Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Leso Case - Division 48 Open Letter to APA Ethics Office

Stephen Behnke, JD, PhD                                                                                April 2, 2014
Lindsay Childress-Beatty, JD, PhD
Ethics Office
American Psychological Association

Dear Drs. Behnke and Childress-Beatty:

On behalf of the Executive Committee of Division 48, the Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict and Violence, I write to express our deep concern and disappointment at the recent decision of the APA Ethics Office in the case of Dr. John Leso. Extensive evidence from authoritative sources documents his planning, presence, and active involvement in the brutal detention and interrogation – and ultimately torture – of Mohammed al-Qahtani at Guantanamo. Nearly seven years after the ethics complaint was filed against Dr. Leso, the Ethics Office closed the case without sanctions and without taking the case to the full Ethics Committee for review and resolution. As peace psychologists, we are unable to perceive a legitimate basis for either this procedure or outcome.

Division 48 is committed to restoring the moral integrity of American psychology and to ensuring that our professional organization provides exemplary leadership in all areas of peace and human rights. APA is responsible for fully and objectively investigating and adjudicating all formal ethics charges where there is compelling evidence of psychologist involvement in torture. The antithesis of healing, therapy, and the benevolent use of psychological knowledge and research, torture is the deliberate application of physical or psychological pain, and a cruel, inhuman, and degrading form of violence.

The Ethics Office’s decision to take this action and to deny the full Ethics Committee the opportunity to carefully and thoroughly review the evidence only increases the likelihood of future torture by psychologists. In cases like that of Dr. Leso, full Ethics Committee reviews are necessary to maintain a meaningful standard of professional ethics, to demonstrate and encourage compassion for the direct victims of brutality, and to provide unambiguous guidance and support to psychologists who will, quite possibly, face pressures to facilitate and legitimize torture in the future. Moreover, impunity for torture increases the probability that psychologists will be the indirect cause of other forms of interpersonal and intergroup violence in the world.

The Division 48 Executive Committee also shares the view expressed by Division 39 (Psychoanalysis) that the Leso decision is disturbing, on many counts, and potentially far-reaching in its adverse consequences on the ethics of our profession and on the stature of organized psychology in the United States. Any psychologist readily understands the need to maintain some level of confidentiality around the most sensitive information, but there appears to be no reasonable justification for diverting the Leso case from a full Ethics Committee review. We request much greater transparency regarding the basis by which APA staff, consultants, and the Ethics Committee Chair chose to close the case without a review by the full committee.


Brad Olson, PhD
President, APA Division 48

cc: APA Board of Directors