Bioethics Blogs

After Banning Torture, Psychology Association at a Crossroads

The American Psychological Association (APA) voted at its 2015 meeting to ban psychologists from participating in national security interrogation programs, including torture. The policy change was in response to the public outcry over the release of unsettling Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s detention and interrogation program and the Hoffman report.The latter was written by former federal prosecutor David Hoffman, who was commissioned by the APA to investigate searing allegations by New York Times reporter James Risenof APA’s collusion with the Department of Defense to shape its ethics rules.

Notably, the Hoffman report reveals that “deceptively crafted and permissive ethics policies facilitated the active involvement of psychologists in abusive and torturous interrogations of prisoners at Guantanamo and other secret CIA ‘black sites.’”The report also shows “how easy it was for the APA officials to jettison the ‘do no harm’ moral rule to conform to the Department of Defense (DOD) interrogation practices.” 

What the APA does next is critical not just to psychology as a profession trusted by the public, but also to the mental health profession as a whole. I am a philosopher, not a psychologist, but for a brief time I was a public member of the APA’s Ethics Committee. I believe now (and believed then) that the APA must affirm its commitment to respect human rights and human dignity. It should also inform its members that violation of human rights and dignity will not be tolerated, and that sanctions will be applied. This proposition does not rest on instinct, emotion, fear, personal gain, risk/benefit assessment, or public relations, but on the recognition that all humans possess intrinsic and incomparable worth and dignity that is unconditional and nonnegotiable.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.