Differing policies espoused by psychological and medical organizations
regarding participation in interrogations arose out of differing
organizational and professional histories, according to a psychologist and a
psychiatrist writing in the BMJ (British Medical Journal).
APA, the AMA, and the American Psychological Association all have ethics
policies opposing torture and prohibiting members from engaging in that
practice. APA and the AMA have also said that participation by psychiatrists
and other physicians in interrogation of prisoners or detainees in current
conflicts violates their ethical standards because they contravene the
physician's role as a healer.
"In contrast, the American Psychological Association in 2005 adopted
a policy that allowed consultation and monitoring of individual interrogations
with the intent of intervening," wrote Connecticut psychologist Kenneth
Pope, Ph.D., and forensic psychiatrist Thomas Gutheil, M.D., in an article
published online April 30. "The [American Psychological Association]
decided not to add detainees to the enforceable standards section of its code,
which protects groups that are vulnerable or at risk and allows complaints to
be made to the ethics committee."
(The preamble and general principles in the American Psychological
Association's ethics document, titled the Ethical Principles of
Psychologists and Code of Conduct, are not considered"
enforceable" but "should be considered by psychologists in
arriving at an ethical course of action." The ethics standards, however,
are all enforceable.)
Pope is an independent licensed psychologist in Norwalk, Conn. Gutheil is a
professor of psychiatry in the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Department
of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and a former president of the American
Academy of Psychiatry and the Law.
APA's position prohibiting direct participation by psychiatrists in
interrogations was developed prior to the AMA's statement and served as a
model for the position later adopted by the AMA, said Paul Appelbaum, M.D., a
former APA president, in an interview. Appelbaum is the Elizabeth K. Dollard
Professor of Psychiatry, Medicine, and Law and director of the Division of
Psychiatry, Law, and Ethics in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia
University College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Supporters of the psychologists' position have argued that interrogation is
a psychological process and that participating psychologists would contribute
to "keeping interrogations safe and ethical," according to
statements quoted by Pope and Gutheil. The U.S. interrogation policies, such
as those used at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, were designed
with the help of psychologists, they said.
Until 2002 the American Psychological Association's ethics code stated that
when professional ethics conflicted with law or "governing legal
authority," psychologists should "take steps to resolve the
conflict." However, in 2002 the organization's ethics code was updated
to state that if such conflicts couldn't be resolved, psychologists "may
adhere to the requirements of the law, regulations, or other governing legal
That amounts to an "inverse Nuremberg principle," said M. Gregg
Bloche, M.D., J.D., a professor of law at Georgetown University and a
psychiatrist, in an interview. The Nuremberg principles grew out of the Nazi
war crimes trials after World War II and state that individuals cannot avoid
personal responsibility when carrying out actions ordered by governments.
In a "Rapid Response" posted on May 15 on the BMJ Web
site focusing on the issue of torture rather than the broader issue of
psychologists' role in interrogation, Rhea Farberman, executive director of
public communications for the American Psychological Association, commented,"
[I]t is critical to emphasize that the APA ethics code prohibits
torture and that when the current version of Ethical Standard 1.02 (which
addresses conflicts between ethics and law) was drafted in the fall of 2000,
the language was in no way intended or foreseen to provide a defense to
engaging in torture based on 'following orders.' In light of the Bush
administration interrogation policies, the [American Psychological
Association] Ethics Committee views it as crucial to clarify that 'following
orders' can never be a defense to torture under the APA Ethics Code. APA's
governing body, the Council of Representatives, will be reviewing this ethical
standard with association-wide input at its upcoming meeting at the
[association's] convention in August.
"[The American Psychological Association's] most recent policy action
has restricted the scope of the earlier PENS Task Force [the 2005 Presidential
Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security] recommendations
related to the involvement of psychologists in national security
investigations by prohibiting psychologists from working in detention settings
that are in violation of international law and the U.S. Constitution, except
in very narrowly defined roles. Immediately after a membership vote in 2008,
APA informed key Bush administration officials and members of Congress of this
new policy. APA is ensuring that officials in the Obama administration are
likewise informed of APA's position."
Pope responded to Farberman in a "Rapid Response" on May 17,"
[The American Psychological Association] highlights its 'most recent
policy action' in this area, a 2008 ballot initiative. However, APA previously
clarified that this ballot initiative would not be enforceable under its
ethics code. Similarly, APA's numerous policies, public statements, etc.,
addressing torture have never been added to the enforceable section of its
ethics code. Human rights require more than calls for voluntary
Pope and Gutheil's article highlights the differences between the ethics of
medicine and of psychology, which arose from very different sources.
"Medicine evolved as a clinical discipline and traditionally has
avoided activities that would contradict or impair the clinical role,"
said Appelbaum. "Psychology, in contrast, developed as an academic
discipline, and when it left the laboratory, some of the discipline's earliest
applied activities involved consultation, in [places like] schools or the
workplace. Many psychologists, therefore, have a 'client' orientation that
makes it difficult for psychology to set limits on involvement that a client
requests. When the client is law enforcement, intelligence, or the military,
those requests have included participation in interrogation, and
psychology—distinct from medicine—has struggled to find a
principled basis on which to say 'no.'"
In April, after the Obama administration released memos written by White
House legal staff permitting harsher interrogation techniques during the Bush
administration, the New York Times published a letter on May 5 by
then APA President Nada Stotland, M.D., in which she reiterated that APA"
oppose[s] the participation of psychiatrists in
interrogations—situations in which a person is being questioned
involuntarily. As medical doctors, mental health professionals, and citizens,
we are dedicated to the relief of human suffering by preventing and treating
In their article, Pope and Gutheil suggested that professional
organizations' ethics codes should demand personal accountability in the face
of unethical laws or orders, offer protection to all vulnerable groups
(including detainees), and ensure that all members clearly understand their
The American Psychological Association "wholeheartedly supports the
authors' recommendations in the article," said Stephen Behnke, Ph.D.,
J.D., director of the Ethics Office of the American Psychological Association,
in an e-mail interview. "In fact, the recommendations are highly
consistent with [the association's] current positions....
"The APA ethics code applies to all psychologists. APA has explicitly
rejected the argument that the ethics code does not apply to psychologists in
nonhealth care-related roles. The ethics code always applies."
"Contrasting Ethical Policies of Physicians and Psychologists
Concerning Interrogation of Detainees" and the "Rapid
Responses" can be accessed at<www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/338/apr30_2/b1653>.
The American Psychological Association's ethics code is posted at<www.apa.org/ethics/code2002.html>,
and its 2007 resolution against torture participation is posted at<www.apa.org/governance/resolutions/councilres0807.html>.▪