More on APA and Healing from the Torture Scandal

Response to APA

Posted Aug 24, 2017

Since the APA's comment on my previous entry claimed that the blog was based on false premises, I must respond. URLs are not permitted in comments, and I wanted to be sure to include them, so I have posted my response as a new blog entry. 

First, in spite of what might be implied by APA’s comment, there was a clear and concrete plan to retract the peer-reviewed article, “A Teachable Ethics Scandal.” At first it was definite. Gradually it changed to a kind of maybe, then a kind of maybe not, and now, it seems, to “no plans,” which hopefully means it will not be retracted. (Stay tuned.) These changes paralleled attention to the planned retraction. I suggest that anyone who wants to explore this further should write directly to the editor of Teaching of Psychology, or to the public relations staff at Sage, and ask not only whether it will be retracted, but whether retraction was previously under consideration, and why. Additional sources of information include posts by Psychologists for Social Responsibility president, Dr. Ian Hansen, on (See

Second, as for whether APA is doing what it needs to do to heal, the steps that APA, like all organizations who have caused harm, must take—whether the manufacturer of Tylenol, United Airlines, or the American Psychological Association—are to acknowledge, apologize to those harmed, make amends to those harmed and tell the public how you will be sure it will never happen again. All four of these are crucial.  APA points to a kind of apology but it is problematic. (See ) It appears that APA was only apologizing to its own members, since there is no acknowledgement that anyone was tortured, no apology to those tortured, and no suggestion of making amends. Imagine if, after the recent United Airlines debacle, CEO Munoz had apologized to the employees on behalf of United for embarrassment or shame caused them by bad processes and said he was now going to see that processes were changed. Suppose he never mentioned, in his apology, that a passenger had been harmed because of those policies, never apologized to the passenger, and failed to offer any compensation. Would that have been sufficient? Please note I do not blame the APA presidents for being limited in what they are permitted to apologize for. But I also will not accept that this is the best APA can do.

APA’s statement that some actions have been taken by APA to change the conditions and the processes that went awry is correct.  The actions of Council in August 2015 were late, but laudable. (See And some of those actions are still being complained about by members, some of whom have made attempts to roll back the actions of Council, and apparently still want to do so. One program I attended at the APA convention this year was, as far as I could tell, essentially a rant about APA’s actions to change the conditions that led to torture. (I am not blaming APA, since the organization does not review programs; it leaves that to divisions.)

As Dr. Puente is aware, I respect the efforts that, as APA presidents, he, Dr. McDaniel, and Dr. Kaslow have made in bringing APA closer to fulfilling its mission. Even acting with the best of intentions and integrity, they have paid dearly for their efforts.

APA presidents are, evidently, required to honor all points of view—including the points of view of those APA members who feel slighted by attempts to remedy the harm done by psychologists who enabled torture and who have tried t­­­­o roll back the progress made by Council. I am not sure where the limits of this approach might be. To make my point with what I hope is a facetious example, if some members wanted to claim that Milgram’s famous obedience studies were fake, would the presidents of APA have to honor the point of view of the Milgram-deniers? It looks to me like some psychologists are using debate and claiming opposing views to stall and block APA. What are the limits? Is it possible that the debate (now one decade long) will be dragged out for more decades, until everyone involved has long passed on, before APA can apologize to what will then be the descendants of the victims of torture? That is not acceptable.

Preventing Future Scandals

Changing internal processes is a far cry from teaching students about the scandal so that today’s students can, in the future, be prepared to avoid participating in unethical processes. My colleagues and I have found, in two separate studies (see references, below)  that doctoral students in the APA accredited clinical psychology programs that responded to our surveys are not being prepared for the type of dilemma faced by military psychologists who were assigned to teams consulting to interrogators. We suggest approaches to teaching ethics that may help. Perhaps the Teaching of Psychology article will help by providing additional tools for teaching about this.

All clinical psychology students must understand ethics for military settings, including when to disobey, because any clinical psychologist under the age of 45 can be drafted, even in the absence of a general draft, should the need arise. (See )  

Recently a settlement was reached where some victims of torture were paid compensation in a lawsuit against the two psychologists who created the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques that amounted to torture. That is a step in the right direction, as detainees were allowed to sue and received compensation. Not exactly an apology, and separate from APA, this progress was made because the ACLU represented detainees who were harmed.

Many psychologists resigned from APA over the torture scandal. When I became a candidate for president elect of Division 48, Peace Psychology, my campaign statement included the following commitment—to encourage APA to “apologize to the victims of torture.” APA can count on me to fulfill the commitment to encourage it.     


LoCicero, A., Marlin, R., Jull-Patterson, D., Sweeney, N., Gray, B. L., Boyd, J. W. (2016) Enabling torture: APA, clinical psychology training, and the failure to disobey. Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 22, (4) 345–355.

Boyd, W. J., LoCicero, A., Malowney, M., Aldis, R., & Marlin, R.  (2014) Failing Ethics 101: Psychologists, the US Military Establishment, and Human Rights, International Journal of Health Services, 44, (3) 615–625.