Public Comment

Commentary: Psychologists Protest Professional Association Over Ethics

By Ruth Fallenbaum
Tuesday August 14, 2007

In an unusual expression of outrage, a coalition of psychologists will stage a rally outside the annual convention of the American Psychological Association at the Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco, Friday, Aug. 17, at 4 p.m. 

Under the banner of Psychologists for an Ethical APA, we represent a growing number of the approximately 150,000 members of the American Psychological Association who are profoundly disturbed by our organization’s official policy of allowing psychologists to participate in U.S. military interrogations at Guantanamo and other military and CIA facilities, where suspected terrorists are detained without due process. 

Last year the American Psychiatric Association and the American Medical Association declared unequivocally that there are no legitimate roles for psychiatrists or physicians in such interrogations; they insisted that participation violates basic international human rights and the ethical imperative to do no harm. Noting the APA’s cooperation with the U.S. government, the American Anthropological Association voted unanimously to condemn the use of anthropological knowledge as an element of physical or psychological torture.  

The APA’s position has been condemned by human rights groups, by Britain’s medical journal The Lancet, by journalists covering the story; and by many of its own members, but the elected and appointed leaders of the APA have defended their positions. To be clear, the official APA position, like the official position of our national government, condemns torture. Yet, as always, the devil is in the details, and APA policy has continued to maintain that psychologists have a legitimate role to play in interrogations of detainees, even in sites like Guantanamo and CIA prisons. 

Psychologists for an Ethical APA are confronting the leadership of APA on the following issues:  

• The current APA Ethics Code (Ethical Standards Section 1.02) allows psychologists to violate its principles, including that of “do no harm,” in order to “adhere to the requirements of the law.” As APA member Stephen Soldz has asked, “What sort of experts on ethics write the Nuremberg defense into their code of conduct?” (The Washington Monthly, Jan/Feb 2007) 

• The APA. 2006 Resolution Against Torture opposes use of torture, yet allows psychologists to continue to consult on interrogation strategies at Guantanamo, even though the U.S. government deprives detainees of due process and operates the prison in open violation of international law. 

• Officers of the APA contend that the presence of psychologists at Guantanamo promotes the practice of “ethical interrogations,” as if interrogations conducted in the context of forced, indefinite and extralegal detentions can be ethical. 

• APA is allowing our profession to give credibility to unacceptable detention and interrogation practices, thereby undermining the integrity of our profession worldwide 

Speakers at the rally will address the history and consequences of the use of psychological knowledge and research in the service of interrogations, torture, and the so-called war on terror. Speakers will also report on their attempts within the organization to change APA’s disastrous course.  

In addition to the planned rally, the group will leaflet and demonstrate at the convention sites during the four days of the meetings. Approximately 100 members have withheld their 2007 dues or pledged to withhold their 2008 dues until, as they claim, “APA reaffirms unequivocal adherence to the Ethics Code’s first principle: do no harm, and insures that its Code of Ethics conforms with human rights standards set by international law and the Geneva Conventions.”  


Further information is available at 


Ruth Fallenbaum is a member of Psychologists for an Ethical APA.