By a nearly unanimous vote and standing ovation, the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Council of Representatives voted August 7th, 2015, at their annual convention to adopt a new policy barring psychologists from participating in national security interrogations and torture, including non-coercive interrogations now conducted by the Obama administration. The resolution states “psychologists shall not conduct, supervise or be in the presence of, or otherwise assist any national security interrogations for any military or intelligence entities.” The resolution places the APA on the side of international law by “barring psychologists from working at Guantánamo, CIA black sites, and other settings deemed illegal under the Geneva Conventions or the U.N. Convention Against Torture, unless they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights.”1
The vote occurred at the APA’s first convention since the release of an extensive independent investigative report confirming the APA leadership actively colluded with the Pentagon and the CIA during the Bush administration to facilitate torture programs. It concluded that the APA Board and some senior staff, including its ethics director, engaged in a pattern of secret collusion with the Department of Defense officers to defeat efforts by the APA Council to introduce and pass resolutions that would have prohibited psychologies from participating in interrogations at Guantánamo Bay and other U.S. detention centers abroad. Specially, the then-APA board president and then-APA president-elect were cited as key players who participated in this collusion.2
What led up to this historic vote at the convention? The vote resulted after many months of national media coverage, including near weekly coverage by the New York Times, and member advocacy demanding that the APA take a stand against psychologists’ involvement in interrogation and torture by the US government. The independent investigation was commissioned by the APA, only after enough pressure was created through a series of events and member advocacy efforts, which began in the fall of 2014, with the publication of Pay Any Price: Greed, Power and Endless War3, a book by New York Times reporter James Risen, which first disclosed the role of members of the APA Board in the Bush administration’s torture program. Immediately after the book was published, the APA responded with a public denial of their role and issued press releases asserting that Risen made “absurd and inaccurate accusations” and demanded that he rethink his notions about the APA4.
The Saga Continues…
During April 2015, Risen published a groundbreaking story in the New York Times that confirmed that the APA Board secretly collaborated on the torture programs5. It was based on recently disclosed documents, emails, and a report written by a group of psychologists who had been advocating against psychologists’ role in torture and interrogations since 2006 through an advocacy group called the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology. Again, the APA Board publically denied involvement through press releases.
According to interviews with APA members, they increasingly demanded the board and the council of representatives change these controversial policies. Whenever members raised these concerns to the board and demanded changes to the ethics policy, they were treated dismissively and their complaints were ignored, rationalized away, or mocked. Those who spoke out were publically criticized by the APA Board.
In November 2014, the APA Board, in order to refute the Risen New York Times articles and the allegations in his book, announced that they had commissioned their own independent report, having hired David H. Hoffman, a former federal prosecutor, to lead an independent review of the allegations that the APA colluded with government officials to sanction the use of interrogation techniques tantamount to torture.6 The 542-page report, which reportedly cost $4.3 million, found that the APA’s leadership definitively colluded with the Pentagon to modify and expand APA’s policies with those of the Defense Department and CIA in an effort to shield the government’s abusive interrogation program from ethical challenges from health professionals7 and allow psychologists to participate these harsh interrogations. There are copious pages in the report that trace the board’s continual pattern of secret behavior, calling “emergency