Report on APA's Ongoing Efforts to Implement the Petition Resolution Policy

Council of Representatives
February 24-26, 2012
Agenda Item No. 36A

XV. Central Office

This item provides Council with an update on APA's ongoing efforts to implement the petition resolution policy. In February of 2009, the APA Council of Representatives adopted a motion related to the petition resolution, which stated in part: "The APA Central Office will include in its regular reports to the Council and Board of Directors steps taken to implement the petition resolution as proposed by the advisory group in the report section entitled, 'Options for Council to Consider Related to the Implementation of the Petition Resolution.'"

Pursuant to this Council motion, the following report was prepared by APA Central Office to outline actions undertaken by APA to implement the petition resolution policy in a manner consistent with the options proposed in the report of the APA Presidential Advisory Group on the Implementation of the Petition Resolution (PDF, 74KB). In keeping with the core aspect of the advisory group's recommendations, Council adopted the petition resolution as official APA policy at its February 2009 meeting. Council likewise adopted the title for the resolution proposed by the advisory group, "Psychologists and Unlawful Detention Settings with a Focus on National Security." The petition resolution policy prohibits psychologists from working in settings "where persons are held outside of, or in violation of, either International Law (e.g., the UN Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions) or the US Constitution (where appropriate), unless they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights" or they are providing treatment for military personnel.

Following the outcome of the membership vote in September of 2008, then President Alan Kazdin appointed an advisory group, which included Council representatives from divisions with a strong interest in the petition resolution and the three original petitioners, to identify specific options for Council to consider related to the implementation of the petition resolution in a report due to him by the end of that year. These options were intended to build upon steps already undertaken by APA Central Office to inform key federal officials of the petition resolution and its ongoing implementation. Shortly after the passage of the resolution, then President Kazdin sent letters on behalf of APA to then President George W. Bush, CIA Director Michael Hayden, and Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Similar letters were sent to the chairmen and ranking members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives Armed Services, Intelligence, and Judiciary Committees. The letters called upon the recipients to safeguard the welfare and human rights of individuals detained for national security reasons and to investigate their treatment to ensure that the highest ethical standards are being upheld. In all, APA sent 11 letters to federal officials in Congress and the Executive Branch in 2008, with two each being sent to then President Bush and Attorney General Mukasey.

In keeping with the advisory group's recommendations, the following actions were taken by APA to further the implementation of the petition resolution. (For relevant correspondence and materials, see the timeline.) It should be noted that the relevant correspondence noted in the timeline was crafted in consultation with several dedicated Council members and the original petitioners or based upon prior guidance that they had provided. APA actions related to the specific options and bulleted recommendations presented by the advisory group for Council consideration are summarized below.

1. Adopt a title and establish an effective date for the petition resolution when recording the vote on the referendum
  • The title for the petition resolution suggested by the advisory group was adopted by Council at its February 2009 meeting.

  • In order to expedite the process of rendering the petition resolution fully in effect, Council voted to suspend Association Rule 30-3.1 to stipulate that action on the petition resolution was "complete," and the petition resolution was fully in effect as of the February 2009 meeting (rather than as of the following August meeting as called for in the Association Rules).

  • The Council minutes that recorded the membership vote included the complete text of the resolution with footnotes and the pro, con, and rebuttal statements, as the advisory group recommended.

2. Provide clarification regarding the policy for APA members and the general public
  • APA issued a press release in September of 2008 announcing the outcome of the membership vote on the petition resolution. The public has been further informed about the petition resolution and related APA policies since then through numerous media communications, as referenced in the timeline on the APA Web site (see link above).

  • APA members and the general public were also informed about the new policy through the Monitor on Psychology, as well as through a special box entitled "Detainee Welfare" that was accessible for months on the APA home page and linked to the petition resolution, the advisory group report, and other relevant materials. These documents are still available on the APA Web site (see link to timeline above).

  • The statement drafted by the advisory group to clarify the sponsors' intent regarding certain aspects of the petition resolution was posted on the APA Web site as part of the final report.

  • The adoption and ongoing implementation of the petition resolution policy has been addressed in various APA Convention sessions.

3. Provide guidance to psychologists, including those in the military and intelligence community, regarding key issues related to the implementation of the resolution
  • In July of 2011, the Ethics Committee posted on the APA Web site a complete set of responses to vignettes posed by APA members and others related to the roles of psychologists in national security-related activities. This document was developed in response to a Council directive to the Ethics Committee to provide further guidance on APA resolutions and Ethics Code provisions pertaining to this issue. The specific comments and questions contained in the document reflect those received from an Ethics Committee December 2007 call for input from the membership and public to highlight key issues of uncertainty or concern. The Ethics Committee deemed it advisable to wait until Council completed its multi-year process of developing and refining policies in this area before issuing its responses. The Committee anticipated that its call would also generate more up- to-date vignettes and issues. In response to requests from APA members, the deadline for commenting on the Ethics Committee's responses has been extended until the end of this February.

  • In June of 2010, APA took the unprecedented step of writing to the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists regarding a licensing board complaint filed against a Texas- licensed psychologist alleged to have abused national security detainees. Since this individual is not an APA member and therefore beyond the reach of APA's ethics process, the APA Board of Directors believed that it was important to share with the Texas Board how the APA Ethics Code would apply to the alleged facts set forth in the complaint, if they were determined to be true after a thorough investigation that honored the respondent's due process rights.

  • APA sent a letter to the executive director of the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards in July of 2009 to inform the organization about the petition resolution policy, including the conditions for, and limits to, its applicability to domestic work settings.

  • Correspondence and a follow-up meeting were conducted with the chief psychologists to the Surgeons General of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, along with psychologists in the Department of Defense (DoD) Office of Health Affairs, to ensure that military psychologists are fully informed about the new policy.

  • APA's Office of International Affairs expressed a willingness to provide a linkage through APA's U.N. representatives to the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and to non-governmental organizations (e.g., International Committee of the Red Cross) for consultation to help evaluate the applicability of the petition resolution to specific detention settings.

  • The APA Ethics Committee is, and has been, available to respond to consultation requests from military and forensic psychologists who have questions regarding the scope and applicability of the petition resolution. The APA Ethics Office has also been available to the membership as a whole to consult on APA policies related to the role of psychologists in interrogations, including the petition resolution. The director of the Ethics Office has included a discussion of the petition resolution and amendments to the APA Ethics Code (see below) in presentations that have addressed the ethical aspects of interrogation and/or human rights.

  • The Ethics Office continues to assemble materials relevant to the petition resolution policy, including other APA policies, materials from other organizations, and U.N. and other international documents. Most of these documents are available through the detainee welfare timeline (link provided above), as well as referenced in relevant APA policies.

4. Consider implications for APA Ethics Code and Committee
  • At the February 2010 meeting, the APA Council of Representatives voted to amend Ethical Standards 1.02 and 1.03 to clarify that there is never a defense to violating human rights under the Ethics Code. The first of these standards addresses conflicts between ethics and laws, regulations, or other governing legal authority, while the second addresses conflicts between ethics and organizational demands. This Council action followed an intensive six- month review of these standards undertaken by the APA Ethics Committee. In August of 2009, the Ethics Committee had issued two calls for public and member comment regarding language and an amendment to the Ethics Code. Based on the input received, the Ethics Committee developed revised versions of these two Ethical Standards and a related provision from the Introduction and Applicability section of the Ethics Code for consideration by Council at the February meeting. These proposed changes to the Ethics Code became effective on June 1, 2010.

  • The Ethics Committee released a statement in June of 2009 to clarify: that there is no defense to torture under the Ethics Code; that the Committee will not accept any defense to torture in its adjudication of ethics complaints; that torture in any form is unethical for psychologists and wholly inconsistent with APA membership; and that there are no exceptional circumstances whatsoever that may be invoked as a justification for torture. The Committee's June 2009 statement incorporated by reference Council's 2008 prohibition against specific interrogation techniques.

  • The Ethics Committee views upholding the Ethics Code as its primary responsibility. APA stands ready to adjudicate any report that an APA member has engaged in prohibited behavior, including abusive interrogation techniques. The process of declassifying relevant information, however, may affect the Committee's ability to adjudicate a matter as expeditiously as would be ideal. Furthermore, the Ethics Committee's practice is to await final determinations in legal and regulatory matters related to individual ethics cases since state licensing boards and the courts have greater ability to compel testimony and order parties to produce documents. The Ethics Committee continues to monitor the outcomes of ethics cases at the state level.

  • The Ethics Committee strongly supports the advisory group's recommendation to develop educational materials on human rights and ethics and welcomes the opportunity to collaborate with others in this endeavor, which might involve developing a compendium of human rights materials and special convention programming.

5. Communicate with federal officials
  • In December of 2011, APA reached out to every U.S. Senate office via email urging the defeat of an amendment proposed by Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) to the Fiscal Year 2012 Defense Department authorization bill, which would have allowed the classified addition of lawful interrogation methods to the U.S. Army Field Manual.

  • In June of 2010, APA sent letters to CIA Director Leon Panetta and to Defense Department General Counsel Jeh Charles Johnson to inform them that the amendments to Ethical Standards 1.02 and 1.03 were in effect as of June 1. The letters emphasized APA's position that it is not permissible for psychologists to have any involvement in abusive interrogations or to work in unlawful detention settings, as set forth by the petition resolution policy, nor is there any defense or justification for a human rights violation under the Ethics Code.

  • In December of 2009, senior APA staff met with the DoD General Counsel and members of his staff to ensure that DoD officials continue to be fully informed about the petition resolution and related APA policies. APA staff emphasized the importance of these policies for the work of military psychologists.

  • In June of 2009, APA sent letters to President Barack Obama, CIA Director Leon Panetta, and Attorney General Eric Holder to inform them of the petition resolution and APA policy prohibiting torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment and to advocate for the humane treatment of detainees.

  • APA issued a press release in January of 2009 lauding President Obama for signing the executive orders upon his second full day in office that signaled fundamental changes related to interrogation policy and to the rights and treatment of detainees.

  • APA staff consulted with APA's U.N. representatives and other psychologists with international expertise regarding the establishment of national Truth and Reconciliation Commissions. Given that the South African psychologists viewed the outcome in their country as unsuccessful and at best inadequate, APA was not encouraged to advocate the adoption of this particular model of investigation and resolution by the U.S. Congress in regard to detainee treatment.

6. Linkages with independent third parties
  • APA's Executive Management Group is currently conducting a review of its policies concerning liaisons with other organizations, which would be applicable in this context as well. Through APA's Disaster Response Network, APA already has a relationship with the International Committee of the Red Cross, which could also provide the basis for a potential linkage with respect to detainee welfare and other human rights concerns.

7. Study the impact of the policy
  • In keeping with the annual reporting provision recommended by the advisory group, the APA Council of Representatives has been provided with an Information Agenda Item for their February meeting, which outlines the range of steps taken by APA Central Office to implement the petition resolution.

  • While the rules of confidentiality that apply to ethical matters limit APA's ability to make public the status of specific ethics matters, the Ethics Committee provides aggregate data concerning ethics matters in the APA annual report, which is provided to the APA membership each year in a special issue of the American Psychologist, as well as publishes the names of individuals expelled from APA or who resigned under ethics investigation in the annual dues notice received by APA members.

Although the Council-passed motion specifically did not relate to the section of the advisory group report entitled, "Additional Options Related to the Petition Resolution Proposed for Consideration," APA Central Office has carefully reviewed these options as well for further action. As acknowledged by the advisory group, these options are related to the petition resolution but not expressly to its implementation:

  • Include a focus on human rights among APA priorities: In February of 2009, Council approved a new vision statement for the association that includes among its goals for APA to serve as "an effective champion of the application of psychology to promote human rights, health, well being and dignity." APA is also an active member of the Science and Human Rights Coalition spearheaded by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and encouraged APA governance members who attended the Fall Consolidated meetings in September of 2011 to contribute to the development of the coalition's plan of action for 2012-2014. At the Spring Consolidated meetings in March of 2011, the Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest (BAPPI) voted to take the lead on a new association-wide human rights initiative. As a first step, BAPPI will convene and support via conference calls a working group of individuals with expertise and interest in human rights to scope out the parameters of a human rights initiative. At the request of APA's Public Interest Directorate, APA's Public and Member Communications Office created two APA Web sites devoted to human rights: human rights topics page and human rights web-based resources. While the addition of content to the sites will be coordinated through the Public Interest Directorate, the recommendations of all offices and governance groups are invited in developing these Web sites as resources for psychologists and the public on the relationship between psychology and human rights.

  • Evaluate the Optional Protocol to the U.N. Convention Against Torture to determine whether APA should urge key federal officials to sign and ratify it: As recommended by the advisory group, the APA Office of International Affairs consulted with APA policy staff and APA's U.N. representatives regarding the merit and appropriateness of APA federal advocacy in support of U.S. ratification of the Optional Protocol. Basically, the Optional Protocol establishes a system of regular visits carried out by independent national and international bodies to places of detention to prevent torture and other forms of abuse. It has been signed by 67 States, which, like the U.S., have ratified the U.N. Convention Against Torture. APA's U.N. representatives voted unanimously in favor of affirming that psychologists possess sufficient expertise based on psychological science for APA to lobby in support of the U.S. government signing and ratifying this significant human rights document. APA policy staff will continue to monitor the calendars of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and White House for an opportunity to advocate in support of the Option Protocol.

  • Recommend that the statute of limitations be extended to 20 years in ethics cases involving torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment: The APA Ethics Committee reviewed this recommendation at its November 2010 meeting and realized that such an action could require multiple changes to the Ethics Committee's Rules and Procedures. Any change would also need to be approved by the Board of Directors. The Committee asked staff of the Ethics Office to propose language to extend the statute of limitations for the Committee's review at its Spring 2011 meeting. At that meeting, the Ethics Committee discussed the difficulty of amending the current statute of limitations provisions in a piecemeal fashion. It determined that additional information concerning how other adjudication bodies handle statute of limitations issues was needed. It also requested staff recommendations concerning a complete revision of the statute of limitation section of its Rules and Procedures. At the Fall 2011 meeting, it reviewed the requested materials and determined that a new set of proposals for revision should be brought to its Spring 2012 meeting. If the Committee then finds it appropriate to extend the statute of limitations, it will forward implementing language to the Board of Directors for consideration.

  • Consider whether to change the language of the Association Rules to state that any policy enacted by referendum goes into effect upon passage by the APA membership, at the time Council records the vote, or within a time certain after passage: This recommendation speaks to a change in the APA Association Rules that would first need to be proposed by Council and then carefully considered by the APA General Counsel's Office and relevant governance bodies.

With respect to ongoing and future APA efforts to implement the petition resolution, the advisory group recommended a consultative and liaison role for APA with the recognition that the rendering of legal determinations regarding the application of the petition resolution to specific settings in the context of a complex and changing legal framework would be outside of APA's expertise. Accordingly, APA will continue to serve as a resource to our members and to inform federal officials and the general public about the petition resolution and related APA policies. In its communications, APA will continue to emphasize and underscore the appropriate roles of psychologists in certain national security-related detention settings, the importance of safeguarding the welfare and human rights of detainees, and the imperative for psychologists to abide by the highest ethical standards of the profession.

Implementation Plan


Fiscal Implications


Main Motion






Ellen G. Garrison, PhD
Executive Office