Frequently Asked Questions

Is the Task Force an official American Psychological Association (APA)Task Force or group?

No! Separate groups of individuals approached the Board of Directors of the APA to request that work be done to consolidate the more recent APA policies related to psychologists' work in national security settings. We had concerns about the continued use of the PENS report as the primary document outlining APA policy concerning psychologists' consultations in national security settings. We wanted to see more recent policies (e.g., the Petition Resolution) highlighted and promoted as policy. The Board put us in contact with each other as we shared similar concerns. Our grassroots Task Force formed out of that initial group and we hope that others will join us as consultants to review and provide feedback on draft documents. It should be noted that APA has provided assistance with conference call capabilities and we have a contact for governance related questions (any consolidated policy will need to be submitted to the APA Council of Representatives for review and perhaps, future adoption). Nonetheless, although we are a group independent of the APA, we hope to have a broad range of APA member involvement in the process!

Will the Task Force be writing new policy?

No. The Task Force will integrate existing APA policy on the issue of psychologist involvement in national security settings. The goal is to create a unified policy that focuses on the Anti-Torture Resolutions, the Petition Resolution, and the 1.02/1.03 Ethics Codes changes that codify human rights as a fundamental tenet of psychology.

Will the new consolidated policy simply be reiteration of PENS?

No. It is time for the PENS Report to be removed as official APA policy. PENS was written in 2005 and since that time much has been written about the process and content of PENS (e.g., see Coalition site listed on the Links page). PENS is outdated and in conflict with more recent policy, most notably the Ethics Code. As such, the PENS report needs to be rescinded/archived. In its place, we would like see a consolidated policy that focuses on the Petition Resolution (i.e., the Member Petition Referendum), the changes to the Ethics Code highlighting the inviolate nature of human rights, and the anti-torture Resolutions move to the forefront of APA policies. When we approached the Board of Directors one of our primary concerns was the continued use of the PENS Report as the primary policy document concerning these issues. Our work has grown out of these concerns. Currently, we are in the process of seeking involvement from various psychological organization/individuals to receive feedback prior to submitting a proposal to the APA in August. We hope that the spirit of openness and feedback will continue as the policy works its way through the APA governance procedure.

Why now?

APA leaders, members, and related grassroots organizations have been working to address the role of psychologist involvement in national security settings and opposing the use of torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment for many years. Although most of the work has taken place in the past 7 years, APA anti-torture and human rights resolutions date back to the 1980s. Unfortunately, it has become clear that some individuals may be unaware of the totality of policy as well as the more recent policies--multiple policies is leading to confusion. As such, it is simply the right time to pull together all of these policies into a unified, consolidated document. We welcome the those and feedback from all who are interested in this process.

Will the consolidated policy include items that make it possible for psychologists, either directly or indirectly, to be involved in "enhanced interrogations"?
Absolutely not! Any form of participation by psychologists, either directly or indirectly, in "enhanced interrogations" (e.g., interrogations identified as torture or abusive) would be a violation of the Ethics Code, the Petition Resolution, and the 2006, 2007, 2008 Resolution. Indeed, APA policy (2008 Resolution) clearly states:

BE IT RESOLVED that this unequivocal condemnation includes all techniques considered torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment under the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; the Geneva Conventions; the Principles of Medical Ethics Relevant to the Role of Health Personnel, Particularly Physicians, in the Protection of Prisoners and Detainees against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; the Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners; or the World Medical Association Declaration of Tokyo. An absolute prohibition against the following techniques therefore arises from, is understood in the context of, and is interpreted according to these texts: mock executions; water-boarding or any other form of simulated drowning or suffocation; sexual humiliation; rape; cultural or religious humiliation; exploitation of fears, phobias or psychopathology; induced hypothermia; the use of psychotropic drugs or mind-altering substances; hooding; forced nakedness; stress positions; the use of dogs to threaten or intimidate; physical assault including slapping or shaking; exposure to extreme heat or cold; threats of harm or death; isolation; sensory deprivation and over-stimulation; sleep deprivation; or the threatened use of any of the above techniques to an individual or to members of an individual's family. Psychologists are absolutely prohibited from knowingly planning, designing, participating in or assisting in the use of all condemned techniques at any time and may not enlist others to employ these techniques in order to circumvent this resolution's prohibition.

Can psychologists work in domestic forensic settings?

Currently, as well a historically, it is not a violation of the Ethics Code or APA policy for psychologists to work in forensic settings beyond the provision of mental health services (noting that a large percentage of psychologists are not clinicians or mental health practitioners). Certainly there is a broad literature on psychological research concerning and psychologist consultation with the questioning of prisoners, most often designed to protect prisoners and the prevention of false confessions (work on this topic dates back to Munsterberg--perhaps, the first psychologist to argue against the use of torture!).

There are limits to psychologist consultation in interrogations as spelled out in various APA policy and the Ethics Code. For example, psychologists cannot violate the 2006-2008 Resolution against torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Also, APA upheld its support for the United Nations Principles of Medical Ethics relevant to the Role of Health Personnel, particularly Physicians, in the Protection of Prisoners and Detainees against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, including Principle 4a. This support was upheld in the APA 1987 Opposition to Torture Resolution and the 2006-2008 Anti-Torture Resolutions. The U.N. Principle 4a states:

Principle 4: It is a contravention of medical ethics for health personnel, particularly physicians: ( a ) To apply their knowledge and skills in order to assist in the interrogation of prisoners and detainees in a manner that may adversely affect the physical or mental health or condition of such prisoners or detainees and which is not in accordance with the relevant international instruments;

Therefore, heath care providers are not allowed to consult in interrogations - an important point to be included in any unified policy.

In summary, there is nothing in APA policy to prohibit psychologist involvement in research or consultations in a forensic setting. Such work is considered ethical as long as there are no violations related to specific behaviors under the Ethics Code (e.g., no dual roles; clarification about the limits of confidentiality; acting beyond scope of competence, etc.). Psychologists can consult in relation to interrogations or bring their research to bear on interrogations/suspect questioning (e.g., to prevent false confessions) and such actions are not a violation of APA policy or the Ethics Code. If the Ethics Code is violated, psychologists knowledgeable about such violations have a responsibility to follow the Ethics Code in relation to reporting such a violation.

Do military psychology actually conduct interrogations?

Military psychologists do not interrogate detainees. To do so would be to violate the policy governing the role of Behavioral Science Consultants and would be to act beyond their scope of competence. There are other military personnel who are trained to interrogate. Psychologists in the military do not receive this training.

What does APA policy say in relation to allowing psychologist to consult in national security settings?

It is important to recognize that the APA does not approve/disapprove specific psychologist jobs or workplaces. Hence, psychologists work in a range of capacities and none of these need authorization or approval from the APA. As such, there was never a need for the APA to approve of psychologist work in the realm of national security. Indeed, psychologists have been involved in working in forensic settings and have a long history of conducting research and consulting in relations to suspect questions/interviewinfor a long time. In relation to post 9/11, the Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCTs) were operating by early 2002; APA became involved in 2005. In late 2004/early 2005, military psychologists already working within these settings approached APA for guidance when it became clear that abusive interrogations were taking place. They were acting as whistle-blowers with all of the inherent risk associated with that role.

Nonetheless, in terms of policy, the PENS Report did include statements about where psychologist can work. However, PENS is irrelevant on this particular issue. First, PENS doesn't hold the power to authorize/not authorize such work but just as importantly, the Petition Resolution and related final report supersedes PENS. As with all of APA policy, more recent policy supersedes older, out-dated policy.

The Petition Resolution, the most recent policy on this issue, clearly states that psychologists cannot work in settings that would be outside of international law. The Resolution states:

Psychologists may not work in settings where persons are held outside of, or in violation of, either International Law (e.g., the UN Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions) or the US Constitution (where appropriate), unless they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights [7].

The Final Advisory Group Report goes further to state:

This policy does not affect the work of psychologists in the military and intelligence agencies who work in settings that operate in conformity with international law and APA policy.<>p>
Hence, based on the Petition Resolution (a membership vote) and the Final Advisory Group Report, there is nothing to prohibit psychologists' work in national security settings defined as lawful and settings that conform to APA policy (e.g., the Ethics Code, Anti-torture resolutions).

It is important to reiterate that psychologists cannot violate the Ethics Code or other APA policies when working in such settings. The Ethics Code, particularly inclusive of the 2010 changes to 1.02 and 1.03 states:

Under no circumstances may this standard be used to justify or defend violating human rights.

As such, psychologists are banned from working at sites that could be defined as operating outside of international law (i.e., "torture camps") and psychologists cannot engage unethical behavior. If an behavior is defined as unethical according to the Ethics Code, it is unethical regardless of setting.

In summary, the Petition Referendum and Final Advisory Group Report codified through a vote that psychologists can work as consultants in national security settings if the conditions of "lawful" and "conforms to APA policy" (i.e., Ethics Code, Resolutions) are met. If these conditions are not met, then psychologists should not be working as consultants in such settings.

[7] It is understood that military clinical psychologists would still be available to provide treatment for military personnel.

What about a total moratorium on psychologist involvement in interrogations including at sites that are operating within international law?

It is important to remember that the unified policy focuses on existing policy. A moratorium resolution would be new policy. A new business item with accompanying documentation would need to be submitted to the APA Council of Representatives for approval following the APA review procedures.

A moratorium on psychologist concsultation, directly or indirectly, in interrogations in all settings would be new policy. As such, it would require that a new business item be brought to Council and ultimately, work towards a change in the Ethics Code. Currently, a prohibition against psychologist consultion in interrogations, either directly or indirectly (with exceptions as defined APA policy and by the Ethics Code -- e.g., no torture; no dual roles; etc.) does not exist in current APA policy. Essentially, psychologist consultation in relation to an interrogation/suspect questioning is not a broadly-defined prohibited behavior.

It should be noted that a Moratorium Resolution went before Council in 2007 and was voted down by Council.

For a moratorium, a new business item/form would need to be completed, signatures gathered, documents written, and then additional work as the proposed policy makes its way through the Council process. For even greater enforceability, this policy would also need to be put into the Ethics Code (a longer process requiring a membership vote).

Any APA member can begin work on such an item and then enlist the work/support of a Council Representative. Organize, draft the requisite documents, take it to Council, continue to work on the drafts/revisions, and take it to a vote. Don't just "support" -- Do it! APA is a member-based organization and it is through member initiatives that most things get done. This process isn't like Congress in that Council does not consist of paid legislators to do the work; the work must be initiated and done by the membership.

Until and if such a time that this work is completed, it is imperative that the Anti-Torture Resolutions with the applicable U.N Conventions/documents, the Referendum, and the 1.02/1.03 Ethics Codes changes that codify human rights as a fundamental tenet of psychology be placed at the forefront of APA policy.