According to the APA, its code of ethics permits its 130,000 members to participate in military and intelligence interrogations, but prohibits them from assisting in torture.
The organization spent years denying media reports that psychologists were complicit in torture, while also clearing members of wrongdoing and portraying itself as a being diametrically opposed to abuse.
But the 542-page report – the result of a months-long independent investigation headed by former assistant US attorney David Hoffman – shows that APA psychologists were complicit in interrogation programs that sometimes relied on torture.
The probe concluded that the association's ethics director, Stephen Behnke, and others had "colluded with important [Department of Defense] officials to have APA issue loose, high-level ethical guidelines that did not constrain” the Pentagon in its interrogation of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"For the APA officials who played the lead role in these actions, their principal motive was to curry favor with the Defense Department for two main reasons: because of the very substantial benefits that DoD had conferred and continued to confer on psychology as a profession, and because APA wanted a favorable result from the critical policy DoD was in the midst of developing that would determine whether and how deeply psychologists could remain involved in intelligence activities,” the report states.
The report has already resulted in Behnke's removal from the APA, although it is unclear if he was fired or resigned voluntarily. Several other APA officials are expected to be ousted, sources told British newspaper the Guardian.
Under Behnke's leadership, the organization's ethics department "prioritized the protection of psychologists – even those who might have engaged in unethical behavior – above the protection of the public," the report says.
Behnke was still working at the APA when – without the knowledge of the association's board – he received a Pentagon contract to help train interrogators.
Nadine Kaslow, a former APA president, said she was extremely disturbed and concerned by the report. The APA board commissioned the report, she added, to investigate allegations about the organization's involvement in torture under President George W. Bush's administration.
"I am certainly apologizing on behalf of APA for what occurred – in terms of the fact that there was any collusion that occurred, and the fact that this may have paved the way for abusive interrogation," Kaslow was quoted as saying by the Guardian.
"But if you don't know what the truth is, then you can't change," she told the USA today.