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Involvement of Psychologists in Military Interrogations Term Paper

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Updated: Mar 31st, 2020


The role of psychologists in military interrogations has been in existence for some time, but it has faced both support and resentment in equal measure. Primarily, one would argue that psychologists play a crucial role in extracting important information from detainees or suspects, provided they follow proper guidelines and ethical standards. Their role involves creating an enabling environment that facilitates mental and physical preparedness of interrogators and detainees during the interrogation process.

However, they encounter various challenges in this role, some of which include negative reception from security agents due to their stand on torture and lack of adequate funding. Importantly, the practice has been instrumental in enhancing the human rights of detainees and suspects, as well as providing ethical and legitimate means of extracting information from them.

This paper will provide a detailed discussion on the role of psychologists during the interrogation process in the military, including ethical principles and standards that govern them. The discussion will also highlight some challenges that psychologists encounter during their practice and justifications for their involvement in military interrogations.

Involvement of Psychologists in Military Interrogations

The role of military psychologists in interrogation continues to be an area of complexity and controversy. Generally, military psychologists have a moral obligation to protect detained persons and the public at large. While there are many missteps and misconduct by psychologists, their presence in the interrogation process is very important (Moore & Barnett, 2013). It is worth noting that many human rights groups have always criticized the use of inhumane tactics in extracting information from detainees and suspects.

They have also been concerned about mental and emotional torture inflicted to subjects, leading to refinement of ethical standards and guidelines that psychologists must adhere to during interrogation process.

This term paper will evaluate the important roles that psychologists play in interrogations, challenges they experience, and research on the importance of having psychologists’ presence during interrogations. Overall, it is important to note that the work of psychologists is very crucial in transforming and influencing the lives of different groups of people in the military.

Psychologists have been involved in military interrogations for a long time. In 2005, a special task force that included the American Psychological Association (APA) was convened to develop guidelines for psychologists serving in intelligence units and detention facilities – Report of the Presidential Task Force on Phycological Ethics and National Security (Mustakova-Possardt, 2013). The taskforce provided an ethical balance on the practice of psychological techniques on suspects and detainees.

However, in certain cases, interrogation and torture techniques were used to punish individuals and obtain information that would help in solving certain problems. This authorization by APA was disturbing to many organizations, including the International Red Cross that was against the use of techniques that were cruel and inhuman.

This led to sustained and strenuous efforts of these groups and the support of APA, leading to the adoption of detailed and clear specific ethical standards to limit the role of psychologists in interrogations (Mustakova-Possardt, 2013).

Consequently, even with major strides undertaken to ensure ethical standards were followed, the real nature of challenges began after the 9/11 terror attack. The involvement of psychologists in interrogation of detainees in Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere saw a great resentment to their involvement (Mustakova-Possardt, 2013).

Another challenge came when APA embraced its common programs designed for military interrogations. In recent times, there has been irrefutable evidence in the US that psychologists were actively involved in the design, implementation, research, and oversight of abusive and torturous interrogation practices.

One of the practices used includes the misguided reverse engineering of torturous military survival, evasion, resistance, and escape (SERE). In other cases, psychologist’s involvement employed interrogation methods such as deception, fear escalation, ego harm, and extended isolation, all of which conflicted with the professional ethics standards (Tyson, Jones, & Elcock, 2011).

The APA task force that had advocated for psychologists’ involvement in interrogation practices was questioned, leading to the PENS report. This report relied on the revision of ethical standards to which psychologist had to adhere to the requirements of the law, regulations, or other governing legal authorities. The report meant that psychologists had the responsibility to uphold professional ethics when engaged in national security options.

The PENS report recommended ethical standards and argued that psychologists were essential in making interrogations safe, legal, and effective. In reality, psychologists are often unable to determine if detainees are reluctant to give information or if simply they do not have information to give (Pickren & Rutherford, 2010).

Psychologists involved in military interrogations have to follow the professional ethos of “do no harm.” National security agencies must adopt clear and firm ethical guidelines in interrogations. In relation to prisoners of war, psychologists with appropriate expertise could ethically play a role in teaching the intelligence personnel on how to build rapport and non-coercive relationships.

Moreover, psychologists offer psychological proficiency in areas of watching, consulting, and giving feedback on the detention facility to aid command in ensuring a humane environment for detainees (Tyson et al. 2011).

They also engage in planning, strategy formulation, and coaching of interrogators on how to use cultural factors and personality to establish rapport with subjects. Interrogations can be considered mentally and physically stressful to both the interrogators and detainees; thus, psychologists provide a conducive environment by monitoring the interrogation process.

Psychologists involved in military interrogations have faced many challenges in regards to acquiring information from detainees. Many recommendations have been set up by different organizations opposing the use of torture, which has been a major ingredient in interrogation. Although APA has come up with guidelines, critics in the human rights department argue that these guidelines do not safeguard the human rights of detainees.

It is also clear that detainees who have committed crimes against humanity may be stripped of these rights in their detention (Sadoff, 2011). Therefore, APA has come under attack by various groups and activists of human rights who are indifferent of the guidelines, which they term as being against human rights.

In addition to the challenges of negativity they experience and lack of confidence from the security departments, there is also a lack of funding. Many organizations do not have a psychology department, and this has highly affected different suspects subjected to interrogation. Overall, the involvement of psychologists has influenced the behavioral aspects of detainees.

Apparently, the use of psychologists in the behavioral evaluation of suspects during interrogations is imperative in extracting information from the suspects. The psychologists use their skills and expertise to understand their behavior and evaluate if the information is true or false (Moore & Barnett, 2013).

Involvement of psychologists plays an integral role in the war on terror and augmenting military efforts. They can also be involved when there are administration challenges or demands from detainees; they offer particular assessments and interventions in behavioral health of detainees.

Involving psychologists in interrogations has helped in enhancing a more ethical and legal way to extract information from suspects, mainly because they can ultimately understand the behavioral aspects of the suspects. In the military, psychologists are also referred to as behavioral consultants who use their knowledge to understand suspects, thus gathering information on any potential and real crime (Kloos, Hill, & Thomas, 2011).

In conclusion, the psychologist’s involvement in interrogations has helped security institutions to understand their subjects better. In recent times, the use of psychologists has helped in understanding the behavioral aspects of detainees. The challenges that psychologists in interrogation have faced have been instrumental in enhancing and redefining the importance of human rights psychological perspective.

Generally, the ability of psychologists to be impartial compared to interrogators is crucial; for instance, the involvement of psychologists in the interrogation process has become an integral part of many security agents. As a result, psychologists working in the security agencies need to be ethical in terms of practices and procedures used in interrogations.

Although these skills can sometimes be helpful, some psychologists may not know how to differentiate whether the information given is of value to the case or not. This can lead to a loss of confidence in the department, making it unworthy to the criminal department. Nevertheless, the involvement of psychologists in military organizations has both positive and negative effects.

Thus it cannot be concluded whether it is important for security units or not. This involvement has improved on interrogation procedures by agencies and organizations around the world, thus upholding the law while protecting the rights of detainees in different detention centers, who may be war and terror suspects.


Kloos, B., Hill, J., & Thomas, E. (2011). Community Psychology: Linking Individuals and Communities. OH, USA: Cengage learning.

Moore, B. & Barnett, J. (2013). Military Psychologists’ Desk Reference. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Mustakova-Possardt, E. (2013). Toward a Socially Responsible Psychology for a Global Era. New York, USA: Springer.

Pickren, W., & Rutherford, A. (2010). A History of Modern Psychology in Context. NJ, USA: John Wiley & sons.

Sadoff, R. L. (2011). Ethical Issues in Forensic Psychiatry: Minimizing Harm. NJ, USA: John Wiley & sons.

Tyson, P., Jones, D., & Elcock, J. (2011). Psychology in Social Context: Issues and Debates. NJ, USA: John Wiley & sons.

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