Pentagon moves to reverse psychologists' interrogations ban

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The Pentagon is asking a top professional association to end its ban on psychologists participating in interrogations at Guantanamo Bay and other facilities. 

“Although the Department of Defense (DoD) understands the desire of the American psychology profession to make a strong statement regarding reports about the role of former military psychologists more than a dozen years ago, the issue now is to apply the lessons learned to guide future conduct,” officials write in a memo sent to the American Psychological Association (APA).

The New York Times first reported the memo and an accompanying letter, dated Jan. 8, on Sunday.

At issue is an APA policy announced last year that bans psychologists from participating in national security interrogations.

The policy was approved in response to an APA report that found some association leaders and military psychologists coordinated with President George W. Bush-era interrogations that have been criticized as torture.

“This policy is the result of careful deliberation on the part of our association to establish clear and unequivocal guidance regarding psychologists’ responsibilities and limitations in the context of national security interrogation processes,” APA President Barry Anton and former APA CEO Norman Anderson wrote in a letter to U.S. officials and lawmakers last year.

In the Pentagon letter responding to the policy, Brad Carson, acting principal deputy secretary of Defense for personnel and readiness, argues the ban could deter psychologists from serving in other roles, such as the treatment of both troops and detainees.

The Military Health System “relies heavily on approximately 2,000 military and civilian psychologists for many priority programs vital to the health and wellbeing of members of the Armed Forces and their families, such as behavior health care, post-traumatic stress, suicide prevent, substance abuse treatment, resiliency, domestic violence prevention and special needs children,” he wrote.

The Pentagon is reviewing its own practices, Carson wrote, in order to make sure psychological care of detainees, which is required by law, is separate from interrogations.

“For the same reason, we request confirmation that the APA’s views regarding the presence of psychologists at Guantanamo, other than those providing care to U.S. military personnel, are a matter of policy, not an ethical mandate, and are not intended to put psychologist providing patient care to detainees at professional risk,” he said.