August 7, 2015

APA's Council Bans Psychologist Participation in National Security Interrogations

Calls for blue-ribbon panel to review ethics processes

TORONTO — The American Psychological Association's Council of Representatives voted overwhelmingly today to prohibit psychologists from participating in national security interrogations.

The measure passed by a vote of 156-1, with seven abstentions and one recusal. The resolution states that psychologists "shall not conduct, supervise, be in the presence of, or otherwise assist any national security interrogations for any military or intelligence entities, including private contractors working on their behalf, nor advise on conditions of confinement insofar as these might facilitate such an interrogation."

The new policy does allow for psychologist involvement in general policy consultation regarding humane interrogations. The prohibition does not apply to domestic law enforcement interrogations or domestic detention settings where detainees are under the protection of the U.S. Constitution.

The council also voted to create a blue-ribbon panel to review APA's ethics policies and procedures, and issue recommendations to ensure the policies are clear and aligned with best practices in the field.

The moves came in response to a report commissioned by APA's Board of Directors that found there was undisclosed coordination between some APA officials and Department of Defense psychologists that may have resulted in less restrictive ethical guidance for military psychologists in national security settings. APA has apologized for the organizational failures and association governance is working to correct faults in APA's policies and procedures.

"These actions by APA's council are a concrete step toward rectifying our past organizational shortcomings," said Nadine J. Kaslow, PhD, APA past president and a member of a special committee that received the independent review. "We are now moving forward in a spirit of reconciliation and reform."

Susan H. McDaniel, PhD, APA's president-elect and another special committee member, pledged to help implement these new policies as she steps into her new leadership role in 2016.

"We have much work ahead as we change the culture of APA to be more transparent and much more focused on human rights," McDaniel said. "In addition, we will institute clearer conflict-of-interest policies going forward, all of which are aimed at ensuring that APA regains the trust of its members and the public."

The policy adopted today clarifies that psychologists can only provide mental health services to military personnel or work for an independent third party to protect human rights at national security detention facilities deemed by the United Nations to be in violation of human rights, such as the U.N. Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions.

The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States. APA's membership includes more than 122,500 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people's lives.