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General News    H2'ed 9/19/12

Open Letter to President Suzanne Bennett Johnson, American Psychological Association

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Yesterday the letter below was sent to APA President Suzanne Bennett Johnson by two colleagues, Trudy Bond and Steven Reisner. I hope you will find it of interest. A PDF version of the letter is available online at

Open Letter to

President Suzanne Bennett Johnson

American Psychological Association

 A.P.A. 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.

      -- Gerald Koocher, former APA President, speaking on Democracy Now! (June 16, 2006)

September 18, 2012


Dear Dr. Johnson:

 We are two psychologists committed to making certain that psychologists implicated in torture and prisoner abuse are held accountable by oversight bodies for their egregious ethical violations. We believe the public trust and the reputation of our profession depend upon such accountability.

 We are writing at this time regarding ethics complaints filed with the APA Ethics Office against three psychologists who remain APA members in good standing: Dr. Michael Gelles, Dr. Larry James and Dr. John Francis Leso. Based on undisputed facts, these cases cry out for investigation and appropriate censure. We would like to briefly review some of the evidence for these complaints and express our concern with regard to the status of each complaint.

 Attorney Jonathan Turley filed a complaint with the APA Ethics Office in 2001 against Dr. Michael Gelles for alleged complicity in the harsh treatment of US Naval Officer Daniel King, who had been accused of espionage. [i] [ii] King was held for 520 days without charge by the Navy Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) and interrogated for 29 days in 15-20 hour sessions. During this period, Navy investigators gave King multiple polygraph tests and lied to him about the results. By the end of the month, King had signed a confession despite having no recollection of the actions to which he admitted.  Prior to his military hearing, King had become suicidal and felt he was losing his grip on reality, since he could not remember the event. He requested a consultation with a psychologist to help him remember, via hypnosis or truth serum, and King was sent to Dr. Gelles for a psychological consultation. [iii] [iv] [v] According to testimony of King's defense attorney before the Senate Intelligence Committee, "Gelles virtually ignored the statement of King that he had suicidal thoughts"two days before the interview."[vi] He focused instead on pressuring King to give the agents "corroborating" evidence, offering to hypnotize King if  he did so. These allegations are supported by the videotape of Dr. Gelles' session with King (made by NCIS without consent) which was provided by Turley to the Ethics Committee. (Ultimately, all charges against King were dismissed when a military judge concluded there was insufficient evidence even to sustain a determination of probable cause. [vii])

  The Ethics Committee apparently found that Dr. Gelles' behavior did not violate APA ethics; in fact, subsequent to this case, Dr. Gelles was chosen by the Director of the Ethics Office to sit on the PENS Task Force and help develop ethical guidelines for national security interrogations.

  On December 5, 2007, Dr. Trudy Bond filed a complaint with the APA Ethics Office against Dr. Larry James for his alleged involvement in the harsh treatment of detainees. Among numerous ethical violations, Dr. James oversaw the transport of three child prisoners -- one 12 years old and two 13 years old [viii] -- from Bagram, Afghanistan to Guantà namo, where Dr. James was the Chief Behavioral Science Consultation Team member ("BSCT #1"). [ix] [x] According to the New York Times, during transport the boys were "put on a plane with other prisoners, chained by the wrists and ankles, with a hood" placed over their heads. At Guantà namo, Dr. James oversaw the daily interrogations of these boys. For ten months the boys' families were not told what had happened to their children, who had been "disappeared" by American authorities. The United Nations Committee Against Torture has held that such "disappearance" is torture -- not only for the subject, but also for the family of the child taken without public acknowledgement. In addition, there is no dispute that such treatment of children is a violation of international law.

  The ethics complaint against Col. James was dismissed by the APA Ethics Office without investigation.

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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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