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

1 comment:

  1. PHR Calls for Federal Probe into American Psychological Association¹s
    Role in CIA Torture Program
    James Risen¹s New Book Gives Evidence of Collusion Between Health
    Professionals and CIA

    New York, NY - 10/16/2014

    Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is calling for a Department of Justice
    investigation into the American Psychological Association¹s (APA) role in
    supporting the CIA¹s torture program. Damaging new evidence of this
    relationship has emerged in ³Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless
    War,² the new book by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter James Risen of The
    New York Times.

    In a chapter titled ³War on Decency,² Risen details evidence that the APA
    worked directly and secretly with U.S. government officials, including
    from the CIA and the White House, on its ethics policy. According to
    Risen, this collusion appeared to be aimed at ethically justifying
    psychologist involvement in interrogations and ensuring psychologist
    assistance in implementing and legitimizing the Bush-era torture program.

    ³Risen presents credible evidence that the American Psychological
    Association colluded with the Bush administration so that health
    professionals¹ skills and knowledge could be used to justify the torture
    and ill-treatment of detainees,² said Donna McKay, PHR¹s executive
    director. ³The Department of Justice must immediately initiate an
    investigation into whether the APA and CIA engaged in any unlawful
    conduct related to this brutal torture program.²

    The APA, according to Risen, was crucial to safeguarding the Bush
    administration¹s legal rationale for the CIA program, which depended on
    health professionals¹ involvement and monitoring of so-called ³enhanced²
    interrogation methods. Risen reports that the APA was the only health
    organization willing to provide the government with legal cover: ³If the
    American Psychological Association and its member psychologists had not
    gone along with the Bush administration, it is unclear that any other
    health professionals would have taken their place.² (Page 195).

    ³For nearly a decade, PHR has been demanding accountability for
    psychologists and other health professionals who designed and implemented
    the United States¹ torture program,² said Steven
    Reisner, advisor on psychology and ethics for PHR. ³Now that Risen has
    provided evidence that the American Psychological Association secretly
    colluded with the CIA to change APA policy to keep psychologists at the
    center of these operations, it is time for a full federal investigation.²

    Since 2005, PHR has documented the systematic use of psychological and
    physical torture on national security detainees in U.S. custody in its
    groundbreaking reports, including Break Them
    Down (2005), Leave No
    Marks (2007), Broken Laws, Broken
    Lives (2008), Aiding
    Torture (2009), Experiments in
    Torture (2010), and Buried
    Alive (2013). The
    organization has repeatedly called for an end to the use of the Survival,
    Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) tactics by U.S. personnel, the
    dismantling of the Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCT), and a
    full Congressional investigation into the role of health professionals in
    the U.S. program, among other recommendations. Additionally, PHR has
    worked to mobilize the health professional community, particularly the
    professional associations, to adopt strong ethical prohibitions against
    direct participation in interrogations.

    Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy
    organization that uses science and medicine to stop mass atrocities and
    severe human rights violations.

    [PHR Shared the 1997 Nobel Peace

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