APA Board of Directors and Ethics Committee Communiqué to the APA Council of Representatives in the matter of John Leso, PhD

We appreciate your important discussion of the outcome of the ethics complaints concerning John Leso, PhD. The intent of this communiqué is to give council members more information about how the Ethics Committee adjudicates ethics matters and specifically what occurred in the John Leso matter. 

Each ethics complaint filed with the APA Ethics Office is individually and thoroughly reviewed based on the available evidence. In keeping with the committee's rules and procedures, and based on its commitment to due process, the committee moves to open a specific case against a member only if certain conditions are met. Specifically, the Ethics Committee bears responsibility for proving any charges of unethical behavior. Further, the committee must base its actions on specific evidence of individual wrongful behavior that can be shown to be directly attributable to the accused. In the matter related to Leso, the committee did not proceed with formal charges against Leso because it was determined that the allegations could not be proven consistent with the committee's burden of proof. 

The review process continued for an extended period of time (seven years) in order to include additional information as it was released into the public domain. In other words, as complete and careful a review of the available evidence was undertaken as possible. The review consisted of evidence (as opposed to supposition) and was conducted in a manner to ensure that the ethics process was kept insulated from political pressures. 

In terms of any future complaints that may be made about possible involvement of APA members in torture or other forms of inhumane treatment, the outcome of the Leso case does not set any precedent for future determinations by the Ethics Committee. Any future cases will be reviewed individually, thoroughly and on their own merits. 

We also want to take this opportunity to remind council members that APA's policies strictly prohibit any member involvement in torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in any and all circumstances. This policy has been in place since 1986. Since then, the council has passed many additional policies to specifically define what constitutes torture and to safeguard detainee welfare. In July 2013, the Council of Representatives passed a unified, comprehensive policy to reiterate and clarify the association's anti-torture position and the role of psychologists in national security settings.

In closing we want to acknowledge that questions about unethical behavior and inhumane treatment of detainees by health professionals are of the utmost concern to all of us. The Ethics Committee also has a responsibility to live up to its due process rules and to balance the rights of the individual filing a complaint with the rights of the individual against whom the complaint was made. In balancing all of these demands, it was determined that closing the complaint against Leso without formal charges was the appropriate action. 

A few council members have expressed an interest in ensuring that their constituents and other APA members have sufficient information about the decision pertaining to Leso. We agree. The information shared with you in this memo will be posted on APA.org, shared with members and/ or the public who contact APA with comment or questions, and used to respond to media coverage as those opportunities arise. 

APA Board of Directors APA Ethics Committee 

Nadine J Kaslow, PhD, ABPP
Professor, Vice Chair, Chief Psychologist (Grady)
President, American Psychological Association
Editor, Journal of Family Psychology
Emory Dept of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, Grady Hospital, 80 Jesse Hill Jr. Dr. 
Atlanta, GA 30303