Revisiting the Ethics Case of Dr. John Leso

Why did the APA refuse to take action against a Guantanamo psychologist?

Posted Jul 10, 2015

I've published a new commentary – “‘No Cause for Action’: Revisiting the Ethics Case of Dr. John Leso” – in the latest issue of the peer-reviewed, open-access Journal of Social and Political Psychology. The essay offers a thorough examination of the seemingly inexplicable decision by the American Psychological Association’s Ethics Office not to pursue action against psychologist John Leso – despite his documented role in the abusive treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

The essay reviews the key components of the case: the relevant background and context, Dr. Leso’s actions while stationed at Guantanamo, the APA's ethical standards, the APA’s rules and procedures for adjudicating ethics complaints, the justifications invoked by the APA leadership to defend the “no cause for action” decision, and recommendations for what should be done now.

The commentary is particularly timely in light of the just-completed investigation by attorney David Hoffman into allegations that the APA colluded with the Pentagon, the CIA, and the White House in supporting the Bush Administration’s abusive detention and interrogation program (the findings of that investigation have not yet been released). As I wrote in the essay:

Why did the Ethics Office never open a case against Dr. Leso? Some of the possibilities are deeply concerning. For example, would sanctioning Dr. Leso for ethical misconduct have threatened the APA’s carefully cultivated ties with the U.S. Department of Defense and the intelligence community? Would future career opportunities and research funding for psychologists have been put at risk? Would the credibility of the APA’s broad narrative of psychologists as “safety officers” have been jeopardized? Considerations like these, of course, should not have mattered in the Leso case, but it is not unreasonable to wonder whether they did.

The full essay is available free online here:

If you find it of interest, I hope you’ll share it with others.