Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict, and Violence
Peace Psychology Division 48 of the APA

2006 APA Resolution
Justification Statement

Frequently Asked Questions about the 2006 APA Resolution Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Why was the 2006 Resolution Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment drafted? Was it written to address the reports of possible abuses at detention centers for foreign detainees such as Guantanamo Bay?

The American Psychological Association (APA) had a long standing policy (the 1986 Human Rights Resolution) against torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment (CIDTP). The 2006 Resolution is an update, and significant expansion of that resolution. Most notably, the 1986 Resolution needed updating to reflect recent advancements in human rights law and also to reflect APA's status as a United Nations (UN) non-governmental organization (NGO). While current events stimulated work on this resolution, it does not focus exclusively on these events.

Torture and other CIDTP are unfortunately concerns that impact so many individuals around the globe. As noted in the Justification Statement for the 2006 Resolution:

In terms of scope, between 1997 and 2000, Amnesty International recorded complaints of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by agents of the state from over 140 countries (Amnesty International, 2000). More conservative estimates implicated over 100 countries in the systematic practice of torture and other forms of gross maltreatment (Genefke, 2004). Human Rights Watch (2006) further reported an increase in the use of torture within many countries such as China, Myanmar, Morocco, Nepal, Uganda, and Uzbekistan.

The Center for Victims of Torture (2001) estimated that, at minimum, a half million survivors of torture are living in the United States with between 5% and 35% of refugees being either primary or secondary survivors of torture. A survey of centers meeting the needs of the refugees and torture survivors suggested that the numbers of refugee torture survivors may indeed be even higher. Chester (1990) found that approximately 35% to 50% of all refugees were survivors of torture. Moreover, Shelton (1998) estimated that there are at least 400,000 survivors of torture living in the United States today. Thus, the problem of torture is not just a concern internationally but a domestic concern for American psychologists and other professionals.

As such, the 2006 Resolution Against Torture and Other CIDTP is designed to address the issue of torture and other CIDTP in all settings and at all times.

In detention centers for foreign detainees, in U.S. prisons, in adolescent group homes, in facilities for the aged, in hospitals treating the chronically ill, in any situation where individuals are in a position of relative helplessness, the danger of torture and other CIDTP exists. While the treatment of foreign detainees is an incredibly important issue, we would fail as psychologists concerned about fundamental human rights if we ignored all those for whom the world is largely silent. Therefore, the 2006 Resolution was written to affirm APA's commitment to human rights protections; to affirm the centrality of UN and other human rights documents in APA policy; to reflect APA's status as a UN NGO; to unambiguously condemn the use of torture and other CIDTP; to unambiguously prohibit psychologists involvement, either directly or indirectly, in torture and other CIDTP; and, to highlight that these general principles apply to all psychologists, in all roles, and in all places, now and in the future, with absolutely no exceptions.

If current events stimulated initial work on the Resolution, why is it that Guantanamo Bay or interrogations are not mentioned specifically?

The 2006 Resolution is designed to be a general human rights resolution against torture and other CIDTP. If we cited specific instances of suspected torture, this would negate the value of the Resolution for those instances of torture not listed. We did not want to further disenfranchise and delegitimize those who are tortured around the globe both in the U.S. and elsewhere by failure to include their specific cases.

The APA has a long history of Council Resolutions designed to address a variety of specific human rights concerns such as Children's Rights (1989), Free Exchange of Ideas (1985), Serious Mental Illness (1989), Psychiatric Diagnosis and Political Dissent (1973, 1975, 1977), Cultural and Ethnic Diversity (1990, 1998, 1999), Hate Crimes (1988), Homelessness (1986, 1990), Poverty and Socioeconomic Status (2000), Sexual Orientation (1975 1981 1987 1991 1992, 1996, 1997, 1998), Women's Rights (1975), and Nuclear Arms (1982). And this represents just a partial listing of Council Resolutions that have direct links to issues of public policy as well as fundamental human rights.

Council Resolutions can serve as a foundation for additional policy and program development as well as future related Council Resolutions. The 2006 Resolution Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment can also be used as such a basis for future work.

Ultimately, the 2006 Resolution is designed to represent measure of hope for all who are powerless against torture and other CIDTP in prisons, group homes, care facilities, adolescent "boot camps", and a host of other settings. This Resolution lends yet another voice against destructive and abusive practices as they occur in the U.S. and around the globe and clearly delineates psychologists responsibilities in condemning and acting against torture and other CIDTP whenever and wherever they occur.

Does the 2006 Resolution address psychological or mental forms of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment?

Yes, the 2006 Resolution addresses the fact that psychological knowledge and techniques (e.g., including but not limited to deprivation and disorientation techniques) may be used to design and carry out torture and other CIDTP. The Resolution also provides references to research on this topic (e.g., Conroy, 2000; Hovens & Drozdek, 2002; Mossallanejad, 2000). A broader discussion of psychological forms of torture both in terms of types and effects can be found in the Justification Statement that accompanied the draft of the Resolution presented to Council.

The 2006 Resolution unambiguously condemns the use of psychological or mental forms of torture and other CIDTP. Additionally, the 2006 Resolution unambiguously prohibits the involvement of psychologists, either directly or indirectly, in the use of psychological or mental forms of torture and other CIDTP at any time, in any setting, and under any circumstances.

Are the definitions of "torture" and "cruel, inhuman, or degrading" codified in the 2006 Resolution? Does the reference to the McCain Amendment in the Resolution make the definitions more fluid or subject to change?

One of the problems associated with the 1986 Human Rights Resolution was that no definitions were provided and it did not tie any of the issues to international law. This, of course, created immense loopholes and left the 1986 Resolution open to the floating definition problem. Therefore, we felt it was important to tie the document to current international law AND (not or) domestic law.

The definition of "torture" is specific in the resolution. It uses the definition of torture as defined by the UN in the Convention Against Torture. There is no qualification for this item; no reference to U.S. reservations. It stands in the 2006 Resolution as written under international law without alterations. Additionally, it is not just referenced in the Resolution but quoted, thus codifying that definition within the Resolution. The definition accepted by APA as policy is as follows:

[T]he term "torture" means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted upon a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official [e.g., governmental, religious, political, organizational] capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in, or incidental to lawful sanctions [in accordance with both domestic and international law]

The definition of "cruel, inhuman, or degrading" is taken from the McCain Amendment. This definition was included in the Justification Statement, which accompanied the Draft Resolution provided to all Council members prior to the Convention. Concerns about a lack of definition in the actual Resolution were rightly raised at the Council meeting at the Convention and so we added it directly from the Justification Statement to the Resolution; indeed, strengthening the Resolution, which was passed unanimously by Council including previous Council Representatives who were co-sponsors of the resolution.

The McCain Amendment does reference U.S. "Reservations." Declarations and Reservations are statements that accompany almost all (if not all) UN Conventions, Declarations, etc. The Convention Against Torture (CAT) Declarations and Reservations page can be found at These are normal for UN international documents and many countries add such declarations and reservations, in some cases strengthening omissions in the documents. The United States Reservation I.1 of the Reservations, Declarations and Understandings to the United Nations Convention Against Torture stating, "the term 'cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment' means the cruel, unusual and inhumane treatment or punishment prohibited by the Fifth, Eighth, and/or Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States" is the only Reservation applicable to the 2006 APA Resolution.

Unfortunately, the CAT does not provide a definition of "cruel, inhuman, or degrading." The definition contained in the U.S. statements in the Declarations and Reservations to the CAT is the only reference to any definition of "cruel, inhuman, or degrading" in any international document. We chose this definition as it is codified in international law and also is now codified in domestic law via the McCain Amendment. It is likely that McCain selected that definition precisely because it is codified in international law and would thus, be very difficult to change.

By providing a definition in the 2006 Resolution, specifically one grounded in the Declarations and Reservations statements, we actually provide a standard that is higher than the CAT without the Declarations and Reservations. As the CAT itself provides no definition, it is highly subject to the floating definition problem. There are many areas around the globe where prisoners, women, children, elderly, etc. are being abused and it is simply not defined by the particular country as "cruel, inhuman, or degrading. " Rather what we would most likely define as abuses, atrocities, and horrors are defined as normative within that country or culture. Without a legal definition and without the Declarations and Reservations, the CAT alone provides little guidance in the area of "cruel, inhuman, or degrading."

As with the definition of torture, we did not simply reference the McCain Amendment definition but quoted it and codified the definition within the 2006 Resolution. Specifically, this definition, citing both the McCain Amendment and the CAT, ties as APA policy the definition of "cruel, inhuman, or degrading" to the the 5th, 8th, and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. As such, this definition is now part of APA policy as it is written into the Resolution and not subject to change. Indeed, to lower the standards as they are explicated in the Resolution, one would need to rewrite three Amendments to the U.S. Constitution as well as recraft the CAT.

We would note also that we elected to make the torture and CIDTP definitions separate "Be It Resolved" statements to avoid any potential confusions or misapplications of the U.S. reservations in relation to the definition of torture. Thus, to reiterate, the definitions as clearly provided in the Resolution are not subject change due to their codification as written in APA policy. To change the definitions or to make them more fluid would require a new resolution. While there may be some who may not like the fact that the definitions of both "torture" and "cruel, inhuman, or degrading" are tied to BOTH international AND (Not OR) domestic law, such links strengthen the Resolution and prevent problems associated with unique governmental policy changes in definitions and weakening of human rights standards.

What if I want to see the APA address some other issue? How can I get the APA to enact a new Resolution or make policy changes?

The APA is a membership-based organization and not a monolithic organization with an elite, small group of individuals at the top enacting changes. Rather change comes largely from the membership. Members who are concerned about specific issues can bring new items to the attention of the APA, work on these issues, organize support within the Council of Representatives (all volunteer members elected to these positions from within Divisions and State Organizations), and then have policy voted on/enacted within the APA.

Therefore, when members ask "why isn't APA addressing this issue?" perhaps, the more appropriate question is "what can I do to see that this issue is addressed within the APA?" And yes, just a couple of individuals working together can begin efforts for and bring about change within the APA. It does take time and requires a fair amount of plain-old hard work and collaboration but if members simply wait for and look to "APA" to tackle a concern, little gets done. Members, individually and collectively, are "APA" and change doesn't happen without member involvement.

Divisions and State/Provincial Associations are good places to begin one's involvement within the APA and these are the organizations represented within the Council of Representatives. More information about Divisions and State/Provincial Associations can be found on the APA Web site.

Join and become involved in these organizations which form the bedrock of the APA. Additionally, pay attention to who you elect to Council positions as well as to who you elect to other positions within any Division or State/Provincial Association. Get to know these individuals and get involved in working for change. Return your apportionment ballots (these come out in the fall) as this determines the number of Council Representatives for each Division/Association. If you want your group to have more Council Representatives, you need to vote with your apportionment ballot to make that happen.

Final thoughts

As psychologists, we know that human rights are inalienable and every individual possesses inherent worth and dignity. As psychologists, we know that human rights violations cause significant and lasting harm to individuals and their families. As psychologists, we know that when human rights abuses are institutionalized, our social fabric is torn causing harm to all - victims, perpetrators, bystanders, and communities. Finally, as psychologists, we also know that psychological knowledge can be, but NEVER SHOULD BE, misused for the purposes of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. With that knowledge, the Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict, and Violence (Division 48) worked diligently and in collaboration with many others including other Divisions within the APA and a number of human rights scholars to draft and then pass the 2006 APA 2006 Resolution Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

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