We have spent a lot of time on this blog discussing and documenting anthropologists’ involvement in the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, including “the AAA’s stand against the Human Terrain System program”:http://aaanet.org/issues/AAA-Opposes-Human-Terrain-System-Project.cfm. Throughout the course of these discussions one question that has come up is how the AAA’s position compares with that taken by other professional associations — is it atypically political, for instance?
Its for this reason that I wanted to spotlight the “American Psychological Association’s decision”:http://www.apa.org/governance/resolutions/work-settings.html (“full text here”:http://www.apa.org/governance/resolutions/work-settings.html) which states that psychologists may not work in settings where persons are held outside of, or in violation of, either International Law or the US Constitution, unless they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights. This follows on from a resolution last year in which the APA declared that it was unethical for its members to involve themselves in “degrading or inhumane treatment of research subjects”:http://www.apa.org/releases/faqinterrogation.html.
Now, you might think that it does not take a lot of moral courage for the APA to declare torture like waterboarding to be unethical… except for the fact that there are lots of extremely powerful people in the world who don’t even consider it torture. One might also argue that there is a big difference between the APA’s position and the AAA’s, since the work being done by HTS teams does not directly involve torture. But of course the APA position is much broader than a non-controversial opposition to torture — it covers all forms of degrading and inhumane treatment. It indicates that professional associations are willing to take a stand for ethical treatment of human subjects. In regards to HTS, it focuses attention on the need (which we’ve mentioned many times before) for some transparency on HTS’s part so that we can have some sense of what they are doing, and whether it has negative impacts on informants — something that is harder to track but nonetheless just as serious. Weeks and weeks ago a commenter mentioned that HTS would be making some publications available someday. I had no idea whether they actually knew anyone in the organization but… as of yet we still have nothing. Which is not exactly inspiring.