American Psychological Association may bar members from terror cases

By Doug G. Ware
American Psychological Association may bar members from terror cases
In response to an independent report earlier this month that criticized the American Psychological Association for aiding the Bush administration in terror interrogations following 9/11, the group will recommend a change in its ethical policy to bar such participation at the APA's annual conference in Toronto next month. File Photo by Dennis Brack/UPI | License Photo

WASHINGTON, July 31 (UPI) -- The American Psychological Association might soon institute a ban on the participation of its mental health professionals in federal terror-related interrogations -- following a report this month that claimed the administration of President George W. Bush was assisted in that regard to glean intelligence from suspects following 9/11.

The APA's board plans to recommend a tough ethics reform at the association's annual three-day meeting in Toronto next month -- which will then be up to its members to approve, The New York Times reported Thursday.


If accepted, the ban would seek to prevent APA psychologists from aiding federal intelligence and law enforcement agencies whatsoever in the interrogations of terror suspects -- which would amount to a break in the relationship between the psychological association and the U.S. intelligence community that some experts say goes as far back as World War I.


The board's recommendation comes on the heels of a critical independent report released earlier this month by former assistant U.S. attorney David H. Hoffman of the Chicago law firm Sidley Austin LLP -- that concluded the APA's ethics director and others "colluded with important [Department of Defense] officials to have APA issue loose, high-level ethical guidelines" that enabled the Bush administration to utilize harsher interrogation tactics on suspects.

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Three months earlier, a group of doctors, professors and human rights advocates levied similar accusations against the APA.

News of the group's reported interactions with terror suspects outraged members of the psychological profession and the general public. In response, the American Medical Association and American Psychiatric Association immediately issued declarations prohibiting its members from engaging in similar conduct.

The Times report said two of the APA's 80,000 members -- president-elect Susan H. McDaniel and the group's 2014 president, Nadine Kaslow -- acknowledged the board's forthcoming recommendation.

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"It has been very painful and disturbing to receive the results of the report, and now our job is to learn from them and fix the problem," McDaniel told the Times. "We are engaged in a very important process, to deal with psychologists' core values and our commitment to human rights."


Many others in the psychological profession have also voiced similar sentiments in the wake of the Hoffman Report.

"We personally spent years working to expose and reverse those transgressions," distinguished psychologists Roy Eidelson and Jean Maria Arrigo wrote in an op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times on Thursday headlined, "How the American Psychological Assn. lost its way."

"Can the APA regain its legitimacy? Those known to have colluded, covered up or ignored the wrongdoing cannot remain in positions of leadership," they added. "Governance policies must become more transparent and democratic. Old ethics complaints may need to be reexamined. Ultimately, a federal investigation may be necessary for adequate APA reform."

Under the proposed ban, psychologists who play a role in government interrogations -- even noncoercive interrogations like those sanctioned by the Obama White House -- would constitute a violation of the APA's ethical policies.

President Barack Obama effectively barred the use of controversial interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding, immediately upon taking office in 2009. Last month, the Senate passed legislation to turn the ban into law. However, administration officials have said psychologists still aid in national security-related interrogations conducted by the FBI, CIA and Defense Department.


It remains to be seen what impact a new APA ethics policy would have on the federal government's intelligence strategy -- but the ban is believed to be so harsh that it may preclude any reasonable psychologist from participating, for fear that an ethics complaint might be lodged if they assist the U.S. intelligence community in even the most minuscule fashion.

"This is an existential crisis for the APA," New York psychologist Steven Reisner said. "How they handle this will determine whether the association will survive."

Many of Reisner's colleagues agree.

"The APA's ethics code -- especially as it pertains to national security settings -- needs an urgent overhaul," Eidelson and Arrigo wrote. "The effective bounds of our professional ethics and expertise must limit our horizons. After the 9/11 attacks, the APA could have used its knowledge, reputation and influence to promote alternatives to the tragic choices our government made. Instead, it lost its way to war entrepreneurs, careerists and yea-sayers."

The proposed policy change must be approved by the APA members' council. The APA's annual convention will run from Aug. 6-9 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

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