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 A representative from the U.S. Department of Defense asked the APA to consider its "views regarding the presence of psychologists at Guantánamo" as "a matter of policy, not an ethical mandate."(Photo: Justin Norman/cc/flickr)

A representative from the U.S. Department of Defense asked the APA to consider its "views regarding the presence of psychologists at Guantánamo" as "a matter of policy, not an ethical mandate."(Photo: Justin Norman/cc/flickr)

Pentagon Asks Psychologists to Reconsider Torture Ban, Argues 'You Never Know...'

Following a damning investigation into the group's complicity in US torture, the American Psychological Association demanded the government remove military psychologists from interrogations

Lauren McCauley

The U.S. Department of Defense is asking the American Psychological Association (APA) to place its ethical considerations aside and reconsider its ban prohibiting psychologists from participating in torture at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere.

In a memo dated January 8 and reported by the New York Times on Sunday, Brad Carson, the acting principal deputy secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, called on the group to reconsider the "blanket prohibition" approved this summer.

Although "the Department of Defense understands the desire of the American psychology profession to make a strong statement regarding reports about the role of former military psychologists more than a dozen years ago, the issue now is to apply the lessons learned to guide future conduct," Carson wrote.

"The context of future conflicts—whether a traditional international armed conflict like World War II or the Korean War, a defense of the homeland against international terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda or the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or something entirely unpredictable — is today unknown," he continued.

"A code governing psychologists’ ethics in future national security roles needs to fit all such contexts," Carson added. "We respectfully suggest that a blanket prohibition on participation by psychologists in national security interrogations does not."

The APA's council voted overwhelmingly to approve the ban after an independent report found that "some of the association’s top officials, including its ethics director, sought to curry favor with Pentagon officials by seeking to keep the association’s ethics policies in line with the Defense Department’s interrogation policies," the Times reported in July.

The 542-page "Hoffman Report," named after former Assistant U.S. Attorney David Hoffman, who led the review, undermined the APA's repeated denials that its members were complicit in torture.

Further, it skewered the role of prominent outside psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who have been charged with designing and implementing the CIA's brutal interrogation program.

In the January 8 memo, Carson reportedly asked the group to consider its "views regarding the presence of psychologists at Guantánamo" as "a matter of policy, not an ethical mandate."

The Pentagon penned the memo days after it was reported that the U.S. military had "sharply curtailed" the use of psychologists at Guantánamo, following a formal request from the APA that military psychologists "be protected from actions that might pose a conflict with the APA Ethics Code and that they be withdrawn from any role in national security interrogations or conditions of confinement that might facilitate such interrogations."


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