Saturday, February 9, 2008

A Tale of Two Letters, or On Moral Courage and Moral Cowardice

Kenneth S. Pope, Ph.D., a distinguished psychological researcher, and former Ethics chair for the American Psychological Association, as well as a recipient of the APA Distinguished Contribution to Psychology Award, has resigned from APA. He argues that in the post-9/11 environment, APA has changed its ethical stance in a way that distorts the principles of ethical psychological practice. In particular, he singles out APA's stance toward the treatment of detainees in Bush's "war on terror" prisons.

The letter is published at Counterpunch, and at Dr. Pope's own website, and is reproduced below, followed by another letter, from APA's President and Chief Executive Officer to Attorney General Mukasey. Both are printed in juxtaposition here, as they offer an interesting contrast in emphases. First, Dr. Pope: Why I Resigned from the American Psychological Association.
Alan E. Kazdin, Ph.D.
American Psychological Association
750 First Street, NE Washington, DC 20002-4242

Dear Alan,

With sadness I write to resign from the American Psychological Association. My respect and affection for the members, along with my 29 year history with APA, make this a hard and reluctant step. Chairing the Ethics Committee, holding fellow status in 9 divisions, and receiving the APA Award for Distinguished Contributions to Public Service, the Division 12 Award for Distinguished Professional Contributions to Clinical Psychology, and the Division 42 Award for Mentoring reflect a few chapters in my APA history. I respectfully disagree with decisive changes that APA has made in its ethical stance during the past 6+ years. These changes moved APA far from its ethical foundation, historic traditions, and basic values, and beyond what I can in good conscience support with my membership.

I would like to note two examples of disagreement. First, the years since 9-11 brought concern over psychologists' work that affects detainees. APA has stressed psychologists' "vital role" regarding "the use of ethical interrogations to safeguard the welfare of detainees" and ways that psychologists "help advance the cause of detainee welfare and humane treatment." Yet in its ethics code, APA chose not to recognize any humane treatment requirements governing psychologists' work with detainees as enforceable standards.

Historically, when concerns arose about the impact of psychologists' behavior on groups at risk, APA moved decisively to create specific requirements and limitations in the ethics code's enforceable standards. These groups included persons "for whom testing is mandated by law or governmental regulations," "persons with a questionable capacity to consent," research participants, "subordinates," clients, students, supervisees, and employees. Facing concerns about the impact of psychologists' behavior on research animals, for example, APA created an enforceable standard supporting the "humane treatment" of laboratory animals. But for detainees, APA chose not to adopt any enforceable standards in the ethics code mandating humane treatment.

The code's numbered ethical standards "set forth enforceable rules of conduct." The code emphasizes that although other code sections should be given consideration, even the code's "Preamble and General Principles are not themselves enforceable rules..." APA's decision to adopt an enforceable standard regarding "humane treatment" of animals but not to adopt an enforceable standard regarding "humane treatment" of detainees turns APA away from its ethical foundation, historic traditions, and basic values that should endure even in the midst of post-9-11 risks and realities.

My second area of disagreement concerns the ethics code that Council adopted August 21, 2002 (which took effect June 1, 2003). The 2002 code echoes the earlier code in setting forth the following enforceable standard: "If psychologists' ethical responsibilities conflict with law, regulations, or other governing legal authority, psychologists make known their commitment to the Ethics Code and take steps to resolve the conflict." But the 2002 code created a new enforceable standard: "If the conflict is unresolvable via such means, psychologists may adhere to the requirements of the law, regulations, or other governing legal authority" (Standard 1.02).

This new enforceable standard, in my opinion, contradicts one of the essential ethical values voiced in the Nuremberg trials. Even in light of the post-9-11 historical context and challenges, I believe we can never abandon the fundamental ethical value affirmed at Nuremberg.

An attempt to modify Standard 1.02 was placed only in the nonenforceable section. In the 5 years since creating this new enforceable ethical standard in a sharp break with the past, APA chose to make no qualifications, restrictions, or other modifications to Standard 1.02 in the code's enforceable section.

The code's 89 enforceable standards identify diverse ethical responsibilities, some representing the profession's deepest values. The code recognizes that these ethical values can stand in stark, irreconcilable conflict (no matter what steps the psychologist takes to resolve the conflict) with a regulation, a law, or governing legal authority. APA's creation of an enforceable standard allowing psychologists to violate these fundamental ethical responsibilities in favor of following a regulation, a law, or a governing legal authority clashes with its ethical foundation, historic traditions, and basic values.

Such changes in APA's approach to its enforceable ethical standards over the past 6+ years embrace issues of enormous complexity and conflicting values. I've tried during these years to read as widely and carefully as possible in these diverse areas, comparing secondary sources to primary sources and evaluating claims in light of evidence. On one narrow topic, for example, I've read and maintained an archive of citations of over 220 published works (including those from APA) that specifically address the controversy over physicians and psychologists participating in the planning and implementation of detainee interrogations. (The archive is at:

Over the decades I've written articles and books examining APA's earliest discussions about ethical responsibilities and accountability, the choice to create an ethics code, the innovative methods used to create a unique code, the revisions and controversies over the years, and APA members' ethical views, dilemmas, and behavior. During the code's distinguished history, it has set forth APA's essential ethics and the standards to which members agree to hold themselves accountable through the Ethics Committee's formal enforcement. For me, the two examples above represent defining issues for APA. Steps that APA has taken or avoided since 9-11 mark a sharp shift in values and direction. I respectfully disagree with these changes; I am skeptical that they will work as intended; and I believe that they may lead to far-reaching unintended consequences.

These changes take APA so far away from its ethical foundation, historic traditions, and basic values, and from my own personal and professional view of our responsibilities, that I cannot support them with my membership. In light of my respectful disagreement with APA about these fundamental changes, it is with great sadness and regret that I resign my membership.


Ken Pope

Next, I reproduce, in part, a letter from Alan E. Kazdin, Ph.D., and Norman Anderson, Ph.D., President and Chief Executive Officer, respectively, of the APA. The letter can be found at APA's ethics webpage. Characteristically, as part of its faux-open bureaucratic style, APA has posted the letter in a way that text can not be simply reproduced (PDF format, non-textual). But I will give the best transcription I can. It is addressed to "The Honorable Michael B. Mukasey." I will only add here that this letter was dated 2/5/08, only days after Mukasey told a Senate committee that the question whether waterboarding is torture, even when performed upon a U.S. citizen, was "unresolved" in his mind. The impact of APA's letter was telling in its non-relevance. The day after APA released its letter, the CIA admitted torturing/waterboarding at least three detainees, and the day after that, the "honorable" Mukasey announced there would be no investigation or prosecutions for this illegal behavior

The letter (bolded quotes below are in original):
Dear Attorney General Mukasey,

We are writing on behalf of the American Psychological Association (APA) to call upon you to safeguard the human rights and physical and psychological welfare of individuals detained by the U.S. government. APA... unequivocally condemns the use of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of punishment under any conditions, including the detention and interrogation of "enemy combatants," as defined by the U.S. Military Commissions Act of 2006... Accordingly, we urge you to establish policies and procedures that fully protect the human rights of detainees, including judicial review of their detentions.

In separate letters to President Bush and CIA Director Hayden, we called upon the Administration to expand the July 2007 Executive Order to clarify that waterboarding and other "enhanced" interrogation techniques, which are considered torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of punishment under the Geneva Conventions, the United Nations Convention Against Torture, and APA's 2006 and 2007 Resolutions Against Torture and Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, shall not be used or condoned by the U.S. government. APA's 2007 Resolution calls for the prohibition of all the 19 interrogations techniques specified, as well as any and all others that constitute torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. We continue to urge the Administration to disallow any testimony resulting from the use of any interrogation technique that constitutes torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of punishment.

We now call upon you, as Attorney General, to expedite the review of the Office of Legal Counsel opinions that have provided the basis for the Administration's use of waterboarding and other "enhanced" interrogation techniques. It is also critical that a legal opinion be rendered specifically on waterboarding, despite claims that is is no longer necessary.... A thorough analysis of waterboarding and other "enhanced" interrogation techniques would carry out the intent you expressed during your Senate confirmation hearings to carefully examine the legality of these practices. We look foward to a public report of your investigation and findings.

Psychologists consulting to the military and intelligence communities, like their colleagues in domestic forensic settings, use their expertise to promote the use of effective and ethical interrogations, while safguarding the welfare of interrogators and detainees. It is unethical for a psychologist to plan, design, or assist, either directly or indirectly, in interrogation techniques delineated in APA's 2007 resolution....

There are no exceptional circumstances to these prohibitions, including laws, regulations, orders, or circustances induced by a state of war, threat of war, or any other public emergency. APA's 2007 resolution makes clear that conditions of confinement (e.g., lack of human rights protections) -- not just specific interrogation techniques -- can constitute torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Accordingly, APA will support psychologists who refuse to work in settings in which the human rights of detainees are not protected.

I'm sorry, but I must interrupt for a little editorializing here, as the disingenuousness and unctiousness of APA's missive to Mukasey is almost too much to bear. In an article by AP the other day, revealing the existence of the heretofore mysterious Camp 7 at Guantanamo, we find a startling admission by APA Council member Colonel Larry James. James is the chief psychologist at Guantanamo, assisting interrogations there. He was also a member of APA's notorious PENS committee, and a key speaker against a moratorium on psychologist participation in national security interrogations at APA's 2007 convention. His demagogic claim at the convention about what would happen if APA passed the moratorium resolution -- "If we remove psychologists from these facilities, people are going to die" -- showed how the naked hand of fear was used to manipulate psychologists in the halls of its own convention.

What we have is APA claiming in its letter to Mukasey that it would support psychologists who refuse to work in inhumane settings. They also claim that psychologists work to make interrogations safe and humane. APA's letter makes no mention of the revelations in late 2007 about use of isolation, sensory deprivation and other abusive conditions at Guanatanamo, made notorious via leaks of Guatanamo Standard Operations Procedures by the watchdog Wikileaks website. So it was all the more startling when the "best" of APA got their chance to weigh in on humiliating and torturous conditions at a secret camp within Guantanamo, Col. James showed what stuff he and his supporters are really made of.

From the AP report (emphases are mine):

Army Col. Larry James, whose team of psychologists assists interrogators, said he does not want to know where Camp 7 is.

"I learned a long, long time ago, if I'm going to be successful in the intel community, I'm meticulously — in a very, very dedicated way — going to stay in my lane," he said. "So if I don't have a specific need to know about something, I don't want to know about it. I don't ask about it."

So, dear readers, as I conclude this tale of two letters -- the telling of which I leave mostly to their juxtaposition -- consider the words of APA's man at Guantanamo and how they measure up to APA's public letter to Bush's minion, Mukasey, continued below:
Moreover, psychologists with knowledge of the use of any prohibited interrogation technique have an ethical responsibility to inform their superiors and the relevant office of inspectors general, as appropriate, and to cooperate fully with all government oversight activities to ensure that no individual is subjected to this type of treatment.

We look foward to working with the Administration and Congress to develop policies on interrogation that provide for effective and ethical means to elicit information to prevent acts of violence. Our own work in this area is ongoing, and we plan to make available a casebook and commentary to provide guidance on the interpretation of our resolution. If you have any qustions or would like additional information, please have your office contact APA's Director of Ethics, Stephen Behnke, J.D., Ph.D., at (202) 336-6006 or at

Much further could be written about the sly legalistic lies hidden within APA's letter, and about its disingenousness. One could note the many insufficiencies of APA's resolutions, as the letter has nary a word of the various loopholes concerning use of drugs, sleep deprivation, and sensory deprivation and overload upon detainees that exist in APA's 2007 resolution and its so-called prohibition of 19 techniques. Or one could go into some detail about how the emphasis on "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment" masks a reliance on special legal interpretations of the relevant national and international laws and treaties which allows for, in fact, much use of coercive interrogation techniques.

For now, I must let this long blog entry end. Interested readers can pursue my own recent letter of resignation from APA for further discussion of these issues. I also refer readers to the excellent recent article by Brad Olson, Ph.D. and Martha Davis, Ph.D. in the latest National Psychologist, APA and the Myths and Costs of Endorsing Psychologist Involvement in Detainee Interrogations.

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