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

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Roy Eidelson       (Page 3 of 6 pages) Become a premium member to see this article and all articles as one long page.     Permalink

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* In addition to his role in designing the implemented abusive interrogation protocols, a leaked log of the interrogation of Mr. al Qahtani indicates that Dr. Leso was present and participated in at least some of these sessions. A sworn statement from a BSCT member also asserts that at least one member of the three-person BSCT was always present during the interrogation of Mr. al Qahtani. None of the voluminous documentation on this interrogation provides any indication that Dr. Leso -- or a BSCT member under his direction -- ever intervened to curtail these abusive practices.

In short, the publicly available evidence of Dr. Leso's harmful, exploitative, and unethical actions as a psychologist is considerable and indisputable. By all reasonable measures, it meets and exceeds the "preponderance of evidence" standard used by the APA's Ethics Committee in its deliberations.

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3. APA's Stated Justifications for Closing the Case Without Formal Charges

On December 31, 2013, almost seven years after the complaint against Dr. Leso was filed, the APA Ethics Office communicated its decision in the Leso case in a letter to Dr. Trudy Bond. Without disputing any of the above findings, Lindsay Childress-Beatty, Deputy Director of the Ethics Office, suggested that the burden of proof had not been met. The letter stated: "We have determined that we cannot proceed with formal charges in this matter. Consequently, the complaint against Dr. Leso has been closed."

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In light of the publicity generated by the case, the letter also briefly referred to several factors that apparently led to the decision not to reprimand, censure, or expel Dr. Leso: (a) he did not "request to become involved with detainee interrogations"; (b) he was an "early-career psychologist trained as a health care provider"; (c) he reportedly "sought consultation and argued"in favor of rapport-building approaches;" and (d) APA did not issue its first policy on interrogations until 2005.

4. Procedural and Ethical Assessment of the APA's Justifications for Closing the Case

The justifications offered by the APA Ethics Office are not valid.

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(a) Dr. Leso's expectations.  Based on the Senate Armed Services Committee report, it appears that Dr. Leso did expect to be placed in a clinical rather than an intelligence-gathering role when he arrived in Guantanamo. However, our professional ethics do not apply only to roles and activities for which we volunteer. Since the Nuremberg trials, it is broadly understood that ethical principles apply to all actions, regardless of whether they are undertaken freely or in response to orders from superiors. It is also important to note that Dr. Leso's actions took place before the APA Ethics Code was changed to permit the violation of psychological ethics in favor of law or regulations (a change that has since been rescinded).

(b) Early career status.  Although Dr. Leso was an early-career psychologist, the APA Ethics Code does not privilege or exempt members based on their years of professional work. (Neither does the Uniform Code of Military Justice.) Moreover, Dr. Leso had already been licensed as a psychologist for several years at the time of his BSCT activity, and he was being considered for the position of Director of Training at Walter Reed Army Hospital. As a licensed military professional, under consideration for the training of other clinical psychologists, he certainly should have been familiar with the APA Ethics Code, as well as the Nuremburg Protocols and the Geneva Conventions. Indeed, Standard 8.01 of the 1992 APA Ethics Code clearly states: " Psychologists have an obligation to be familiar with this Ethics Code, other applicable ethics codes, and their application to psychologists' work. Lack of awareness or misunderstanding of an ethical standard is not itself a defense to a charge of unethical conduct."

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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 a past president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, a member of (more...)
 

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