Psychological Association’s Board Urges Ban on Members’ Role in Military Interrogations

The American Psychological Association's headquarters, in Washington, D.C. (Creative Commons-licensed photo by Wikimedia user Oakstreetstudio.)The Board of Directors of the American Psychological Association has recommended that the organization ban psychologists from taking part in interrogations conducted by the military or intelligence services, a prohibition long sought by critics of the APA’s involvement with a Central Intelligence Agency program, widely viewed as practicing torture, under the administration of President George W. Bush.

That is the most striking recommendation in an internal document obtained by The Chronicle. It comes in response to an independent review, commissioned by the association and carried out by David Hoffman, a former federal prosecutor, that provides the most detailed evidence to date of how the APA collaborated with the U.S. government on its so-called enhanced-interrogation program.

As a result of the findings in the report, the APA’s director of ethics, Stephen Behnke, has been fired. Mr. Behnke, who worked with the Pentagon on interrogation methods while employed by the APA, was not immediately reachable for comment.

The APA commissioned the review after allegations about the association’s involvement with the torture program were made in the book Pay Any Price, by James Risen, a reporter for The New York Times. Mr. Risen obtained an early copy of the report, which can be read here. (Here is his coverage of the report.)

The internal document obtained by The Chronicle calls Mr. Hoffman’s findings “shocking and sobering,” and urges the association’s leaders not to “minimize the gravity of what occurred.”

In the document, the Board of Directors urges the association to adopt:

a policy to prohibit psychologists from participating in the interrogation of persons held by military and intelligence authorities, whether in the US or elsewhere, but allowing them to provide training to military or civilian investigative or law enforcement personnel on recognizing and responding to persons with mental illnesses on the possible psychological effects of particular techniques and conditions of interrogation, and on other areas within their expertise.

The new policy brings the APA in line with organizations like the American Medical Association, which also prohibits participation in interrogations. Whether the recommendation will have any affect on psychologists’ participation in interrogations conducted by law enforcement remains to be seen.

The other recommendations call for an overhaul of APA governance and changes in its ethics procedures. For instance, the authors encourage the association to “evaluate conflict-of-interest policies regarding financial policy or relationship-based conflicts” and to create a “mechanism for immediate oversight in the processing of filed ethics complaints.”

One author of the recommendations is Nadine Kaslow, a former president of the APA and a professor of psychology at Emory University. Ms. Kaslow points out that the recommendations have yet to be formally adopted by a wider group of the association’s members and might undergo changes.

In an interview on Friday afternoon, Ms. Kaslow said she found the report’s revelations “extremely personally disturbing and sad.” She confirmed that Mr. Behnke had been fired and that other personnel decisions were being considered.

The internal document also recommends that the APA “acknowledge that we failed to live up to our core values” and “apologize to the public and other relevant parties.”

For more, see this Chronicle article.

Image: The American Psychological Association’s headquarters, in Washington, D.C. (Creative Commons-licensed photo by Wikimedia user Oakstreetstudio.)

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