Trump Ordered Guantanamo to Stay Open, Now APA to Vote on Overturning Ban on Psychologists at Guantanamo

Jeffrey Kaye
7 min readJul 19, 2018
GTMO BHU sign, Department of Defense photo

The American Psychological Association’s Board of Directors and Council Leadership team have endorsed a new agenda item for APA’s upcoming national meeting in early August. Labelled New Business Item (NBI) 35B, the resolution would overturn a 2015 APA decision calling for the removal of all psychologists from Guantanamo, stating psychologists may not work in “settings where persons are held outside of, or in violation of, either International Law…or the US Constitution.”

An exception had been made for non-military or independent psychologists who could treat detainees when “they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights.”

The proposed change comes after President Trump issued an executive order in January 2018 reversing President Obama’s stated, but unfulfilled, promise to close Guantanamo. Trump has announced that he intends to send newly captured “terrorists” to the Cuba-based military prison, though none have been sent there as yet.

[Update, August 10, 2018: On August 8, at a vote by APA’s Council of Representatives, the proposal to allow psychologists to return to sites like Guantanamo, that are considered illegal and stand outside of international law, or where human rights abuses routinely take place, was defeated by a vote of 105 to 57, with 15 abstentions.]

Psychologist Participation in Torture

The current APA policy prohibiting psychologists from working at Guantanamo followed a series of scandals relating to the participation of psychologists in torture by both the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency. In August 2017, two CIA contract psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, settled a lawsuit brought by the ACLU on behalf of two CIA torture victims and the family of one CIA detainee who died in custody. The terms of the settlement have been kept confidential.

In 2008, a referendum was first proposed by rank-and-file members of the APA that called for removal of psychologists from Guantanamo and CIA “black sites” where torture and other human rights violations were conducted. APA fought that referendum and…