NEW YORK — After an escalating debate about the role of psychologists in military prisons, the American Psychological Association voted Wednesday to reject a proposed change in policy that would have allowed members to treat detainees held at sites that do not comply with international human rights laws.
The proposed change would have reversed a 2015 determination by the association that prohibited such work, effectively blocking military psychologists from the military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, maintained by the United States.
That decision followed revelations that in the early 2000s the association had finessed its ethics guidelines so that psychologists could aid interrogations by suggesting lines of questioning, for example, or advising when a confrontation had gone too far or not far enough.
The APA still forbids psychologists from participating in interrogations.
The newly rejected policy change simply would have permitted psychologists in uniform to provide therapy and counseling to detainees who asked for it.
The association has little direct authority to restrict members’ ability to practice. But state licensing boards can suspend or revoke a psychologist’s license for a variety of reasons, including violations of the ethics code or professional policies.
The current policy allows psychologists to work in detainment facilities deemed in violation of human rights standards only if they represent an independent organization, such as the International Red Cross, or detainees themselves, not the military.
So far, psychological help from those sources has been slow to materialize for detainees, said Colonel Sally Harvey, a past president of the association’s military division who had pushed for the change.
The military has other health care workers on staff at detention facilities, she noted. But under current policy, psychologists, who provide talk therapy and other forms of guidance, cannot do so.