Do no harm, says the first rule of medicine. But it’s not as easy as it sounds. What if you alone possess the unique skills necessary to analyze the mind of a potential criminal — a terrorist even? But that unique skill set needs some help to bring things to light, like say waterboarding the criminal first? That’s inflicting harm — yet if you failed to do it, the harm a killer could inflict might be much, much greater. What’s a psychologist to do? Use her skill set to help the government question terror suspects — or not?
After seeing some of its own deeply implicated in controversial interrogation practices used by the US government, the American Psychological Association (APA) is voting on a policy that would prohibit its members from participating in this kind of questioning. Many of the controversial techniques used in Guantanamo, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere were created and monitored by psychologists. Enacting a ban, the APA would be trying to sever the link between its membership and sophisticated “enhanced interrogation” techniques developed by its members in the past.