APA Bans Members from Participating in Interrogations

Hand writing on paper with penA resolution barring American Psychological Association members from participation in national security interrogations passed with an overwhelming majority Friday.

Suspicions that APA representatives worked with government officials to endorse interrogation techniques equal to torture of national security detainees were confirmed last month. Now, the organization has updated its ethical policy to reflect its commitment to avoid participating in torture in the future.

The APA’s History with Torture

The APA has long taken a public stance against torture. In 2004, the organization sponsored a congressional hearing investigating the torture of Abu Ghraib prisoners.

But in 2005, the Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS) task force gave psychologists permission to participate in interrogations—even if these interrogations violated medical ethics or international law—as long as those interrogations complied with U.S. law. The report was authored in partial secrecy, and most of the panel members who approved it had closely collaborated with the Department of Defense.

The Geneva Conventions are clear in stating that prisoners must be given food, shelter, and medical treatment, and they should never be harmed, humiliated, or threatened by interrogators.

Last year, the APA asked former federal prosecutor David Hoffman to review the organization’s role in interrogations and torture. The report, leaked last month, revealed that numerous APA members had some participation in torture. Hoffman’s report also claimed the APA changed its ethics guidelines to coincide with Bush administration interrogation policies, and APA members continued to participate in torture until President Obama banned the practice when he took office in 2009.

Ending Psychologists’ Role in Torture

The APA did not retract the 2005 PENS report until 2013; though by 2006, other major organizations for health professionals—including the American Medical Association—had prohibited their members from participating in interrogations.

The APA’s new policy against participation in national security interrogations does not apply to prisoners protected by the U.S. Constitution, so psychologists may still participate in interrogations in jails and prisons. The policy also allows psychologists to consult with the government on issues of humane treatment but not to help the government torture detainees or prisoners.

The resolution was widely supported, with just one member voting against its adoption. The lone dissenter, Col. Larry James, served as an Army psychologist at Guantanamo Bay.


  1. Boyd, J. W. (2015, July 18). How the largest association of U.S. psychologists colluded in torture. Retrieved from http://www.newsweek.com/how-largest-association-us-psychologists-colluded-torture-354870
  2. Temple-Raston, D. (2015, August 7). Psychology group votes to ban members from taking part in interrogations. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/08/07/430361597/psychology-group-votes-to-ban-members-from-taking-part-in-interrogations
  3. Timeline of American Psychological Association policies and actions related to detainee welfare and professional ethics in the context of interrogation and national security. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/news/press/statements/interrogations.aspx

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  • Leave a Comment
  • Gabby

    August 10th, 2015 at 4:17 PM

    Could you explain to me how professionals with a real interest in helping others could ever condone this kind of behavior in themselves?

  • jay

    August 11th, 2015 at 8:03 AM

    What a breath of fresh air to have this long concealed issue be publicly addressed. Thank you for the courage it took to write this. Trust is built by honesty, humility, and a willingness to not live with secrets. R. Karadzic a psychiatrist who helped to plan, and assist in the mass murders of innocent civilians during the Bosnian war was a sign to that population that people in this field cannot be trusted regarding abuse of power to manipulate, and violate laws and ethics to carry out their wishes. The honesty to speak of these abuses of power in the US with the APA is a start in the right direction.

  • JD

    August 11th, 2015 at 2:12 PM

    I guess that there are those who would contend that these types of interrogations have their place but I really can’t see that the United States should continue to stand behind that.

  • Roderick

    August 13th, 2015 at 5:25 PM

    You wouldn’t think that you would even need a law that banned something quite as harmful as this, but you know, humans will stop at nothing at times to hurt another member of the human race. It seems sad though that some of this wa coming from those who are actually charged with helping others. Do no harm?

  • Lillian

    August 14th, 2015 at 9:58 AM

    Who is going to be able to govern this and enforce what these members are doing or participating in on their own time?

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