Position on Torture by Division 19 of the American Psychological Association

It is well-accepted in the scientific community that aggression is “any form of behavior directed toward the goal of harming or injuring another living being who is motivated to avoid such treatment” (Baron & Richardson, 1994). According to this definition, torture is an aggressive act. As such, we believe the position on torture advanced by Division 19 (Military Psychology) of the American Psychological Association will be of great interest to some of our members and visitors to the website.

Position on Torture
American Psychological Association Division 19 (Society for Military Psychology)

Wednesday, January 25, 2017 

This morning, as some of you may be aware, the Washington Post and other news organizations published a draft executive order which calls for the review of current interrogation practices set forth in various executive and legislative mandates. If signed by President Trump, this executive order would stand in sharp contrast to a letter sent earlier this month, with signatures from 176 of the nation’s most respected retired generals and admirals, which reinforced the United States’ bipartisan opposition to torture.

As Division 19, the Society for Military Psychology within the American Psychological Association, whose members include representatives from all military branches, we strongly urge President Trump to restrain from loosening any rules governing the treatment of individuals in military custody. The members of Division 19 assert and affirm that torture or abusive treatment is deeply inconsistent with the ethics and values inherent to military service, our profession as psychologists and our stature as American citizens.

In direct contrast to statements made by the administration, experienced intelligence professionals and politicians from both sides of the aisle agree that torture is not effective and, more importantly, does not represent who we are as a nation — it is immoral. Moreover, the science of gathering human intelligence does not support any claims of effectiveness. The respect for human rights and the acquisition of actionable intelligence are not mutually exclusive, despite claims by some that they are.

Last year, Senators McCain (R-AZ) and Feinstein (D-CA) sponsored legislation that reinforces the United States’ ban on the use of torture. That legislation passed the Senate with the support of a broad bipartisan majority. APA proudly supported that legislation, as did the membership of Division 19.

Speaking with one voice, we urge President Trump, in the strongest terms, to maintain the current legislative framework that recognizes the need for national security and respect for human rights.    

Sally C. Harvey, PhD
President, Division 19

Ann T. Landes, PhD
Past-President, Division 19

Mark A. Staal, PhD
President-Elect, Division 19