American Psychiatric Association replies to the NY Times article on Torture

May 2, 2015
The APA response written by Saul Levin, MD to the NY Times Torture Article
As you may know, following actions taken by our government in the wake of Sept. 11, there have been numerous reports and questions about a wide range of health professionals’ involvement in interrogation and torture.  Most recently, yesterday, the New York Times reported on this issue.  The online piece was entitled, “American Psychological Association Bolstered C.I.A. Torture Program, Report Says”; the print edition billed it “Report Finds Collaboration Over Torture.”
Yesterday’s reporting is part of an occasional series of theirs.  The reporter, Pulitzer Prize winner James Risen, is also author of Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War, published in October 2014, which first documented psychology’s role in torture and justifying torture – and suggested that it may be a quid pro quo for Department of Defense support for prescription privileges for psychologists.
While this is the American Psychological Association’s crisis to handle, we felt it important that we differentiate ourselves, since there is too often confusion about the difference in the public mind between psychologists and psychiatrists.  We, of course, are acutely aware of the cost of this confusion, and we will respond forcefully and rapidly when such errors occur.  As you know, our organization’s decision-making on the issues of interrogation and torture was deeply guided by our oath and calling as physicians. So I wanted to share the letter that APA President Paul Summergrad, M.D., and I submitted to the Times:  The Times has confirmed that an edited version of this letter will appear in print tomorrow(Saturday).
We commend James Risen’s article for shedding more light on the abuses committed by our government in the wake ofSept. 11. He reported correctly that the American Psychiatric Association opposed the torture of prisoners held by the United States, but didn’t state the intensity of opposition. We opposed the concept from the onset.
In fact, soon after Sept. 11, our chief executive at the time, Dr.  James H. Scully Jr., insisted that he be allowed to inspect the Guantánamo Bay detention center to ensure that psychiatrists were not involved in so-called stress interrogations. In 2006, our board voted that psychiatrists couldn’t participate in the interrogation of any person, as it contravenes physicians’ call to do no harm.
Our opposition to this inhumane practice is longstanding: in 1992, before the term “enhanced interrogations,” our organization encouraged psychiatrists to work to stop the use of torture.
The American Psychiatric Association stands with other physician and human rights groups in unwavering opposition to torture. We encourage Mr. Risen to continue bringing scrutiny to our nation’s wrongs so they are never repeated.
We will continue to ensure that the media, opinion elites, advocacy groups and the public understand that psychiatry had no role and that, as a medical profession, we are different and we are opposed to this inhumane practice.  One other example: you may also be aware that the organization Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has been inaccurate in its reports, and we have been equally forceful in clarifying for them that we had no role.
If you have any other questions about our media response, please feel free to contact Jason Young, Chief Communications Officer, at[email protected] or 703-907-7887.  Also, if you have additional concerns about what you see in the media, please let Jason or me know.


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