Dr. Mary Pipher, a prominent psychologist and author, recently returned a Presidential Citation award she had received from the American Psychological Association, in protest over the Association’s endorsement of its members’ participation in CIA interrogations.
Her gesture makes a symbolic and largely personal statement against the increasing tolerance by this nation’s leaders of “enhanced interrogation techniques” — i.e. torture — but it is nevertheless a courageous and honorable act, an act which gains her nothing, but reflects a deep integrity and an unwillingness to look the other way or to wait for somebody else to speak up.
Here is the text of her letter to the APA:
August 21, 2007
American Psychological Association,
750 First Street, NE,
Washington, DC 20002-4242
I am writing to inform you that I am returning my Presidential Citation dated 2/02/06 and awarded to me by then President of the American Psychological Association, Dr. Gerald Koocher. I have struggled for many months with this decision, and I make it with pain and sorrow. I was honored to receive this award and proud to be a member of APA. Over the years I have spoken at national conventions many times and had enjoyed an excellent relationship with the APA and its staff. With this letter, I feel as if I am ostracizing a good friend.
I do not want an award from an organization that sanctions its members’ participation in the enhanced interrogations at CIA Black Sites and at Guantanamo. The presence of psychologists has both educated the interrogation teams in more skillful methods of breaking people down and legitimized the process of torture in defiance of the Geneva Conventions.
The behavior of psychologists on these enhanced interrogation teams violates our own Code of Ethics (2002) in which we pledge to respect the dignity and worth of all people, with special responsibility towards the most vulnerable. I consider prisoners in secret CIA-run facilities with no right of habeas corpus or access to attorneys, family or media to be highly vulnerable. I also believe that when any of us are degraded, all of human life is degraded. This letter is as much about us as it is about prisoners.
In our Ethics Code we agree to promote honesty and accuracy. Our involvement in these projects has been secretive and dishonest. Finally, as psychologists we vow to do no harm. Without question, we violate this oath when we allow people in our care to be deprived of sleep or subjected to sensory over-stimulation or deprivation.
I cannot accept the August 19, 2007 Reaffirmation of APA’s Position Against Torture (Substitute Motion Three). Under this motion, psychologists will be allowed to continue working on interrogation teams that are not subject to the Geneva Conventions. This motion places our organization on the side of the CIA and Department of Defense and at odds with the United Nations, The Red Cross, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Medical Association. With this reaffirmation we have made a terrible mistake.
I know that the return of my Presidential Citation from Dr. Koocher will be of small import, but it is what I can do to disassociate myself from what I consider to be a heinous policy. All of my life I have tried my best to stand up for those with no voices and no power. The prisoners our government labels as enemy combatants are in this category.
I return my citation as a matter of conscience and in the hopes that the APA will reconsider its current unethical position. We have long been a wonderful organization that respected human rights and promoted tolerance, kindness, and peace. Nothing is more fundamental to our core orientation and professional service to others than our commitment to all people’s inherent dignity, safety and welfare. I hope my letter may be useful in restoring the APA to its long-respected and important stance as a beacon of integrity and kindness for all human beings.
Dr. Mary Pipher