Psychologist and Interrogation Tactics

The attention of public and media was drawn to the torture soon after the 9/11 attacks. In general, it is usually brought into discussion when the state participates in military actions.
Interrogation issue is a very arguable one, and during a long history of interrogation was used by leaders who needed quick solutions to complex problems. Many political and military leaders are sure that tougher interrogation helps to obtain information and therefore provides better intelligence. (Wahlquist, 2009)
Since the start of the War on Terror, the ethical decisions for psychologists engaged in a military setting become crucial.

The American Psychological Association’s (APA) was criticized for not adopting decisive professional principles regarding the interrogation tactics that took place at detention centers. Finally, nowadays The American Psychological Association’s (APA) has accepted a clear position on torture that states that psychologists’ participation in interrogation or ny related activities is prohibited. Specifically APA’s states that such interrogations tactics as waterboarding, sexual humiliation, stress positions, and exploitation of phobias are included in this policy. (Position on Ethics and Interrogations,

Therefore, the implications for psychiatrist that takes part or somehow relates to tortures are clear. It is hard both for the doctors and psychiatrist the doctors, because they have to check the physical or mental health of the detainee and Geneva Conventions may be violated by them in this way. In any case the medical personnel that take part in interrogation, besides appropriate medical qualifications, should have a good knowledge of the legal standards regarding the interrogation tactics as well.

Of course, the knowledge of law and legal problems isn’t the only one disputable issue concerning psychiatrist’s participation in such tactics. It’s also absolutely important to obey and to apply professional ethical standards in the process of interrogation act.
It should be noted, that U.N. General Assembly declared “physician participation or complicity in torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment is a gross contravention of medical ethics.” (Gohara, 2006),

As we can see the major psychiatrist’s authorities are the opponents of the psychiatrist’s participation in the interrogation tactics.
The major guides for psychologists that are related to such activities are Code of Ethics, military’s Code of Justice and Geneva Conventions. All these sources of rules and principles forbid cruelty against prisoners and prohibit the gathering of the information under coercion.

Although APA’s restrictions regarding psychologists’ participation, include taking part, support, advise, or training in torture or other cruel punishment, but its position has been also criticized because it wasn’t that clear. There is no mentioning of the word “interrogation” and psychologist has to determine what is cruel and inhumane by himself.

It is known that these days the definition of what torture is decided by the President (with powers granted him by the Military Commissions Act) and this is contradicts to the international law.
Therefore, taking these factors into account, the fact that domestic law dominates over international in this case, the APA’s resolution somehow fails to resolve problem of psychologists being involved in such secretly carried interrogations.

I would like to mention the statement of former APA’s president P. Zimbardo on psychologist’s contribution in interrogations. In his opinion, such participation is definitely a violation of the basic ethical standards that were major guiding for this occupation for many years. (Kory, July 2007)
The official regulators should an appropriate policies and rules that strictly prohibit psychologists to play any part in illegal interrogations. It is also has to be specified that domestic and military law are superseded by the international law and the Geneva Conventions.

There definitely should be strict rules, not only principles, because it will not stop abusive and illegal tactics ongoing as part antiterrorism operations.
Among the advantages of psychologists’ participation in interrogation tactics, it may be indicated that having psychologists in interrogations room will prevent very aggressive techniques of tortures from taking place.

They also may help interrogators to influence on detainee in order to receive the information quicker, and more effectively choose the right moment to ask a question.
We have to conclude that even if some psychologists are confident that they make a contribution to “national security” by taking part in secret interrogations or justify it by claims of Presidential approval, the majority of psychologists think that damage to their professions remain the same and consider such participation as an abuse of their profession.

In any case, these specialists that decide to take part in interrogation tactics shoud be aware of specific courses such as “interrogation medicine” and “interrogation psychiatry”.
The physiological and psychological responses to interrogation stressors will be explored by these studies. These psychologists should also be aware of the consequences that they may face in civilian life. (Kory, July 2007)



Wahlquist J.A. (2009), Enhancing Interrogation: Advancing a New Agenda, Parameters, Vol. 39.
Gohara M., S. (2006), A Lie for a Lie: False Confessions and the Case for Reconsidering the Legality of Deceptive Interrogation Techniques, Fordham Urban Law Journal, Vol. 33
Kory D. (July 2007), Psychologists Aiding and Abetting Torture, Tikkun, Vol. 22
Torture, The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, 2009

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