APA Council report: August 2015

Council addresses APA’s involvement in detainee interrogations.

By Susana P. Urbina, PhD, and William Revelle, PhD

The primary item of business for the Council of Representatives (COR) was to discuss and deal with the 542-page report by David Hoffman and his colleagues at the Chicago law firm Sidley Austin LLP. The entire report and supplementary material is available, as is a revised version and errata sheet submitted by Hoffman on Sept. 4, 2015. The first 72 pages of the document contain the executive summary of the report.

As most members of Div. 5 know by now, the Independent Review (IR) reviewed actions taken by the senior staff and leadership of APA, in collusion with members of the Department of Defense (DOD), during the first half of 2005. These actions resulted in the issuance of loose, high-level ethical guidelines that:

  1. Permitted military psychologists to participate in detainee interrogations.
  2. Did not constrain the application of existing DOD guidelines, which allowed the use of techniques that would be construed as torture under the U.N. Convention Against Torture. 

In addition, the report documents how subsequently, for a period of years, Stephen Behnke (then-director of the APA Ethics Office), along with other APA staff and leadership members, engaged in efforts to forestall the introduction and passage of COR resolutions that would have prohibited psychologists from participating in interrogations at Guantanamo and other off-shore U.S. detention sites.

The first few hours of the COR meeting were spent listening to Hoffman describe the process of collecting and summarizing the evidence that went into the IR. Many of the subsequent hours were spent in a broad-based discussion of the report. To emphasize the importance of the discussion, representatives from several divisions that have formed independent societies (e.g., Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology and The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues) commented that some of their members were threatening to resign or had actually resigned from APA. However, the general tenor of the meeting was one of reconciliation and a desire to move forward, rather than focusing on the past.

When questioned about what he thought APA’s next steps should be, Hoffman suggested devising a more robust process for investigating and adjudicating ethics cases, beyond the information obtained from the complainants and the respondents. In response, council drafted and approved the establishment of a blue-ribbon panel to evaluate and recommend changes to APA ethics processes based on an assessment of current practices as well as comparisons with the ethics processes of other professional organizations.

Following Hoffman’s presentation, council went into an executive session focused on the financial ramifications stemming from the IR. This session was presented by Archie Turner, who was serving as interim CEO, as well as CFO, of the APA. Turner assured the council that the APA has sufficient assets to handle the costs of the independent investigation and those associated with personnel actions and related compensation. As of the end of 2014, the estimated amount of net assets held by the APA was $62 million. Through July 15, 2015, the IR process had incurred $4.3 million in professional fees and expenses. These expenses will be paid from the net assets of the association, and the final report will be provided once all of the costs have been billed.

Council’s review and discussion of the IR culminated with a nearly unanimous (157 yes, 1 no, 6 abstain, 1 recused) roll call vote in favor of adopting the revised "Resolution to Amend the 2006 and 2013 Council Resolutions to Clarify the Roles of Psychologists Related to Interrogation and Detainee Welfare in National Security Settings, to Further Implement the 2008 Petition Resolution, and to Safeguard Against Acts of Torture and Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in All Settings." The resolution states that psychologists “shall not conduct, supervise, be in the presence of, or otherwise assist any national security interrogations for any military or intelligence entities, including private contractors working on their behalf, nor advise on conditions of confinement insofar as these might facilitate such an interrogation.” Furthermore, it now defines torture according to the U.N. Convention Against Torture, without retaining the U.S. reservation related to “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.” The new policy does not apply to domestic law enforcement interrogations or domestic detention settings where detainees are under the protection of the U.S. Constitution. 

Actions Taken by Council Unrelated to the IR 

  • Voted to receive the "Report on the Review of the Violent Video Game Literature" (PDF, 984KB) prepared by the Task Force on Violent Media chaired by Mark Appelbaum. 
  • Voted to adopt the "Resolution on Violent Video Games" that calls for efforts in public education, basic and intervention research and other measures designed to deal with the negative outcomes of violent video game use.
  • Voted to continue to provide diversity training for council, boards and committees in 2016.
  • Voted to approve a new format for bylaw amendment ballots sent to the membership for a three-year trial period (2015-17) and for an evaluation of its effect on bylaw amendment votes after the trial period. This item is crucial because some of the most important changes stemming from the Good Governance Project cannot take place without bylaw amendments that have to be sent to the whole membership for a vote.
  • Requested the development of a statement of principles regarding conflict of interest for each member of APA governance to sign on an annual basis.
  • Voted to adopt as APA policy a Resolution on Independence of Psychologists. Among other things, this resolution provides support for the inclusion of psychologists in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ physician definition on a par with medical and other doctoral-level providers.
  • Voted to approve that APA endorse, in principle, the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Board’s Psychology Interjurisdictional Compact.

Consent Agenda Items 

  • Elected 113 members to initial fellow status, including Div. 5 member Michael Furr.
  • Requested that one representative from each of the four national ethnic minority associations continue to be invited to attend and participate in council meetings for an additional three years, with their attendance fully funded.
  • Supported the CEO’s technology implementation plan and requested that the Office of Member Recruitment and Engagement develop additional methods of member engagement.
  • Adopted as APA policy the "Guidelines on Trauma Competencies for Education and Training."
  • Approved the revised "Standards and Criteria for Approval of Sponsors of Continuing Education for Psychologists."
  • Approved the continuing recognition of the following specialties in professional psychology: psychoanalysis in psychology and forensic psychology. 
  • Approved the recognition of rehabilitation psychology as a specialty in professional psychology. 
  • Approved an extension of recognition of treatment of alcohol and other psychoactive substance use disorders as a proficiency in professional psychology. 
  • Adopted as APA policy the "Guidelines for Practice with Transgender and Gender Nonconforming People."

Additional Matters 

Council took a pause to remember the APA members who died from February to June 2015, including Div. 5 Fellow Thomas Oakland. Nadine Kaslow spoke in remembrance of Raymond Fowler, former APA CEO, who passed away in March 2015. 

  • Sharon Horn and Judith Blanton received presidential citations for their achievements from APA President Barry Anton. 

Jean Maria Arrigo, who was instrumental in facilitating the IR, was recognized for her resolute commitment and tenacity in advocating for peace, human rights and ethical behavior. 

Bruce Walsh was recognized for his contributions to the American Psychological Foundation. Norman Abeles was presented with the Raymond D. Fowler Award for Outstanding Member Contributions.