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Military letter to the APA: Drop the Nuremberg Defense from psychologist ethics code

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Capt. Lawrence Rockwood (ret.), the author of Walking Away from Nuremberg: Just War and the Doctrine of Command Responsibility,has organized the following letter from military figures to the American Psychological Association. The Letter expresses dismay by these military people to the inclusion of ethics standard 1.02 the Nuremberg "just following orders" Defense in the APA ethics code. [See attorney Scott Horton's comments on 1.02 at his Harpers blog. My comments, with background on the issue, can be read here.]

The military letter was sent to President Bray and the members of the APA Council of Representatives:

August 4, 2009

To President James A. Bray and the Council of Representatives of the American Psychological Association:

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We write as concerned, veteran military and intelligence professionals. If the American Psychological Association (APA) retains Section 1.02 in its Ethics Code, the APA will place itself in opposition to some of the best traditions of the American military profession. Section 1.02 of the APA Ethics Code undermines not only the good order and discipline of military and intelligence professionals who happen also to be psychologists, but also their responsibilities under official military doctrine and professional military ethics. This section of the APA code entails an exemption that a psychologist can follow an order from a government employer even if it is otherwise contraindicated by the APA code. This section of the APA code disregards the Nuremberg Principles as recognized in 1950 by UN General Assembly Resolution 177 and incorporated into American military doctrine in the 1956 publication of Field Manual 27-10, The Law of Armed Conflict.

The Nuremberg Principles were drafted in the United States War Department during the last year of the Second World War. Two major themes of the Nuremberg Principles have been incorporated into American military doctrine: (1) commanders and government officials are responsible for the criminal acts of their subordinates, and (2) that a person acts in response to an order from a government or of a superior does not relieve him or her from personal criminal responsibility. In the case of the prosecution for the massacre of unarmed civilians in My Lai in Vietnam in March 1968, a military court categorically ruled out the so-called Nuremberg Defense in a defense of an accused war criminal who claimed an order(s) from superiors sanctioned an otherwise criminal act.

The professional normative standards of the military professional as a whole are binding on psychologists within the military. We therefore ask that the APA remove Section 1.02, or any equivalent statement, in the APA Ethics Code and any other APA policy inconsistent with official military doctrine, professional military ethics, and the standards of international humanitarian law.

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Lawrence P. Rockwood, PhD, Former Captain, US Army Counterintelligence
Author: Walking Away from Nuremberg: Just War and the Doctrine of Command Responsibility in the American Military Profession, 2007, Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2007.

David C. MacMichael, Ph.D., former senior estimates officer, National Security Council, former captain, USMC

Terrence Karney, Former Staff Sergeant, US Army: Interrogator, and Interrogation Instructor

Peter Weiss, Sergeant, Military Intelligence, 1945, served as interrogator
of high-value German detainee in Nuremberg

Matthew Alexander, former senior interrogator for the U.S. military in Iraq,
Author: How to Break a Terrorist, 2008. New York: Free Press.

David DeBatto, U.S. Army Counterintelligence Special Agent (ret.)

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C.B. Scott Jones, Ph.D. Commander, USN Retired. South Asia Naval Intelligence, J-2 U.S. European Command, Scientific and Technical Intelligence Analyst

Virenda Verma, M.Sc., Col., Indian Army Intelligence Retired. Visiting Fellow Institute of Chinese Studies, Delhi. India-Pakistan Soldiers Initiative for Peace, Founder. Tibet Study Group, Founder and General Secretary.

Herbert Ely, Retired from Department of the Army, Senior Intelligence Analyst


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Stephen Soldz is psychoanalyst, psychologist, public health researcher, and faculty member at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. He is co-founder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology and is President of Psychologists for Social Responsibility. He was a psychological consultant on two of (more...)

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