APA Bars Psychologists from Participating in National Security Interrogations; ‘It is time to do the same for psychologists’ involvement in death penalty cases’



Earlier this month, the American Psychological Association (APA) voted almost unanimously to adopt a policy banning psychologists from participating in national security interrogations, including noncoercive investigations now conducted by the Obama administration.

“The vote followed an emotional debate in which several members said the ban was needed to restore the organization’s reputation after a scathing independent investigation ordered by the association’s board,” The New York Times has reported.

Psychologists are now barred 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,” according to a report by Democracy Now.

The final vote – which was 157-1, with six abstentions and one recusal – resulted in a standing ovation from APA members, as well as many in attendance, including anti-torture activists, some of whom wore T-shirts reading “First, Do No Harm,” a reference to the Hippocratic oath.

Fordham University Center for Ethics Education Director Dr. Celia B. Fisher, who has previously addressed human rights issues with psychologists’ involvement in death penalty assessments, weighs in on the APA’s new policy:

“The most recent APA ban on psychologists’ involvement in national security interrogations makes clear that psychologists’ ethical duties supersede their legal obligations when their activities contribute in any way to a violation of human rights,” Dr. Fisher explained.

In addition, Dr. Fisher, who chaired the 2002 revision of the APA’s Ethics Code and is author of Decoding the Ethics Code: A Practical Guide for Psychologists, now in its third edition, has called for the end of psychologists’ involvement in death penalty evaluations.

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.