WHEN James Risen, a New York Times reporter, published a book last autumn accusing the American Psychological Association (APA), the largest professional organisation of American psychologists, of working with the Bush administration on torture, the APA issued a swift rebuttal: “APA is committed to fostering the highest ethical standards for the profession… We will continue to proactively communicate our strict and explicit no torture under any circumstances policy to federal officials so they are fully aware of the appropriate restrictions on psychologists’ roles.” In a spirit of transparency, the APA commissioned an independent investigation to confirm that neither the association nor its members, who number around 122,500, endorsed the government’s use of enhanced interrogation tactics.
The investigation, led by David Hoffman of the law firm Sidley Austin, concluded this month with the publication of a 542-page report. Its findings diverge considerably from the APA’s expectations. Far from upholding their Hippocratic oath to “do no harm”, APA psychologists did indeed work with officials from the Defense Department and the CIA to facilitate the torture of detainees. This involved issuing loose ethical guidelines that endorsed existing DoD interrogation policies and permitted psychologists to participate at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere—unlike their colleagues in the field of psychiatry, who refused to back the government’s evolving interrogation tactics. Though the APA’s policies adhered to US law, they violated medical ethics.