After I penned the piece, American Psychological Association’s New Torture Policy is Unenforceable — pointing out the the American Psychological Association’s new torture interrogation policy is unenforceable — I received this response from Nadine Kaslow, Ph.D., ABPP, APA Past President, and Susan McDaniel, Ph.D., APA President-Elect.
The letter that was addressed to me was posted publicly to a select number of APA listservs (but not the division I’m actually a member of), and not as a comment to the original entry on Psych Central (which would’ve been the logical place to carry on an ongoing discussion regarding this issue).
After the letter, I share a reply that Dr. Trudy Bond wrote in response to this letter.
We can understand the skepticism that your article generated for some readers based in part on the title quote that was taken out of context. But we fervently hope that your readers will realize that this reaction is misplaced at this time in the history of APA.
The authority and processes regarding policy development and modifications to the APA Ethics Code are stipulated in APA’s Bylaws and Association Rules. The first very important step is for a policy, such as the national security interrogation prohibition, to be passed by Council. For those policies with ethical aspects such as this one, the next step is for it to be considered by the Ethics Committee. The independence of the Ethics Committee is important, as described in the Hoffman Report. According to our Bylaws and Association Rules, the Ethics Committee has authority for formulating the Ethics Code, overseeing the process for changing the Ethics Code (which involves governance review and public comment), and for enforcing it. The movers of New Business Item #23B — Scott Churchill, Jean Maria Arrigo, and Frank Farley, supported by Steven Reisner and Dan Aalbers — were well aware of the necessary process. They successfully achieved the policy change, the all-important first step to achieving their ultimate goal of an enforceable prohibition, in keeping with the American Medical Association. (The American Psychiatric Association’s policy is not part of their Ethics Code.)
Specifically, the movers of NBI #23B invoked Ethical Principle A to “take care to do no harm” in the text of the resolution. It would not have been appropriate to invoke the Ethical Standard to “Avoid Harm” since the Standards fall within the purview of the Ethics Committee to interpret and enforce. The movers also included a provision in the implementation section of the resolution for Council to request that the Ethics Committee “consider pursuing an appropriate course of action in as expeditious a manner as possible to incorporate into the Ethics Code the prohibitions surrounding psychologist participation in national security interrogations, as set forth in this policy.” The next step is for the Ethics Committee to carry out this recommendation. An amendment to the Ethics Code will provide the necessary “teeth” for the policy to be enforced. In the interim, I would like to point out that the Ethics Committee considers APA policies, guidelines, and other documents when interpreting the Standards of the Ethics Code.
With respect to the current status of the national security interrogation ban as related to the Ethics Code, it should be noted that the participation of psychologists in coercive interrogations in national security settings and/or abusive conditions of confinement, as stipulated in our 2013 reconciled policy, could be actionable under the APA Ethics Code as a violation of the Ethical Standard to Avoid Harm. As noted above, although the 2013 policy is not enforceable under the Ethics Code, it provides valuable guidance to the Ethics Committee in this regard. Also, it is important to recall that Ethical Standards 1.02 and 1.03 were modified in the 2010 Ethics Code revision to remove the justification of adhering to laws, regulations, and/or organizational demands when confronting an ethical dilemma that was part of the earlier 2002 Code (though developed well before 9/11 and not a response to terrorism).
Changing policy, aspects of the Ethics Code, and creating a culture that is transparent and trustworthy in all parts of the organization will take time and considerable effort. But it is a commitment we feel deeply in support of our public, our discipline, and our members. For those who need more evidence of real change before getting involved, we hope you will watch and soon find it worthwhile to join the effort. For those willing to work now, we thank you. We must make the changes stemming from the Hoffman Report real and meaningful, and as soon as possible.
Nadine Kaslow and Susan McDaniel
Here is Dr. Bond’s reply:
Dear Dr. Kaslow and Dr. McDaniel:
I am writing to share several concerns regarding your letter to John Grohol about the enforceability of NBI #23B, which was posted at your request on the Division 48-Peace Psychology listserv.
First, in that letter you suggest that the American Psychological Association needs “[a]n amendment to the Ethics Code” to “provide the necessary ‘teeth’ for the policy to be enforced.” Why is this so, given that the long-established Ethics Code Standard 3.04 Avoiding Harm (“Psychologists take reasonable steps to avoid harm.”) so clearly applies in national security settings like Guantanamo?
Second, you also write, “In the interim, I would like to point out that the Ethics Committee considers APA policies, guidelines, and other documents when interpreting the Standards of the Ethics Code.” I recognize this, but given the collusion carefully documented in the Hoffman report, why would we assume that the Ethics Committee and Ethics Office – currently composed of the same people who consistently went along with Dr. Behnke’s collusive interpretations and practices – are willing and able to competently and objectively interpret any part of the Ethics Code?
Third, you further write “It should be noted that the participation of psychologists in coercive interrogations in national security settings and/or abusive conditions of confinement, as stipulated in our 2013 reconciled policy, could be actionable under the APA Ethics Code as a violation of the Ethical Standard to Avoid Harm. As noted above, although the 2013 policy is not enforceable under the Ethics Code, it provides valuable guidance to the Ethics Committee in this regard.”
This too offers little reassurance. Council had already approved the 2013 reconciled policy when the APA Ethics Office, including the Chair of the APA Ethics Committee and the current senior official in that office, Lindsay Childress-Beatty, concluded that there was no basis for sanctioning Guantanamo psychologist John Leso. I remind you that the Hoffman report indicates that, regarding this case, Childress-Beatty stated that psychological stressors such as sleep deprivation, withholding food, isolation and loss of time, “in and of themselves may not be cruel, unusual, inhuman, degrading treatment or torture depending upon factors such as the situational context, length of time used, and intensity.” As examined in detail by Dr. Roy Eidelson, even prior to the release of the damning information in the Hoffman report, the actions of the Ethics Office in regard to this complaint offer no basis for confidence in the adjudication of future ethics complaints by the APA.
Fourth, at the Toronto town hall meeting Dr. McDaniel was asked what will now be done about ethics complaints that were previously filed. In your response you referred to making changes to the Ethics Code – as if it were limitations in the Ethics Code, and not corruption, that represented the barrier to proper adjudication. Does this remain your position, and are you thereby standing behind Stephen Behnke’s and Lindsay Childress-Beatty’s suspect interpretations of the Code? I have asked this question three times in prior emails to you, but I have yet to receive an answer.
Apart from firing the Ethics Office Director and allowing other senior staff – the CEO, the Deputy CEO, and the director of public relations – to retire early or to resign with accolades from APA, I have yet to see strong evidence of the commitment to “creating a culture that is transparent and trustworthy in all parts of the organization,” which you reference in your final paragraph. I look forward to your timely reply to my letter and yes, as you have requested, I will continue watching.
Dr. Trudy Bond
We hope that the leadership at the American Psychological Association responds to the issues raised by Dr. Bond, as they are worthy of a response.