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

Philos Ethics Humanit Med. 2008 Jan 29;3:3. doi: 10.1186/1747-5341-3-3.


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.

MeSH terms

  • Human Rights*
  • Humans
  • Prisoners* / psychology
  • Psychology / ethics*
  • Psychology, Military / ethics
  • Security Measures / ethics*
  • Societies, Scientific
  • Terrorism
  • Torture / ethics*
  • United States