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Open Access Highly Accessed Research

The ethics of interrogation and the American Psychological Association: A critique of policy and process

Brad Olson1*, Stephen Soldz2 and Martha Davis3

Author Affiliations

1 Human Development and Social Policy, Northwestern University, 2120 Campus Drive, Evanston, Illinois 60208, USA

2 Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis, 1581 Beacon St., Brookline, Massachusetts 02446, USA

3 John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York, 899 Tenth Avenue, New York, New York 10019, USA

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Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine 2008, 3:3  doi:10.1186/1747-5341-3-3

Published: 29 January 2008


The Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS) task force was assembled by the American Psychological Association (APA) to guide policy on the role of psychologists in interrogations at foreign detention centers for the purpose of U.S. national security. The task force met briefly in 2005, and its report was quickly accepted by the APA Board of Directors and deemed consistent with the APA Ethics Code by the APA Ethics Committee. This rapid acceptance was unusual for a number of reasons but primarily because of the APA's long-standing tradition of taking great care in developing ethical policies that protected anyone who might be impacted by the work of psychologists. Many psychological and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), as well as reputable journalists, believed the risk of harm associated with psychologist participation in interrogations at these detention centers was not adequately addressed by the report. The present critique analyzes the assumptions of the PENS report and its interpretations of the APA Ethics Code. We demonstrate that it presents only one (and not particularly representative) side of a complex set of ethical issues. We conclude with a discussion of more appropriate psychological contributions to national security and world peace that better respect and preserve human rights.