Toward a Unified Theory of Professional Ethics and Human Rights

This Article offers a novel account of the relationship between the ethical obligations of professionals and international human rights law and practice. The account is motivated by the role that professionals played in the Bush administration’s “war on terror”-in particular, the global detention and interrogation regimes that incarcerated tens of thousands of detainees, and abused many of them. In the most extreme cases, professionals may have committed serious international crimes rendering them liable to criminal prosecution in foreign courts. Serious concerns have also been raised about the ethics of professionals’ conduct. Psychologists were the principal architects of the aggressive detention and interrogation regimes operated by both the U.S. Defense Department and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). These regimes incorporated a variety of coercive techniques including sleep deprivation, exposure to temperature extremes and loud noise, stress positions, and-in the case of the CIA-dousing with cold water and waterboarding, the now infamous procedure that induces a desperate feeling of suffocation in those exposed to it.