APA Fallout: Policy, Staff Changes Announced After Ethics Investigation

By / Jul 15, 2015 The American Psychological Association building in Washington. (Oakstreetstudio/Wikimedia Commons)

Last week, the American Psychological Association unveiled the findings of an independent investigation into the organization’s role in colluding with Defense Department officials to shield the agency’s torture program. Now the fallout from that report is starting to be felt.

The American Psychological Association took swift action in the days following the release of a scathing independent review that found high-ranking APA staff colluded with Department of Defense (DOD) and Central Intelligence Agency officials to ensure that harsh detainee interrogation techniques were allowable under the APA’s ethics policy.

On Friday, APA’s board of directors announced an initial series of policy and procedural steps that it would take in response to attorney David Hoffman’s 542-page report [PDF], which detailed the relationship between individuals at APA and Bush administration officials. And on Tuesday, APA announced three high-level staff changes: CEO Dr. Norman Anderson will move his retirement up one year from the end of 2016 to the end of this year, while Deputy CEO Dr. Michael Honaker and Executive Director for Public and Member Communications Rhea K. Farberman will resign effective August 15 and July 31, respectively.

“The Hoffman report contains deeply disturbing findings that reveal previously unknown and troubling instances of collusion,” Dr. Susan McDaniel, a member of the independent review’s Special Committee, said in a statement.

Hoffman, with the law firm Sidley Austin, was retained by the APA board of directors in November. According to his report, those involved in the collusion intended to “curry favor” with DOD, which may have enabled the agency to use abusive interrogation techniques, many of which were detailed in the “torture report” released by the Senate in December.

Our members, our profession, and our organization expected, and deserved, better.

“Our internal checks and balances failed to detect the collusion, or properly acknowledge a significant conflict of interest, nor did they provide meaningful field guidance for psychologists,” Dr. Nadine Kaslow, chair of the independent review’s Special Committee, said in the statement. “The organization’s intent was not to enable abusive interrogation techniques or contribute to violations of human rights, but that may have been the result. … Our members, our profession, and our organization expected, and deserved, better.”

Policy and procedural changes approved by APA’s board included

  • a recommendation that a policy be adopted prohibiting psychologists from participating in interrogation of persons held in custody by military and intelligence authorities
  • the creation of a commission to evaluate and recommend changes to APA’s ethics processes
  • an increase in APA’s engagement around human rights activities
  • an evaluation of existing conflict-of-interest policies and steps to ensure that the policies are understood and followed.

The Hoffman report and the ensuing fallout come just two months after APA settled a class-action lawsuit brought against the organization by a group of members who claimed APA used deceptive tactics to force them to pay a large annual fee to the group’s lobbying arm.

“This bleak chapter in our history occurred over a period of years and will not be resolved in a matter of months,” Kaslow said of the Hoffman report findings. “But there should be no mistaking our commitment to learn from these terrible mistakes and do everything we can to strengthen our organization for the future and demonstrate our commitment to ethics and human rights.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional comment from the American Psychological Association.

Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. More »