Monitoring the American Psychological Association

In November 2014, the American Psychological Association appointed David Hoffman, Esq., of the Chicago law firm Sidley Austin, to assess whether there was any factual support for the assertion that the APA engaged in activities that would constitute collusion with the Bush administration to promote, support, or facilitate the use of enhanced interrogation techniques by the United States in the war on terror.

This is an astonishing accusation to be leveled against a professional organization that is charged with establishing and enforcing an ethical code for its members and, furthermore, with representing the public face of that profession in America. For close to a decade psychologists, both members of the APA and those who had resigned in face of the growing evidence that this charge was correct, have been asking for such an investigation. Nonetheless, and true to the APA’s practice of ignoring critics from within the profession, the appointment of the independent reviewer was made not in response to members’ protest and resignations, but after the publication of James Risen’s 2014 book, Pay Any Price: Greed, Power and Endless War.

The 542-page report,, released by the New York Times on July 10, 2015, concludes that prominent psychologists worked closely with the C.I.A. and D.O.D. to blunt dissent inside the APA over an interrogation program that is now known to have included torture. It also finds that officials at the American Psychological Association colluded with the Pentagon to make sure that the association’s ethics policies did not hinder the ability of psychologists to be involved in the interrogation program.

In many ways this report reveals as much about the APA’s stance on torture as it does about the duplicitous culture that has been rife throughout the organization. For over ten years, by lying, denying, and deceit, the Ethics director, CEO, vice CEO, director of communications, APA general counsel, and various elected presidents of the association worked to keep the special relationship with the DOD secret in the face of mounting protests from the membership. Some of the key players have now left the organization but others remain. Whether the American Psychological Association has the will and the ability to reconstitute itself, to restore the public’s trust, and, perhaps more importantly, the good faith of its members and former members in the face of the Special Investigator’s scandalous report remains to be seen.

For those interested in learning more about the protest against the APA by mental health professionals, the Columbia University Oral History Rule of Law archive contains first person accounts by several of these professionals including: Dan Aalbers, Ghislaine Boulanger, Steven Reisner, Stephen Soldz, and Stephen Xenakis, in addition to interviews with detainees, pro bono lawyers working on their behalf, jurists, and reporters.