American Psychological Association in Guantanamo

Dr. Brett King
The Paw Print

Amid media focus on the Boston bombing, a long awaited, non-partisan, comprehensive 600 page report summarizing the United States use of torture over the last 12 years was released.  Detailing US anti-terrorism policies since 9/11, the study was commissioned by the Constitution Project, and jointly led by two former US congressmen (Republican Asa Hutchinson, Under Secretary for the department of Homeland Security under President Bush, and James R. Jones, a Democrat and former Ambassador to Mexico).

The conclusion of the report was that it is “indisputable” that numerous acts of torture have been committed by the US government and that there is “no justification” in “moral or strategic terms” for the actions that occurred. The report goes on to confirm actions that the White House has already admitted to. Specifically that the Central Intelligence Agency and US Military utilized waterboarding, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, extreme stress positions, nudity and sexual degradation, and threatening with dog attacks across “numerous instances and numerous theatres.” Left out of the report is that almost all of these techniques were designed with the complicit assistance of the American Psychological Association (APA), something that should shame any and all psychological professionals. While the APA has largely refused to discuss its role in creating the torture techniques that were used in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo, and various CIA black sites, the evidence of APA involvement is undeniable. As early as October 1, 2001, leading members of the groups governing body were meeting with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), CIA, and Pentagon staff in order to design methods for interrogating “Muslim extremists.” In December of 2001, the Department of Defense specifically requested that the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) hire professionals that could train US personnel to withstand illegal interrogation techniques.

Dr. Larry James, then member of the APA and Chief Psychologist at the Pentagon was tasked with recruiting these interrogation specialists from the ranks of the APA. According to Dr. James’ book ‘Fixing Hell’ these same interrogation professionals and APA members were reassigned to Guantanamo in March of 2002, where their expertise was employed to train interrogators to break detainees. During that same month, the APA began hosting a series of conferences for the CIA and FBI that included training in “enhanced interrogation.” Also starting in 2002, and continuing to this day, the APA assigned positions on all of its ethics boards to members of the APA that worked for the US Military, FBI, or CIA. Interestingly, it is during this same year that a number of multi-million dollar government research projects were given to leaders within the APA.

Jumping forward to 2006, after the involvement of psychologists at Guantanamo and other CIA detention centers had been made public, the APA Council or Representatives motioned to approve a resolution condemning psychologists’ involvement in “torture, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.” However, against the APA’s own legislative rules, this resolution was secretly rewritten by the officers of the APA-CoR such that the definition of torture did not include any actions that had taken place at Guantanamo and the other CIA detention centers.

In other words, the APA leadership publically put forward a resolution that condemned torture, and then privately changed the definition of torture before the APA membership could vote on the resolution. In 2007, the membership of the APA responded to the back-door dealings that had gutted the 2006 resolution by creating a second resolution banning psychologists from ethically taking part in 19 specific torture techniques (techniques that were by that time publically acknowledged as taking place at Guantanamo). Despite an overwhelming vote by the APA membership, the President of the APA allowed representatives from the Department of Defense to secretly insert language into the resolution that only made the techniques an ethical violation if the psychologist actively took part in an actual interrogation. Simply teaching others how to use such techniques would not be a violation. In 2008, the membership of the APA tried again to pass a resolution against the involvement of psychological professionals in torture/enhanced interrogation. This time the resolution passed, making it an ethical violation for any psychologist to take part in the activities at Guantanamo or other detention centers around the world. The actions of the APA leadership, after passing this resolution, was to simply refuse to enact this resolution. Since 2008, multiple ethics violation charges have been filed against a number of psychological professionals who are known to have worked on interrogations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo, or other CIA sites.

In all cases, the APA has refused to follow through with any investigations of the charges of ethics violations. Additionally, when charges have been filed at the state level, outside APA jurisdiction, the APA leadership has actively intervened and fought on the side of the individual charged with violating the APA’s own ethics code. The information above is only the shell of the APA’s involvement in the “indisputable” torture that has been committed by the US Government. There is a much deeper and darker story than space allows for here.

However, the above is enough for me to say that as a psychologist, I am ashamed of the American Psychological Association. As the body that created the ethics code, the APA is supposed to be above reproach. Instead, the APA has been complicit in ethical corruption. The APA has stood by and/or (worse yet) taken part in the perversion of psychological knowledge. Students and faculty who are considering joining the APA should not do so. Instead, they should think about joining a national group like the Association for Psychological Science (APS) or a regional group like the Rocky Mountain Psychological Association (RMPA). The APA has shown that it will willfully ignore its members’ wishes, thereby sending the message to all interested in psychology that it is not worthy of our support or membership dues. is powered by WordPress µ | Spam prevention powered by Akismet