I am a psychologist
and writer in Lincoln, Nebraska. All of my adult life, I have
worked for human rights organizations. In 1965, when I was 17
years old, I marched for de-segregation in Kansas City. As a therapist,
I have spent my career repairing the psychic damage of traumatized
people, whether they be rape or assault victims, family members
of murder victims, or refugees and asylum seekers. I have worked
with torture victims since the 1980s and I know that many of them
are innocent of any crime whatsoever and all of them suffer irreparable
damage to their lives.
of 2007 I made the difficult decision to return my 2006 Presidential
Citation, awarded to me by then President of the American Psychological
Association, Dr. Gerald Koocher. I was deeply appreciative of
this honor and proud to be a member of the APA. Over the years
I have enjoyed an excellent relationship with this organization.
I received my first Presidential Citation in 1998 from Dr. Martin
Seligman and have been the keynote speaker at the APA's national
convention. With this action, I feel as if I am betraying a good
For the past
few years, I have been troubled by various media and Department
of Defense reports that psychologists have designed protocols
and trained and supervised interrogators in the use of sophisticated
methods for breaking the human spirit and destroying mental functioning.
When this August, at the APA's annual convention, members passed
Substitute Motion Three instead of a ban on psychologists' involvement
in military interrogations, I felt I needed to act.
the past few years, I have been troubled by various media
and Department of Defense reports that psychologists have
designed protocols and trained and supervised interrogators
in the use of sophisticated methods for breaking the human
spirit and destroying mental functioning.
Motion Three looks fine on the surface, but the devil is in the
details, and the devil always dresses in the tuxedo of lofty rhetoric.
While it has been argued that this resolution bars psychologists'
participation in the CIA's enhanced interrogation program, the
motion did not place a moratorium on psychologists' involvement
in all national security facilities that operate outside the law.
This lack of firmness puts our profession at odds with the Geneva
Conventions, Red Cross standards, Department of Defense guidelines,
the UN Declaration of Human Rights, and the ethical codes of the
American Psychiatric Association and the American Medical Association.
In ratifying this document, the APA has made a terrible mistake.
I have concluded that the United States government is committing
war crimes with the help of individual psychologists and our professional
organization. Without psychologists' presence to lend legitimacy
to these interrogations, our government would find its position
utterly indefensible. The behavior of psychologists on interrogation
teams violates our own Code of Ethics, in which we pledge to respect
the humanity of all people. As psychologists, we vow to do no
United States government is committing war crimes with the
help of individual psychologists and our professional organization.
Without psychologists' presence to lend legitimacy to these
interrogations, our government would find its position utterly
learned this lesson from my mother, Dr. Avis, who was a small-town
doctor in rural Nebraska in the 1950s. She often quoted Hippocrates's
remark, "Make a habit of two things, to help, or at least, to
do no harm." She took her Hippocratic vows seriously. Two of them
I remember specifically, "Never do anyone harm for someone else's
interest." And, "Keep the welfare of your patient as your highest
priority." My mother gave free medical care to any one who showed
up at our house or her office. Sometimes she was paid in smoked
hams and sweet corn. She also taught me this, "Morality isn't
pretty words; morality is action." I hope I am honoring my mother's
values with my decision.
of us are degraded, all of human life is degraded. This is not
just about the prisoners; it is about who we are as people. Once
we decide certain people are beyond the pale and give them less
respect than we would want for ourselves if our situations were
reversed, we make we ourselves vulnerable to also being treated
as less than human.
I know that
the return of my Presidential Citation is of small import, but
it is what I can do to disassociate myself from what I consider
to be a heinous policy. My belief is that psychology should be
solely a helping profession. When we become anything else, we
I acted as
a matter of conscience and in the hopes that the APA will reconsider
its current position. We have long been an organization that respects
human rights and promotes tolerance, kindness, and peace. It is
my deepest hope that the APA will reclaim its reputation as a
beacon of integrity and compassion.
Dr. Mary Pipher is the author of Reviving