The Hoffman Report: Background & Introduction

hoffman-report-coverIn November 2014, the Board of Directors of the American Psychological Association engaged our Firm to conduct an independent review of allegations that had been made regarding APA’s issuance of ethical guidelines in 2002 and 2005, and related actions. These ethical guidelines determined whether and under what circumstances psychologists who were APA members could ethically participate in national security interrogations.

The gist of the allegations was that APA made these ethics policy decisions as a substantial result of influence from and close relationships with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and other government entities, which purportedly wanted permissive ethical guidelines so that their psychologists could continue to participate in harsh and abusive interrogation techniques being used by these agencies after the September 11 attacks on the United States. Critics pointed to alleged procedural irregularities and suspicious outcomes regarding APA’s ethics policy decisions and said they resulted from this improper coordination, collaboration, or collusion. Some said APA’s decisions were intentionally made to assist the government in engaging in these “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Some said they were intentionally made to help the government commit torture.

Allegations along these lines had been most recently and most prominently made in a book by New York Times reporter James Risen, published in October 2014, based in part on new evidence he had obtained. Such allegations had also been made for many years — since APA’s issuance of ethical guidelines in 2005—by numerous APA critics both within and without APA.

APA engaged us to look back at these events that occurred years ago, to conduct a “definitive” and “thorough” investigation into the allegations and all relevant evidence, and to report what happened and why. The APA Board instructed us to go “wherever the evidence leads” and to be completely independent, and we have been. A Special Committee of the APA Board of Directors was formed, which stressed to us that our inquiry should be broad, so that the allegations could be addressed in a full and complete manner. We have done our best within the past seven months to fulfill that mandate.

The specific question APA has asked us to consider and answer is whether APA officials colluded with DoD, CIA, or other government officials “to support torture.” The allegations we have been asked to address frame the question more broadly at times. As a result of our investigation, we can report what happened and why. And as part of that description, we answer whether there was collusion between APA and government officials, and if so, what its purpose was.

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Fourteen years later, the attacks of 9/11 remain seared in the memories of all Americans old enough to recall them. Beyond the 2,977 killed, many others were personally and permanently affected by the attacks. All of us can remember where we were, and the horrific and shocking images of the attacks’ immediate consequences. The attacks resulted in the nation going to war in Afghanistan and, later, Iraq, and at home created virtually universal feelings of anger, patriotism, and unity of purpose against those who had committed the attacks. There was a common, shared desire to help our national and local governments respond, either specifically with regard to the attacks or generally with regard to the threat of terrorism.

As we engaged in our task of looking back at important events relating to APA that occurred in the years after 9/11, we have kept firmly in mind the strong and widespread feelings and perceptions from that time regarding the attacks themselves and the threat of future harm. Certainly, those feelings and perceptions were different one week, one year, four years, and ten years after 9/11. Being appropriately sensitive to the mindset of the time would therefore require some precision about which time is at issue. But in general, we remain aware that the passage of time may cause one to forget the sharpness of the feelings immediately after 9/11. And as we have engaged in our historical task, we have done our best to remember with clarity the feelings of these times.

One critical part of the national government’s response to the attacks was an attempt to obtain information about how the attacks occurred, whether future attacks were being planned, and where future threats might come from. An important part of that attempt was the interrogation of individuals who had been captured in Afghanistan and elsewhere and were in U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay and other locations, to determine if they had relevant information. The heart of our inquiry relates to APA’s issuance of ethical guidelines that determined when psychologists could ethically participate in such interrogations.

In June 2005, APA convened a task force on the topic. The task force issued a report, largely drafted during the three-day meeting by the APA Ethics Director in consultation with the task force. The report concluded that psychologists could ethically play a role in such interrogations and articulated some ethical guidelines regarding their participation. Less than one week later, the APA Board of Directors, in an emergency session, adopted the report as APA policy and publicized it.

Almost immediately, and for the next ten years, the report and APA’s actions in convening the task force, selecting its members, conducting the meeting, drafting the report, and reacting to attempts to change the report’s policy have created widespread and intense controversy within APA and the broader psychology community. Among other things, the critics have charged that the policy set few meaningful limits on the participation of psychologists in interrogations, despite widespread concerns about abusive conduct in such interrogations, and must therefore have been closely coordinated with the government (perhaps principally the Defense Department and the CIA) and motivated by a desire to curry favor with the government.

The defenders of the task force report and APA’s actions, inside and outside APA, say that the criticism is baseless, and denounce the actions of the critics as bullying and their words as false and defamatory. They have accused the critics of recklessly damaging reputations and told us that the critics must be acting out of a political and financial motivation unrelated to the merits of their position. Others have accused the critics of being automatically anti-military, such that any involvement by psychologists in national security endeavors would be considered unethical. To these defenders, the APA staff and members who worked most closely on APA’s ethics policies are (as they have told us) American heroes, and the fact that they have been attacked rather than thanked for their service to their profession and the country is a tragedy.

The Hoffman Report: Background & Introduction

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.


APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2015). The Hoffman Report: Background & Introduction. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 29, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 13 Jul 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 13 Jul 2015
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