Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

Enhanced Interrogations: The Expanding Roles of Psychology in Police Investigations in Canada

Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

Enhanced Interrogations: The Expanding Roles of Psychology in Police Investigations in Canada

Article excerpt

In accordance with their collective ethical principles, the American Psychological Association (APA) joined forces with the American Psychiatric Association in 1985 to denounce the use of torture; their position statement recognised that psychological knowledge could be misused to interrogate detainees inhumanely, violating a primary obligation to respect human dignity (APA, 2015c). Thirty years later, the APA has been implicated in the development and application of torture and coercive interrogations of national security targets. In August, 2015, the group announced that its chief executive officer, deputy CEO, and communications chief were no longer associated with the APA; in the 542-page independent Hoffman report all three were found to have worked in conjunction with the Pentagon and the CIA by contributing to coercive interrogation practices (Hoffman et al., 2015; American Psychological Association, 2015b). This reportedly transpired through the contribution of psychological knowledge to enhance torture techniques (e.g., sensory deprivation) for intelligence gathering, the manipulation of ethical guidelines to conceal such practices (Soldz, 2008), and the alignment of such guidelines with policies implemented by the Department of Defence (Hoffman et al., 2015).

These deplorable revelations have leftthe psychology community engaging in much self-reflection and head scratching: what were the APA psychologists in leadership positions thinking when participating in this type of activity? After the damning report emerged, a somewhat understandable but obvious knee-jerk reaction occurred; the APA convened in Toronto and voted in support of a new policy barring psychologists from participating in national security interrogations altogether (APA, 2015c). Was this an appropriate decision? While APA members appear to have committed an egregious ethical violation by contributing to coercive interrogation practices, should psychologists never be permitted to contribute to the interrogation of individuals suspected to represent security threats? After the publication of the Hoffmann report, APA President-elect Susan McDaniel provided elaboration around this issue (APA, 2015c); her letter stated that although psychologists in the APA are now strictly forbidden from being involved in specific national security interrogations, they are permitted to be involved in "providing general policy guidance concerning humane interrogations" (McDaniel & Kaslow, 2015, para. 4).

McDaniel's clarification acknowledges that psychologists may have useful knowledge regarding interrogation practices at a policy level. However, it fails to apply to the broad scope of psychological consultations; it could potentially be interpreted to mean that we have few meaningful nor positive direct contributions to make to criminal investigation or intelligence gathering, and/or that we cannot be expected to act ethically in such contexts. Yet, in recent years, the roles of psychologists as consultants in criminal investigations have been expanding in many ways (see Porter & Wrightsman, 2014). The first author, who is consulted on a regular basis by Canadian law enforcement and courts, hoped to take this opportunity to reflect upon the evolving roles and responsibilities of psychologists in criminal investigations. Canadian psychologists should acknowledge the ethical shortcomings demonstrated by the APA and reevaluate their own practices to ensure that they are not only providing the most suitable consultation, but also abiding to their obligations as acting psychologists. If consulting psychologists in Canada ensure that their work in any type of criminal or terrorism investigations is being applied appropriately, our field has much to offer in facilitating criminal investigations. Given these circumstances, it is an appropriate time to examine the practical and ethical issues confronting forensic psychologists who act as consultants in criminal investigations, and, accordingly, suggest the most effective and ethical practices and directions for future research. …

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