APA Member-Initiated Task Force to Reconcile Policies Related to Psychologists'
Involvement in National Security Settings

February 2012

Goal: To replace the PENS report and related Council resolutions focused on torture, ethics, detainee welfare, and interrogation with a unified, comprehensive APA policy document to offer clear guidance for psychologists in national security settings. This document would also incorporate, but not replace, the 2006 Council resolution against torture, the membership petition resolution, and the amendments to the APA Ethics Code, which would all remain in effect as APA policy.


The ongoing dissemination of a petition by the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology to annul the Report of the APA Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security (the PENS report) has highlighted the need for a careful examination of APA's large body of policies related to torture, professional ethics, detainee welfare, and interrogation in the national security context. These policies date back 27 years and include five Council resolutions (1985, 1986, 2006, 2007, and 2008), the PENS report policy of 2005, and the membership petition resolution of 2008. In this context, it is also essential to consider the APA Ethics Code change of 2010, which fundamentally altered Ethical Standards 1.02 (related to conflicts between ethics and law, regulations, or other governing legal authority) and 1.03 (related to conflicts between ethics and organizational demands). These policies state unequivocally that torture is a violation of both human rights and psychologists' professional ethics and is always prohibited. Yet, there is currently no integrative document outlining all of APA's policies related to torture, ethics, detainee welfare, and interrogation.


  1. The large body of at times redundant or conflicting policies in this area makes it difficult to discern and communicate coherent and meaningful ethical guidance to inform the work of psychologists in national security settings. The human rights principles at the heart of these documents can also become obscured.

  2. It is difficult to determine how individual policies relate to one another and to the APA Ethics Code, and which policy takes precedence when policies conflict. Some earlier policies are no longer valid as a result of subsequent policy statements. For example, a central aspect of the PENS policy (relating to Ethical Standards 1.02 and 1.03) is now out of date following the 2010 change to the Ethics Code. Also, a core definitional provision of the 2007 Council resolution related to torture was rescinded and replaced the following year.

  3. The piecemeal nature of the policies lends itself to viewing individual policies in isolation, out of the context of APA's position in its entirety, and thereby risks APA's position being misinterpreted. For example, the PENS report is still being identified at times as the sole or primary APA policy in relation to psychologist involvement in national security settings. Although the PENS report offers unique contributions to APA policy in this context, it continues to be the subject of significant controversy with respect to both process and content.

Formation of Grassroots Task Force

Two groups of APA members - one composed of several members of Division 48 (Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict, and Violence: Peace Psychology) and another comprising a dozen members with a wide range of division affiliations - approached the APA Board of Directors with concerns about how APA policies related to torture, ethics, detainee welfare, and interrogation were being presented in different contexts. The Board of Directors encouraged the two groups to combine efforts and develop a joint task force to pursue their shared vision of a constructive remedy - a unified, comprehensive, and consistent APA policy related to torture, ethics, detainee welfare, and interrogation. This policy is intended to replace the PENS report and related Council resolutions and to incorporate but not replace the 2006 resolution against torture, the member-adopted petition resolution, or the amendments to the Ethics Code.

A grassroots task force was formed shortly thereafter with psychologists whose interests and expertise span a broad range of areas, including peace, social justice, human rights, trauma, military, law, and corrections. Their primary division affiliations are provided below for identification purposes only and do not imply divisional endorsement. The task force is chaired by Dr. Linda Woolf (Division 48) and includes the following members: Drs. Laura Brown (Division 56), Kathleen Dockett (Division 48), Julie Meranze Levitt (Division 48), and Bill Strickland (Division 19). The Board of Directors offered to provide staff assistance and to arrange for posting of the draft consolidated APA policy on the APA Web site for comment and input.

Ongoing Work and Next Steps

The task force has held two conference calls and begun to develop the draft policy document. With the chair's leadership, the document will highlight key principles derived from the existing policies to guide the work of psychologists who are contemplating or currently involved in providing services in national security settings. It is anticipated that a full draft document will be completed and widely disseminated for public comment via APA division listservs and the APA Web site in advance of the APA annual convention in August of this year. It would then be considered by APA governance for adoption as APA policy. The Council will be encouraged to accept the document as reflective of existing APA policy that does not set new policy.

The new comprehensive document will underscore a fundamental principle of APA policy: support for, and protection of, basic human rights by psychologists in all work domains. It is recognized that national security settings represent but one of several work domains that could benefit from further scrutiny and synchronization with the APA Ethics Code change of 2010 and other recent APA policy developments. Yet, this task force and document will focus on policy related to national security settings, with a call for future focused and thoughtful scrutiny of the roles of psychologists in detention settings operating under the rule of law.

For more information, please contact Dr. Linda Woolf, the task force chair, at woolflm@webster.edu or Dr. Ellen Garrison, APA's Senior Policy Advisor and staff liaison for the task force, at egarrison@apa.org.