July 5, 2005

Report of the APA Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security

APA addressed the role of psychology and psychologists in interrogations and will further develop resources to provide ethics consultation to psychologists who work with classified information in national security-related settings.

NOTE: In July 2013, APA’s governing Council of Representatives adopted the “Policy Related to Psychologists’ Work in National Security Settings and Reaffirmation of the APA Position Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.” This policy unifies into a single document prior APA policies dating to 1986 related to detainee welfare and interrogation. As part of the policy reconciliation process, the council also voted to rescind the 2005 Report of the APA Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS) and two other APA policies dated 2007 and 2008. These policies had become outdated or rendered inaccurate with the passage of subsequent policies, most notably a 2010 revision of the APA Ethics Code and the 2013 policy.

Note to Correspondents

WASHINGTON — The American Psychological Association Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security today released its report affirming the adequacy of the current APA Ethics Code in addressing the ethical dimensions of psychologists' involvement in national security-related activities and affirming APA's continuing central role and commitment to developing policies that address the role of psychology and psychologists in investigations related to national security. The Task Force report also called for APA to develop further its resources to provide ethics consultation to psychologists who work with classified information in national security-related settings.

The major findings of the Task Force include:

  • It is consistent with the APA Code of Ethics for psychologists to serve in consultative roles to interrogation- or information-gathering processes for national security-related purposes. While engaging in such consultative and advisory roles entails a delicate balance of ethical considerations, doing so puts psychologists in a unique position to assist in ensuring that such processes are safe and ethical for all participants.
  • The APA states emphatically that whenever psychologists serve in any position by virtue of their training, experience and expertise the APA ethics code always applies to their work.
  • Psychologists who serve in the role of supporting an interrogation do not use health care related information to the detriment of an individual's safety and well-being.
  • The Task Force furthermore endorsed and reaffirmed the APA's 1986 Resolution against Torture, which states that psychologists do not engage in, direct, support, facilitate or offer training in torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.
  • The Task Force also finds that psychologists have an ethical obligation to be alert to and report any acts of torture or cruel or inhuman treatment to appropriate authorities.

The Task Force was established by the APA Board of Directors earlier this year. Its charge did not include an investigative or adjudicatory role, nor does the Task Force render any judgment concerning events that may or may not have happened in national-security related settings. The purpose of the report and the Task Force findings is to give guidance to APA members about work in this important national security arena.

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 150,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 53 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting health, education and human welfare.