Independent Review Cites Collusion Among APA Individuals and Defense Department Officials in Policy on Interrogation Techniques

The American Psychological Association announced an initial series of policy and procedural steps in response to findings of individual collusion and organizational failures in the group's activities.

PRESS RELEASE

WASHINGTON — The American Psychological Association (APA) today announced an initial series of policy and procedural steps in response to findings of individual collusion and organizational failures in the group’s activities related to the Bush Administration’s war on terror.

The actions come as the APA released a 542-page report produced by attorney David Hoffman, of the Sidley Austin law firm, detailing the relationship between various activities of the APA and Bush Administration policies on interrogation techniques. Mr. Hoffman was retained by the APA Board of Directors last November to conduct a thorough and independent review, and the APA cooperated fully during the eight-month process.

“The Hoffman report contains deeply disturbing findings that reveal previously unknown and troubling instances of collusion,” said Dr. Susan McDaniel, a member of the Independent Review’s Special Committee. “The process by which the Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS) was created, the composition of the membership, the content of the PENS report and the subsequent activities related to the report were influenced by collusion between a small group of APA representatives and government officials.”

The Hoffman report states that the intent of the individuals who participated in the collusion was to “curry favor” with the Defense Department, and that may have enabled the government’s use of abusive interrogation techniques. As a result, the 2005 PENS report became a document based at least as much on the desires of the DoD as on the needs of the psychology profession and the APA’s commitment to human rights.

“Our internal checks and balances failed to detect the collusion, or properly acknowledge a significant conflict of interest, nor did they provide meaningful field guidance for psychologists,” said Dr. Nadine Kaslow, chair of the Independent Review’s Special Committee. “The organization’s intent was not to enable abusive interrogation techniques or contribute to violations of human rights, but that may have been the result.

“The actions, policies and the lack of independence from government influence described in the Hoffman report represented a failure to live up to our core values. We profoundly regret, and apologize for, the behavior and the consequences that ensued. Our members, our profession and our organization expected, and deserved, better.”

In response to the Hoffman report, the Board initiated several actions and made additional recommendations to the APA’s governing Council of Representatives. The full list is attached.

The Board recommended that the Council:

  • Adopt a policy prohibiting psychologists from participating in interrogation of persons held in custody by military and intelligence authorities, whether in the U.S. or elsewhere, but allowing training of military personnel on recognizing and responding to persons with mental illnesses, on the possible effects of particular techniques and conditions of interrogation and other areas within their expertise;
  • Create a Commission to evaluate and recommend changes to APA ethics processes;
  • Adopt formal guidelines to ensure that all relevant policies are anchored in APA core values, including promoting human rights, human welfare and ethics;
  • Approve the substitute motion of Council New Business Item #23B, which clarifies the role of psychologists related to interrogation and detainee welfare in national security settings and safeguards against acts of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in all settings.

The Board voted to:

  • Increase the organization’s engagement around human rights activities in collaboration with other organizations;
  • Collaborate with the Council to create governance constraints on elected and appointed APA officials;
  • Evaluate existing conflict-of-interest policies regarding financial, policy or relationship-based conflicts to ensure the policies are understood and followed;
  • Adopt clear procedures for appointing members to APA Task Forces and Commissions;
  • Create specific criteria for emergency action by the Board.

The Hoffman report concluded that some longstanding criticisms aimed at the APA regarding these matters were inaccurate. Most notably, Mr. Hoffman concluded that counter to critics’ claims of APA collusion with the CIA there was “no evidence of significant CIA interactions regarding PENS.”

Mr. Hoffman also said his inquiry “did not find evidence” that supporting the Justice Department’s legal rationale for approving abusive interrogation techniques was “part of the thinking or motive of APA officials.”

Additionally, the report confirmed that the organization’s 2002 change in its Code of Ethics was not the product of collusion. Mr. Hoffman “did not see evidence” that the revisions “were a response to, motivated by, or in any way linked to the attacks of September 11th or the subsequent war on terror. Nor did we see evidence that they were the product of collusion with the government to support torture.” As the organization has repeatedly stated, the ethics code was revised to provide a defense for psychologists when their ethical obligations on client confidentiality conflicted with court-ordered directive ordering disclose of confidential patient information.

“This bleak chapter in our history occurred over a period of years and will not be resolved in a matter of months,” said Dr. Kaslow. “But there should be no mistaking our commitment to learn from these terrible mistakes and do everything we can to strengthen our organization for the future and demonstrate our commitment to ethics and human rights.”