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If Not Now, When? -- APA Fails to Sanction Psychologist in Guantanamo Torture Case

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Earlier this week the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology (to which I belong) issued the statement below. A PDF version is available on the Coalition's website here.

*****

If Not Now, When? -- APA Fails to Sanction Psychologist in Guantanamo Torture Case  
   
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Denying and enabling torture require nothing more than refusing to acknowledge evidence that torture occurred or that specific individuals were involved. "Governments, groups, cultures, or individuals need only reflexively dismiss all evidence as questionable, incomplete, misleading, false, or in some other way inadequate.

--  Ken Pope, former Chair of the APA Ethics Committee (1988)

The Ethics Office of the American Psychological Association (APA) has announced that it will not proceed with formal charges against military psychologist Dr. John Leso, despite extensive public documentation that this APA member designed and participated in abusive interrogations at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In fact, Susan Crawford, the convening authority on military commissions at Guantanamo appointed by President George W. Bush, refused to refer the case of detainee Mohammed al Qahtani to trial because she concluded his interrogation met the legal definition of torture. Dr. Leso is known to have been a supervisor and participant in that interrogation. 

Because Dr. Leso's documented actions so clearly violated psychological ethics and because this abuse of psychological expertise was undertaken at the behest of governmental authorities, this case represents a landmark test of the independence of psychological ethics and professional standards from governmental and institutional pressures. The APA's failure to pursue charges against Dr. Leso jeopardizes our profession's fundamental ethical principles. In this synopsis we review (1) APA's repeated vow to bring such cases to account; (2) the public record of clearly documented violations by Dr. Leso; (3) APA's justifications for closing the Leso case without formal charges; and (4) our procedural and ethical assessment of the APA's resolution of this case. [1]

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1. APA's Vow to Hold Accountable Any and All Psychologists Involved in Abusive Interrogations

In 2005, APA's Ethics Office Director Stephen Behnke stated:

If psychologists have engaged in any activity, and at this point the media reports are long on hearsay and innuendo, short on facts, the American Psychological Association wants the facts. And when we have the facts, we will act on them. And if individuals who are members of our association have acted inappropriately, the APA will address those very directly and very clearly.

Echoing Dr. Behnke and the APA's longstanding prohibitions on psychologists' involvement in abusive treatment, then-APA President Gerald Koocher, like every APA president since, reiterated this assurance: 

APA has taken a very strong stance against the use of torture, inhumane, and degrading treatment, and if anyone is able to identify A.P.A. members who have been involved in such activities, we will take disciplinary action" I have asked"for names so that A.P.A. could investigate its members who might be allegedly involved in them, no names have ever been forthcoming.

At the time of these assertions by Drs. Behnke and Koocher, the involvement of APA member John Leso in the abusive interrogation of detainee Mohammed al Qahtani had already been publicly documented. In 2005, the "Dr. L" mentioned as one of the Behavioral Science Consultation Team (BSCT) members responsible for overseeing one of the most brutal interrogations at Guantanamo was revealed to be Dr. Leso.

2The Ethics Case against APA Member John Leso

Through a combination of journalist reports, congressional investigations, a leaked interrogation log, and documents released from a decade of Freedom of Information Act requests and lawsuits by the American Civil Liberties Union, the following information documenting Dr. Leso's actions became publicly available. [2]

* Dr. John Leso led the BSCT at Guantanamo from June 2002 to January 2003. According to the 2008 Senate Armed Services Committee investigation, Dr. Leso, along with Paul Burney who was the psychiatrist on his BSCT team, devised, recommended, and implemented psychologically and physically harmful and abusive detention and interrogation tactics.

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www.eidelsonconsulting.com
Roy Eidelson is a psychologist who studies, writes about, and consults on the role of psychological issues in political, organizational, and group conflict settings. He is president of Eidelson Consulting, a past president of Psychologists for (more...)
 

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