.

In the Bush era torture program, psychologists played special roles. In the CIA program, psychologists devised and administered the abuses, apparently even being present during waterboarding. At Guantánamo, which is run by the military, interrogators consulted with psychologists, reportedly using information in prisoners’ medical files to identify vulnerabilities that could be used to “break” them.

This involvement of psychologists and other health professionals was intentional. In the Bush administration’s “torture memos,” the presence of health professionals during torture served as a legal “get out of jail free card” for the abusers. If a health professional assured interrogators that their techniques would not cause severe long-lasting harm — the Bush administration’s defining characteristic of torture — the interrogator was protected from legal responsibility for any harm that occurred.

The Trump administration will also likely need health professionals as participants and as legal cover for any return to torture. We must deny them that protection.

Over the last decade, professional organizations representing physicians, psychologists, and nurses have issued formal statements opposing their members’ participation in torture. Physicians and psychologists have gone further, stating that any participation by their members in national security interrogations violates the professions’ central ethical injunction to “do no harm.” However, despite credible complaints against specific health professionals, no professional associations or state licensing boards have launched investigations, much less taken disciplinary action.

Given the threat that the new administration may expand Guantánamo and return to torture, health professional and behavioral science organizations should reiterate their ethical opposition and maintain the bright line separating their professionals from national security interrogations. Other professions should follow psychologists in forbidding their members from involvement in detention facilities that violate international law.

But they must also go further. Professional organizations need to make it crystal clear that any credible complaint that a member has participated in detainee abuses or at detention sites deemed illegal under international law will be thoroughly investigated, and that discipline will be imposed if the complaint is substantiated. Not to act in the current climate would constitute a failure of the health professions carrying out their compact with society to protect and improve the health and welfare of all individuals, regardless of their legal status.

At this dangerous time, society needs the voices of health professionals, and our actions, to halt the use of torture.

Stephen Soldz, a clinical psychologist, is professor of psychology at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis and director of its Social Justice and Human Rights Program. He is a former president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, a cofounder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology, and an anti-torture advisor to Physicians for Human Rights.


USA indigenous psychologists criticise APA refusal to consider support on Standing Rock

The Society of Indian (i.e. First Nations/indigenous) Psychologists in the USA has issued a strong statement on the blocking of a call for the APA to support the Standing Rock protestors against State violence.  The APA decision was made behind closed doors and would seem to reveal a staggering degree of institutional racism.

The statement begins:

We are writing to express deep concern with the way that certain senior APA staff took it upon themselves to quash our efforts to entreat the APA for support in addressing the current circumstances of conflict and state-sanctioned violence against the Water Protectors at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

The senior staff in question elected to eschew making any kind of statement or to take any responsive action, to include further consultation with any of APA’s American Indian experts citing that: 1) it was a State, not a federal, issue (which of course Standing Rock sovereignty elevates such concerns to a federal level); and 2) that the issues raised by the situation at Standing Rock (environmental racism, community violence against an American Indians, health disparities, and historical re-traumatization) were not in line with APA direction and priorities.
Read the full Statement (pdf file)



Stop the persecution of Academics for Peace in Turkey

Three academics were placed in pretrial detention on 16th March, Muzaffer Kaya, Esra Mungan, and Kıvanç Ersoy. Ersoy teaches in the mathematics department at Mimar Sinan University and Mungan in the psychology department at Boğaziçi University. Kaya was recently dismissed from the social work department at Nişantaşı University for signing the petition. They were detained and then jailed by a court a day after President Erdoğan called for the crime of terrorism to be widened to include expression which he judges “serves the aims of terrorists,” and which would target professions such as journalists, politicians, and activists. His remarks came after the March 13 bombing which killed 37 people in Ankara’s city center.


Petition link:

The Turkish government and the President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan continue to oppress political dissent violently and illegally in Turkey. On January 11, President Erdoğan accused 1128 academics of treason for signing  a call for peace in Turkey. In the call, the signatories stated that they would not be party either to the massacre against the Kurds or to Turkish’s state’s ongoing violation of its own laws and international treaties. Following Erdoğan’s speech, hundreds of academics who signed the petition were subject to disciplinary and criminal investigations, detentions and suspensions.

In response to this witch-hunt, we had signed a letter in support of academic freedom in Turkey and asked for ending the prosecution of Academics for Peace. The letter was submitted to MPs and MEPs in Europe and published in the media in January.

Yet the Turkish government did not heed the call for academic freedom and had intensified the witch-hunt against the Academics for Peace. As of 10 March 2016, the toll was as follows:
Public Universities       Private Universities
Disciplinary investigations                 464                                43
Criminal investigations                      153
Detentions                                          33
Suspensions                                       27
Contract termination                           9                                   21
Forced resignations                            5                                    1
Furthermore, on 15 March 2016 three academics were incarcerated for signing the original call of Academics for Peace and announcing that they will start an ‘Academic Vigil’. The arrested academics are:  Esra Mungan of Boğaziçi University, Kıvanç Ersoy of Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University, and Muzaffer Kaya, formerly of Nişantaşı University.

A fourth academic and a UK citizen, Chris Stephenson of Bilgi University, was detained for holding a vigil outside the court in support of the three academics and for carrying a Newroz (Kurdish New Year) invitation from a parliamentary party – the People’s Democratic Party (HDP). On 16 March 2016, the case of Chris Stephenson, who has been resident in Turkey since 1991, was transferred to another court with the demand of being deported, and he had to leave the country.

We ask the international community and elected representatives to call on the Turkish government to stop the witch hunt against Academics for Peace, respect academic freedoms, free the arrested academics, and re-instate all the academics suspended or expelled during the persecution campaign with compensation.

Petition link:


Julian Assange

Posted on behalf of network member Nozomi Hayase.  If you’d like to make contact, substitute [AT] with @ in this address: nhayse[AT]

Statement in Support of Julian Assange’s Freedom

We are psychologists committed to supporting the health of individuals and communities. We practice the psychology of liberation, which acknowledges the effects of social and political oppression in contributing to individual suffering.

One of great liberation psychologists of our time, Jesuit priest Ignacio Martín-Baró, observed how people live “burdened by the lie of a prevailing discourse that denies, ignores, or disguises essential aspects of reality” and are made to conform to “a fictional common sense that nurtures the structures of exploitation and conformist attitudes”. With this understanding, he initiated the practice of “the de-ideologization of everyday experience” to “retrieve the original experience of the oppressed and return it to them as objective data”.

Decades after his death, the liberatory praxis of Martín-Baró has been rekindled on the global stage. In spring of 2010, a little known whistle-blowing site, WikiLeaks blazed onto the global stage with the release of the Collateral Murder video, a classified U.S. military footage depicting an Apache helicopter killing of Iraqi civilians.

WikiLeaks’ subsequent revelation of government secrecy brought crucial information, evidencing the way States and transnational corporations steal the original experience of people, manipulate perception and exert control over their lives. Through these disclosures, people are now gaining a truer understanding of the world and beginning to transform themselves from state victims to active agents to take hold of their own reality.

Martín-Baró was murdered by the US backed El Salvadorian Army for challenging the official narrative of governments who silence the voice of dissidents and those who oppose exploitation and human right abuses. Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks has become such a target for political retaliation. For the last five and half years, he has been detained without charge (first in prison and solitary confinement, then house arrest, and now for more than three years in asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy). We recognize him as an icon who stands up for the truth and engages in a similar struggle for justice.

On February 5, 2016, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) ruled that Julian Assange has been arbitrarily detained since 7 Dec 2010. In support of their findings, over 500 human rights organizations, law professors, former UN office holders, and high-profile rights defenders signed an open letter condemning UK and Swedish governments’ blatant rejection of the UNWGD’s decision and urging them to ensure the right of freedom for Assange. This statement was released at the 31st United Nations Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva.

(here is the link to the original letter;

We stand with this open letter concerning Sweden and the United Kingdom’s active defiance of the UN decision and we demand Assange’s freedom.

In addition as psychologists, we contend that the situation Assange has been subjected to by these governments created not only physical but psychological alienation, as he is denied and deprived of the basic need to be a part of a community and has been marginalized through demonization by the Western governments and media. Maintaining healthy human contact with the outside world and ones family and friends is a foundation of basic health. We express concern for the effect of such deprivation of psychological needs in the long term.

Martín-Baró once remarked to a North American colleague, “In your country, it’s publish or perish. In ours, it’s publish and perish.” WikiLeaks, as the publisher of last resort, continues this same battle that Martín-Baró and others engaged in, risking their lives and freedom to defend those who are oppressed around the world.

For the liberty of Julian Assange, we urge Sweden and the UK to respect the UNWGAD’s deliberation and show the world that Western enlightenment values and rule of law can triumph over barbaric forces of state terror and oppression.

Unlike the time of Martín-Baró, we hope now we can work toward creating a world where journalists can publish and not perish; that speaking up for the truth and the oppressed is no longer a crime, but is something all of society can celebrate.


Mr. Assange has not been charged with any crime in any investigation conducted in Sweden. 

Both women explicitly denied having been raped. One woman says she was “railroaded by police” and they made up the charges. Early on, Assange was cleared of the suspicion of ‘rape’ by a chief prosecutor in Stockholm before it was then reopened by another prosecutor.

For more information, visit Justice for Assange.



Statement of support and solidarity with the people of Gaza

updated signatories: 13/08/14
contact us if you’d still like to add your name.

This is a statement from community and community-orientated psychologists, mostly in the UK, but with an increasing number of international endorsers.

Statement of support and solidarity with the people of Gaza.

As Community and Community-Orientated Psychologists in the UK we again extend our support for and solidarity to the people of Gaza. We are calling upon the British government and the British people to take all feasible steps, beginning with immediate boycotts, disinvestments and sanctions against the state of Israel, to oblige Israel’s political administration to: abide by international law; dismantle its apartheid regime spanning both the occupied territories and Israel; immediately and unconditionally end its assault on and siege of Gaza; end the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, including its illegal settlements; abandon all claims to possess or control territory beyond its 1967 borders; and commit to pursuing a long-lasting, just peace.

We condemn all attacks on civilians, including the rocket retaliation from Gaza, noting that combatants have an obligation to protect civilians under international law. However we draw attention to the disproportionality of Israel’s attacks on Gaza, which includes the indiscriminate killing of men, women and children by the armed forces of a supposedly democratic State whose citizens they still are (since only limited autonomy has been granted to the Palestine Authority). We are concerned by reports from doctors that DIME munitions are again in use which cause extremely destructive damage to the bodies of those near the blast. The Israeli military deliberately targets hospitals, civilian shelters and prevents medical aid reaching the injured and medical supplies and equipment from entering the Gaza Strip and destroys Gaza’s infrastructure of roads, water supplies, sanitation, food production, food distribution, food security, electricity, social services, education services, health services, law and order, housing, environmental services, and broader social support structures. We particularly note that during armed conflict, international humanitarian law requires that health care facilities, ambulances, medical personnel and the wounded and sick are all afforded specific protection.

As psychologists we also draw attention to the impact of this and other attacks on Palestinians on the psychological and social health and well-being of all sections of the population, particularly children, the elderly and those with additional vulnerabilities. UNRWA has indicated very high and rising levels of severe psychological trauma, especially among children. The extreme constraints placed on the Palestinian health services, UNRWA and the various NGOs and civil society organisations can only make this situation far worse, despite the admirable and inspiring capacity of the Palestinian people to maintain and celebrate their cultural traditions.

We do note that many Israeli citizens (at home and worldwide) are opposed to the policies and resultant violence of their government. Moreover, the situation is also detrimental to the psychological well-being of Israeli citizens, who are living in a context where threat of ‘the other’ is used to instil fear and legitimise such abhorrent action.

The massacre of civilians in Gaza is the latest, terrorist phase of a war that successive governments of Israel (supported by the USA and Britain) have been waging against the people of Palestine for more than 60 years, since Britain’s botched abandonment of its mandate triggered the Palestinian Nakba of 1948. The goal of this war has never changed: to use overwhelming military power to eradicate the Palestinians as a political force capable of resisting Israel’s ongoing appropriation of Palestinian land and resources. CPUK believes that for the sake of justice and global peace, the Israeli State must not be allowed to achieve this. Our belief in the right of the Palestinians to democratic self-determination, and to resist military aggression and colonial occupation means we stand with the people of Palestine, whether in Gaza, the West Bank, occupied Jerusalem or the pre-1967 boundaries of the State of Israel in their struggle against that racist, colonial State and its government.

Additional notes
For UNWRA statement on post-conflict psychological trauma see

The blockade means a severe shortage of medicines and other vital supplies. Before the current attack the Gaza health services were already suffering from an acute shortage of fuel and supplies, with 54 percent of medical disposables and 28 percent of essential drugs at zero stock. Now some hospitals are reporting that they do not have sutures, materials to treat bone injuries, or enough reactive agents to perform routine blood tests. On 15 July 41 organizations warned of an extremely severe Palestinian health sector crisis, with, in Gaza’s hospitals the cessation of most primary services and women’s health services.

80% of Gaza’s population are refugees or their descendants.

The Gaza population of 1.7 Million is confined in a small area, no bigger than the Isle of Wight. There is no escape from the missiles and naval bombardment, nor the frequent army incursions. There is clear evidence (for example BBC Radio 4 reports, 17 July) that Israel’s claim to warn civilians of missile attacks is meaningless. Unlike Israel, the Palestinians do not have air raid shelters.

Primary Source: Medical Aid for Palestinians


1. Professor Mark Burton 2. Dr Steve Melluish 3. Dr Cathy Amor 4. Professor Jacqueline Akhurst 5. Dr Chris Pawson 6. Aisling Kelly 7. Dr Joe Judge 8. Dr Laura Jobson 9. Christine Ward 10. Tom Wengraf 11. Dr Laara Jupp 12. Professor Carolyn Kagan 13. Teresa Nevard 14. Dr Alia Ul-Hassan 15. Jade Weston 16. Dr Sally Zlotowitz 17. Jacqui Lovell 18. Professor Kerry Chamberlain (New Zealand) 19. Dr Carl Walker 20. Dr John Cromby 21. Dr Nimisha Patel 22. Dr Penny Priest 23. Helen Beckwith 24. Lucy Hawkes 25. Dr Lianne Hovell 26. Scott Bartle 27. Sam Farley 28. Dr Donna Oxley 29. Dr Peter Branney 30. Dr Nigel Hunt 31. Dr Aneta D. Tunariu 32. Dr Argyris Argyriadis (Greece) 33. Majid Hussain 34. Dr Kasper Andreas Kristensen (Denmark) 35. Dr Tria Moore 36. Dr Paula Corcoran 37. Liz Cunningham 38. Emma-Louise Aveling 39. Kathryn Cooper 40. Stephen Thorpe 41. Masuma Rahim 42. Gareth Morgan 43. Dr Mirsad Serdarevic (USA) 44. Dr Maxine Woolhouse 45. Dr. Lisa Thorne 46. Tamsin Curno 47. Eleanor Shoultz 48. Dr Andrew Hart 49. Amna Abdulatif 50. Dr Jane Callaghan 51. Julie Bird 52. Professor Ashraf Kagee (South Africa) 53. Corinne Fortier (France) 54. Nancy Flores (New Zealand) 55. Dr. Dora Whittuck 56. Lynere Wilson (New Zealand) 57. Dr Bruce MZ Cohen (New Zealand) 58. Dr Clare Dixon 59. Dr. Nicholas Wood 60. Dr Sarah Blackshaw 61. Dr Sharen Hayre 62. Dr Oliver Pugh 63. Jenny Stuart 64. Dr Eleni Hatzidimitriadou 65. Dr Ruth Butterworth 66. Dr Anna Daiches 67. Dr Elizabeth Freeman 68. Dr Deborah Chinn 69. Dr Abdullah Mia 70. Dr. Katy Day 71. Madaleine Rowlinson 72. Dr Glenn Williams 73. Daniela Fernandez Catherall 74. Tim Siggs 75. Dr Julie Vane 76. Dr Carl Harris 77. Dr Sue Roffey (Australia) 78. Dr Jo Hadfield 79. Emma Ridley 80. Stacy Earl 81. Dr Aayesha Mulla 82. Dr Sarah Keenan 83. Carlos Luis (Mexico) 84. Dr Kelly Fulton 85. Dr Kate Foxwell 86. Dr Nausheen Masood 87. Professor Serdar Degirmencioglu (Turkey) 88. Dr Kaanan Butor-Bhavsar 89. Dr Bob Diamond 90. Naomi James 91. Dr Suzanne Elliott 92. Dr Dori Fatma Yusef 93. Dr Gemma Mitchell 94. Dr Angela Byrne 95. Dr Mohamed Altawil (Palestine Trauma Center) 96. Dr Anna Zoli (Italy) 97. Lucie Nalletamby 98. Annie Mitchell 99. Lesley Katib 100. Dr. Rochelle Ann Burgess 101. Dra. Raquel S. L. Guzzo (Brasil) 102.  Dr Melanie Smith 103. Gillian Hughes 104. Professor Roderick Watts (USA) 105. Dr Maria Castro 106. Dr Jane Alderton 107. Dr Farhana Patel 108. Dr. Greta Sykes 109. Nina Browne 110. Colm Gallagher 111. Noreen Naz 112. Mandy Underwood 113. Mandeep Singh Kallu 114. Dr Nadia Karim 115. Dr Laura Cutts 116. Professor Erica Burman 117. Professor Adrianne Aron (USA) 118. Eleftherios (Terry) Georgiou 119. Dr Evangelia Karydi 120. Dr Taiwo Afuape.


Coalition for an Ethical Psychology: Statement on the APA’s failure to investigate Guantánamo Bay affair

image of bare room



The Ethics Office of the American Psychological Association (APA) has announced that it will not proceed with formal charges against military psychologist Dr. John Leso, despite extensive public documentation that this APA member designed and participated in abusive interrogations at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In fact, Susan Crawford, the convening authority on military commissions at Guantanamo appointed by President George W. Bush, refused to refer the case of detainee Mohammed al Qahtani to trial because she concluded his interrogation met the legal definition of torture. Dr. Leso is known to have been a supervisor and participant in that interrogation.

Because Dr. Leso’s documented actions so clearly violated psychological ethics and because this abuse of psychological expertise was undertaken at the behest of governmental authorities, this case represents a landmark test of the independence of psychological ethics and professional standards from governmental and institutional pressures. The APA’s failure to pursue charges against Dr. Leso jeopardizes our profession’s fundamental ethical principles. In this synopsis we review (1) APA’s repeated vow to bring such cases to account; (2) the public record of clearly documented violations by Dr. Leso; (3) APA’s justifications for closing the Leso case without formal charges; and (4) our procedural and ethical assessment of the APA’s resolution of this case.

read the full statement.


APA fails to take action on collusion with Guantánamo torture

The following post is based on a request from Psychologists for Social Responsibility, a USA-based group.

It is possible you’ve heard the news that the American Psychological Association recently issued a stunning landmark decision on psychologist involvement in state-sponsored torture.

U.S. military psychologist John Leso was involved in the development of the post-9/11 “enhanced interrogation” protocol at Guantánano Bay Naval Base and is documented as directly participating in the interrogation of Mohammed al-Qahtani. This interrogation was described as meeting the legal definition of “torture” by Susan Crawford, the Bush administration convener of the Guantánamo military commissions. Yet despite substantial evidence of Dr. Leso’s involvement in cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, the APA recently closed a complaint against him, almost seven years after it was first brought, without proceeding with formal charges.

I am writing to you today to ask for your help in putting needed public pressure on the APA, an organization whose leadership continues to be as complicit in U.S. torture under the Obama Administration as it was under the Bush Administration.

While several mainstream media organizations in the UK and Canada covered this important story (e.g., BBC, CBC, The Guardian), it has been buried in the U.S. The American public therefore goes unaware, and, we suspect, most APA members as well.

This week, Psychologists for Social Responsibility sent the letter pasted below to the APA Ethics Office, demanding answers (the letter is also available in PDF format on the PsySR website).

I am sure that all liberation-orientated psychologists will want to join in deploring the APA’s action and in supporting PSySR’s call for clear explanations and transparency about the decision-making process by APA.  You can read about PsySR’s work on torture at this link.  Please do publicise this through your own networks.

Mark Burton
Co-ordinator, LIberation Psychology Network
and Visiting Professor, Manchester Metropolitan University.


Text of the letter to APA fromPsySR follows:

January 29, 2014

Stephen Behnke, JD, PhD Director, Ethics Office American Psychological Association 750 First Street, NE Washington, DC 20002-4242

Lindsay Childress-Beatty, JD, PhD Director of Adjudication/Deputy Director, Ethics Office American Psychological Association 750 First Street, NE Washington, DC 20002-4242

Dear Drs. Behnke and Childress-Beatty:

As representatives of Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PsySR), we write to express our deep concern and dismay over the recent decision by the Ethics Office of the American Psychological Association to dismiss the Complaint against Dr. John Leso, a former military psychologist at Guantántamo Bay Naval Base. According to your 31 December 2013 letter to complainant Dr. Trudy Bond (a PsySR member), your office does not dispute that Dr. Leso was instrumental in devising and administering the Guantánamo “enhanced interrogation” protocol in 2002. Declassified government documents and independent reports have revealed that this protocol included, but was not limited to, weeks or months of solitary confinement; sleep deprivation; sexual humiliation; exposure to extreme cold; prolonged removal of sheets, blankets, wash cloths and religious items; 20-hour interrogations, and painful stress positions.

The Ethics Office took almost seven years to review one of the most egregious examples of unethical behavior in the history of American psychology. Due to unusual circumstances (leaks and release by Congress of classified documents) more information is available about Dr. Leso’s participation in government-sanctioned torture and abuse than may ever be the case for any other APA member. Dr. Leso co-wrote the plan for and is documented as directly participating in the interrogation of Mohammed al-Qahtani. This interrogation was described as meeting the legal definition of “torture” by Susan Crawford, the Bush administration convener of the Guantánamo military commissions.

In the end, your office apparently decided that Dr. Leso’s months of involvement with the torture program were wholly mitigated because he did not volunteer to lead the Behavioral Science Consultation Team (BSCT) that formulated the protocol; he was an early-career psychologist; and he reportedly expressed unease with the assignment and a preference for “rapport-building” methods. In reaching its decision the Ethics Office has set a stunning and disturbing precedent. Your office has now provided another layer of protection to psychologists who participate in the debilitating isolation of prisoners, the psychological abuses still permitted by Appendix M of the Army Field Manual, the brutal force-feeding of Guantánamo hunger-strikers, or other ethical violations. As well, this logic suggests that psychologists who engage in insurance fraud or sexual relations with their patients can evade censure if they are relatively inexperienced and express discomfort in advance of or concurrent with their actions.

For years APA has insisted that it would sanction any member for whom credible evidence existed of participation in torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, yet no psychologist has ever been held accountable for involvement in our government’s post-9/11 torture program. Evidence clearly exists that Dr. Leso and other psychologists have utterly failed to ensure that detention and interrogation operations at Guantánamo and elsewhere were kept “safe, legal, ethical, and effective.” By closing this case in the manner you have chosen, it is only reasonable for members and the broader public to assume that APA will never sanction any psychologist participating in government-sanctioned abuses. No statements from APA’s PR office will change this perception.

At this point, your office must realize that the Leso decision is being widely discussed in the media and has become a matter of profound concern to many members of the profession. We therefore believe that it is important for the Ethics Office to provide greater clarity regarding two key issues: First, substantively, how does this landmark decision align with the specific principles and standards of the APA’s code of ethics, and with longstanding professional prohibitions against involvement in torture and abuse? Second, procedurally, how was the decision to close the case reached? While you state that the complaint was “carefully reviewed by multiple reviewers,” it is unclear who these reviewers were. Does this decision reflect an official vote of the entire Ethics Committee, or rather action taken by the Director of the Ethics Office, or some other group of reviewers, without the participation of the full committee? Confidentiality about these matters serves, in our perception, no constructive purpose and instead raises confusion and uncertainty about the priorities and procedures of the Ethics Office. We therefore request that this information be made public in order to begin to rebuild the moral authority of the profession.

We look forward to your timely reply. Thank you.


The Steering Committee of Psychologists for Social Responsibility

cc: Members of the APA Ethics Committee Members of the APA Board and Council of Representatives


Guantánamo Bay USA extraterritorial prison – call to end force feeding of hunger strikers



On August 12th, over 400 health care professionals and human rights leaders sent an urgent appeal to President Obama to order Guantánamo detention camp officials to stop force-feeding hunger strikers, immediately release the detainees approved for release, and make closing Guantánamo his first priority. Now in its seventh month, the hunger strike included 106 detainees at its peak, with as many as 46 of them force-fed.

The letter states that force-feeding mentally competent adults is a violation of medical and nursing ethics, and emphasizes that the method of force feeding in Guantánamo is “exceptionally brutal.” In describing the procedure in which the detainee is forcefully extracted from the cell by several soldiers and strapped into a restraint chair for up to two hours, the letter also notes that “Men weakened by significant weight loss are particularly at risk for serious injury during this regimen.”

Sponsored by Psychologists for Social Responsibility and signed by ten additional organizations, including the Center for Constitutional Rights and Physicians for Human Rights, the letter focuses on the ethical and professional dilemmas of Guantánamo health personnel who force-feed the detainees: 

“Health care professionals, including those in the military, must maintain their licenses in good standing, and to do so they must follow standards of good ethical practice. This is not what is happening during the hunger strike.”

Because information is classified at Guantánamo, doctors, nurses and psychologists cannot honor their ethical obligations to confer with independent experts in such dilemmas, and are “constrained from securing the support of their professional colleagues if they experience reprisals for registering a complaint or refusing to participate further.”

The signers urge President Obama to “act immediately before more prisoners die” and argue that as Commander-in-Chief he has the power to immediately stop the force-feeding, release the detainees approved for release, and make closing Guantánamo his top priority.

The full text of the letter with the list of all signers is available online at


Petition to convict Rios Montt

See the previous post for detail and relevance of this case in Guatemala for Liberation Psychology.  As of 28 May there is still no resolution although it appears that the allegation made by Rios Montt’s lawyer was unfounded.
There is a petition to the Guatemalan Constitutional Court here.  As of the time of writing there have been 21,451 signatures of a target of 22,000.  Please consider adding your voice too HERE.



Guatemala genocide trial suspended – take action

The historically important trial of ex-dictator of Guatemala J.E. Rios Montt (see previous post) has been suspended (not by the trial judges but by another judge).  This potentially increases risks for complainants, witnesses (including psychology colleagues) and human rights activists, and if the trial were anulled it would mean strangthened impunity in Guatemala, the region and beyond. There is a petition here  from the Guatemala Human Rights Commission, demanding the reinstatement of the proceedings – please take a look and add your support.
ALl the detail is on the excellent website for the trial  [o en castellano] and the summary dated today 25/04/13 is a good summary of the last few days’ legal proceedings.  The constitutional court is reviewing the decision to annul the trial and has ruled on some points but is still to rule on others.