The Ethics of Interrogation and the Rule of Law

The Ethics of Interrogation and the Rule of Law

The APA can ensure that its ethical standards are as high for illegally detained citizens of foreign countries as it is for U.S. psychotherapy clients (and U.S. research participants). Of course, we would have liked the APA to have taken a more cooperative and humanitarian approach from the outset and that the PENS had never seen the light of day. However, it is never too late to direct resources towards a better psychological understanding of other cultures and to expand communicative exchanges among all nations and religions [68,80]. Such a communal psychological effort would have been an ideal substitute for a procrustean “interrogation ethic.” Yet there is little reason to wish for a better past with the possibilities of the present. Lauritzen examines how doctors, lawyers, psychologists, military officers, and other professionals have dealt with the issue of appropriate limits when interrogating prisoners. For each of these professions, a fierce debate erupted over whether the interrogation policy developed by the Bush administration violated ethical codes of professional conduct. According to Lauritzen, these codes are essential because they provide resources for democracies and professionals trying to balance security concerns with civil liberties while shaping the character of those who sit in these professional guilds.

(c) While Dr. Leso, the psychologist, was unable to discern the profound damage inflicted on Mr. al-Qahtani, FBI agents at Guantanamo Bay had no such difficulties. More than a month before the end of this harsh interrogation, the officers described Mr. al-Qahtani: “In September or October 2002, FBI agents observed that a dog had been used aggressively to intimidate prisoners after being subjected to intense solitary confinement for more than three months. Meanwhile, __ was completely isolated (except for occasional interrogations) in a cell always flooded with light. At the end of November, the detainee demonstrated behaviour consistent with extreme psychological trauma (talking to non-existent people, reporting, hearing voices, squatting for hours in the corner of a sheet-covered cell)” [84]. Given the considerable physical and psychological distance of prisons from the outside world (and the psychological distance of the prisoner`s interrogation team), the CIA or the American military psychologist is in a much more intense position than any other position of Milgram`s naïve participants [76]. Interrogators in these war on terror environments, pressed from above for information, unable to distinguish between prisoners who lie and those who tell the truth, are likely to be frustrated in the face of resistance [78]. The principles and standards of the APA Code of Ethics apply primarily to the protection of individuals or groups most directly affected by the professional engagement of psychologists around the world. In at least one case, the Code of Ethics focuses on broader societal goals that can take many forms.

For the PENS Working Group, the national security objective, which is largely focused on society, is the cornerstone of its recommendations (p. 2, see also [41] for a good discussion of the excessive attention given in psychological ethics to the distal and societal advantage of neglecting proximal individual advantage). Professional competence requires a research base, especially when it comes to working in such high stakes, and the lack of a good research base is a major reason for prohibiting the involvement of psychologists in detainee interrogations. There is no proven evidence that psychologists are least helpful in ensuring ethical means of obtaining information. There is no scientific literature that would lead us to conclude that psychologists teach unique skills in these interrogation situations. We dispute the claim in the PENS report that U.S. national security interrogations have been “significantly developed and refined” [[6], p. 5].

We have no doubt that this work has expanded to global use, but the spread itself does not indicate positive growth. The PENS report defends the group`s internal utilitarian argument by invoking the Code of Ethics. In particular, Principle B: Fidelity and Responsibility is used and its principle that psychologists “should be aware of their professional and scientific responsibilities to society” [[4], p. 3]. Fidelity and responsibility are extrapolated here by the PENS report to “gather information that can be used to defend our nation and other nations.” (p. 2). We believe that this application of principle B is particularly idiosyncratic and exaggerated. In this context, there are other “responsibilities to society” that tend to be more persuasive, such as the responsibility to avoid participating in activities that could compromise society`s confidence in discipline. This explicitly utilitarian formulation, by the way, is only a small part of Principle B, which claims more completely than psychologists.” seek to manage conflicts of interest that could lead to exploitation or harm” (p. 3).

This clause, in our view, is much more appropriate to the current situation and characterizes the ethical dangers of involving psychologists in “war on terror” interrogations. The APA Council of Representatives supported PENS` argument, rejecting in August 2007 an amendment to limit psychologists to health-related services in environments that deprived individuals of their basic human rights. Essentially, the APA has never departed from PENS statement #7, concluding that “psychologists can fulfill a variety of roles related to national security, such as counseling for questioning… [[6], p. 6]. It is true that the Council of MEPs never voted in favour of adopting the PENS report in its entirety, but although the Council expressed reservations and at one point asked for a number of measures, it never totally opposed this policy. However, controversies over the PENS report and the interrogation policy between board members and APA members continue unabated. The APA Code of Ethics in general is full of fundamental principles, as stated here, which are avoided in the PENS report and which APA management does not discuss in its defense of its interrogation policy. Chapters could be written on each of the twelve principles and standards of the code and their incongruity with the participation of psychologists. For example, Principle C: Integrity, Honesty and Truthfulness (p. 3) is relevant to the great deception that often takes place during interrogations in the war on terror.

The majority of the original PENS working group opposed integrity, honesty and truthfulness versus the compelling psychological principles of informed consent and reporting (p. 9). Perhaps most ironic is the revolution that has developed in social science ethics around a series of studies on obedience conducted by Stanley Milgram [76]. This research examined the willingness of naïve participants to inflict increasing shock (to the point of implied death) on a supposedly naïve participant (who was actually a planted experimental confederate and was never injured in the study). “An important and revolutionary book. Paul Lauritzen is to be commended for giving us insightful insight into the ethical issues raised during the interrogation of suspected terrorists. A major argument for banning the involvement of psychologists is that the role inherently imposes ethical trade-offs, and these pose too great a risk to psychologists and prisoners, not to mention the discipline of psychology and national security itself [13, 40]. These trade-offs usually appear in the “single-sex roles” of the PENS report as they do everywhere. The “No mixed roles” rule is against “. mixing potentially inconsistent roles such as healthcare providers and counselors in an interrogation… (p. 6). The intention is to make it harder for mental health information (for example, about certain phobias, as in the classic 1984 novel) to get from the doctor`s office to the interrogation booth so easily.

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