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Do No Harm? How Psychologists Have Supported Torture and What to Do About It

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Enlarging the Scope of Peace Psychology

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Abstract

Torture is used not only by deranged individuals but by many states, including presumably democratic ones. This chapter examines two cases in point—apartheid South Africa and the US post-9/11—and how to prevent psychologists’ involvement in or support for torture. The South Africa case illustrates how most psychologists failed to speak out against the government’s blatant violations of human rights on a wide scale. The US case illustrates the dangers of allowing national law to trump international law and human rights standards, particularly the UN Convention Against Torture. It shows that psychologists played a direct role in torture, while the American Psychological Association collaborated with the Department of Defense in ways that supported torture, thereby undermining human rights and politicising psychology. Efforts to prevent psychologists’ support for torture include, among others, human rights education, strengthening codes of professional ethics, engaging with government in ways that reduce psychologists’ involvement in torture and mistreatment, international monitoring of professional ethics codes, encouragement and support for whistle-blowers, and vigorous prosecution of psychologists who support or engage in torture. Ultimately, all psychologists must take a stand against torture.

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Wessells, M., Sveaass, N., Foster, D., Dawes, A. (2017). Do No Harm? How Psychologists Have Supported Torture and What to Do About It. In: Seedat, M., Suffla, S., Christie, D. (eds) Enlarging the Scope of Peace Psychology. Peace Psychology Book Series. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-45289-0_14

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