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Council of Representatives report

Summary of the APA Council of Representatives August 2015 meeting.

By K. Warner Schaie, PhD, ABPP, and Patricia A. Parmelee, PhD

The APA Council of Representatives (COR) held its regular meeting Aug. 4-7, 2015. The bulk of the meeting was devoted to discussion and action regarding the Hoffman report on involvement of APA and individual psychologists in national security interrogations. This report first briefly summarizes that issue, and then gives highlights of the August meeting.

Last spring, APA's Board of Directors commissioned an independent review of evidence related to allegations that APA colluded with the Bush administration to support torture during the war on terror. That review, conducted by the Sidley Austin legal firm under the leadership of David Hoffman, was received by the Board in late June; it was leaked to the public about a week later. The report is publicly available online. []. In brief, it found “that key APA officials … colluded with important [Department of Defense] officials to have APA issue loose, high-level ethical guidelines that did not constrain DoD in any greater fashion than existing DoD interrogation guidelines … APA's principal motive in doing so was to align APA and curry favor with DoD …, to create a good public-relations response, and to keep the growth of psychology unrestrained in this area” (Hoffman report, p. 9). In addition, the report identified serious problems with the composition and process of the 2005 Presidential Task Force on Ethics National Security and with the manner in which its recommendations were subsequently adopted. Evidence was also cited indicating that staff and governance colluded to block efforts of the COR to prohibit psychologists' involvement in interrogations at Guantanamo and elsewhere. Upon the report being leaked, APA immediately terminated the services of APA Ethics Director Steven Behnke, PhD. Subsequently, the association announced the retirements of CEO Norman Anderson and Deputy CEO Michael Honaker and the resignation of Rhea K. Farberman, executive director for Public and Member Communications.

The August COR meeting focused largely on the Hoffman report. Following a brief plenary session the evening before, Council met in executive session on Wednesday, Aug. 5 to hear commentary by Hoffman and his associate, Danielle Carter. The closed session was at Hoffman's request, so that he could speak more freely than if the general public (and media) were present. Hoffman and Carter presented a balanced overview and analysis and responded candidly to previously submitted questions. One of the few details of the executive session that representatives are permitted to disseminate regards the costs of the report and its sequelae. Payments to Sidley Austin stood at $3.8 million through June and will likely total about $5 million. Factoring in services of an outside public relations firm, compensation packages for staff leaving the association, and other costs, the final costs to APA are expected to run $8 to $10 million. This will be paid from APA's equity investments (currently roughly $61 million).

The remainder of the Wednesday session comprised discussion of the Hoffman report and its implications and planning of actions to address the situation. Discussion was long, intense and, occasionally, contentious. Following the Board's recommendation, a first product was a motion to establish a blue ribbon panel to evaluate and recommend changes to APA's ethics process . Representatives were urged to work with staff to develop and wordsmith language of additional resolutions for discussion at the Friday, Aug. 7, meeting.

At the Friday meeting, in a nearly unanimous roll call vote observed by a number of APA members and media representatives, Council voted to approve a motion prohibiting psychologists from directly participating in national security investigations. The motion also clearly aligned APA's definition of “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment” with international standards, but does not preclude psychologists' involvement in domestic interrogations or detention settings. A second, related motion to develop a clear conflict of interest statement passed; that document will be reviewed and voted on at the February 2016 meeting.

This action is viewed as setting the stage for further, more detailed action to improve oversight of APA staff and governance process. This will be the primary focus of the February 2016 COR meeting. One such proposal, in preparation by Div. 20 Representative Warner Schaie PhD, would establish a council personnel committee that would collaborate with the Board of Directors in the selection and supervision of senior staff.

A few items unrelated to the “torture” issue and the Hoffman report were also treated at the August meeting. These included approval of a motion promoting research and intervention on violent video games and action to resolve inter-jurisdictional licensing issues to support interstate agreements regarding telepsychology.