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Open Letter to President Suzanne Bennett Johnson, American Psychological Association

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Stephen Soldz     Permalink
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 The results of the case against Dr. Leso in New York clearly establish why the APA must take the lead in such cases. Unlike the NYOPD, the APA's standards for psychologists do not permit the sidestepping of ethical issues through legal gymnastics. As the APA Ethics Code states:

 This Ethics Code applies only to psychologists' activities that are part of their scientific, educational, or professional roles as psychologists. Areas covered include but are not limited to the clinical, counseling, and school practice of psychology; research; teaching; supervision of trainees; public service; policy development; social intervention; development of assessment instruments; conducting assessments; educational counseling; organizational consulting; forensic activities; program design and evaluation; and administration.

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 Most states follow the lead of the APA Ethics Office in determining ethical standards and in adjudicating cases.

 Because of the Ethics Committee's delay in adjudicating the Leso case, Dr. Steven Reisner initiated an ethics complaint against Dr. Leso with the New York Office of Professional Discipline (NYOPD), which grants his license to practice. [xiii] The NYOPD and the New York Attorney General acknowledged the fact that, "Dr. Leso, apparently, was asked to use his skills as a weapon; not to help the mental health of the detainees." But the NYOPD used these very facts to determine that -- since the aim of Dr. Leso's activity at Guanta'namo was explicitly to cause harm, and since there was no "therapist-patient relationship between Dr. Leso and any of the Guanta'namo detainees" -- Dr. Leso's professional behavior could not be considered the "practice of psychology" under the New York Education Law and therefore the ethics code did not apply. The case was dismissed without investigation.

 Dr. Reisner pursued the case against Leso in New York State Supreme Court. The Court refused to overrule NYOPD, not on the merits of the case, but based on a technicality: that harm to the profession at large notwithstanding, Dr. Reisner could not show that he had been personally harmed by Dr. Leso's activities. But harm to the profession of psychology is precisely a central issue for the American Psychological Association. The ability of our association to establish and uphold ethical principles is the very basis upon which we garner and maintain public trust. And that trust has been sorely challenged by the failure of the APA Ethics Office to determine when a psychologist's behavior in national security interrogations has violated our basic, time-honored ethical principles. 

 In light of the circumstances we have described here, we are requesting that you, as President of the APA:

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 1.  Open a full review of the practices of the APA Ethics Office with regard to the investigation and adjudication of cases alleging torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in general, and the cases of Drs. Leso, James, and Gelles in particular.

2.  Ensure that the case against Dr. Leso now receives a prompt adjudication, five years after it was filed.

3.  Move to rescind the current statute of limitations on cases of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment so that there can be accountability for psychologists who participate in classified abuses whenever the evidence of such abuses becomes available. 


 Trudy Bond  ( Email address removed )

Steven Reisner  ( Email address removed )


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[i] Kaye, J. (2009, July 24). Former Top Navy Psychologist Involved in Pre-9/11 Prisoner Abuse Case. Retrieved September 7, 2012, from Invictus:

[ii] Turley, J. (2007, August 20). Testimony in Senate Intelligence Committee on Abuses By Naval Intelligence and the Daniel King Case Published 1, Aug. Retrieved September 7, 2012, from

[iii] (Turley, 2007)

[iv] (Kaye, 2009)

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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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