APA Refuses to Rebuke Military Torture Psychologist

The American Psychological Association has refused to even issue a rebuke of a psychologist who participated in the torture of at least one detainee at Guantanamo Bay, much less remove his license or take any serious action. The Guardian has the details:

America’s professional association of psychologists has quietly declined to rebuke one of its members, a retired US army reserve officer, for his role in one of the most brutal interrogations known to have to taken place at Guantánamo Bay, the Guardian has learned.

The decision not to pursue any disciplinary measure against John Leso, a former army reserve major, is the latest case in which someone involved in the post-9/11 torture of detainees has faced no legal or even professional consequences.

In a 31 December letter obtained by the Guardian, the American Psychological Association said it had “determined that we cannot proceed with formal charges in this matter. Consequently the complaint against Dr Leso has been closed.”

But the APA did not deny Leso took part in the brutal interrogation of the suspected 20th 9/11 hijacker, Mohammed al-Qahtani, whose treatment the Pentagon official overseeing his military commission ultimately called “torture”…

During an interrogation on 27 November 2002, the log records a direct intervention by Leso: “Control puts detainee in swivel chair at MAJ L’s suggestion to keep him awake and stop him from fixing his eyes on one spot in booth.”

The APA’s move concludes a years-long effort within the organization to get the association to condemn members who took part in torture. Those who argued for censuring Leso said that the organization has opened the door to future wartime violations of its central do-no-harm ethos.

“With Leso, the evidence of his participation is so explicit and so incontrovertible, the APA had to go to great lengths to dismiss it,” said Steven Reisner, a New York clinical psychologist who unsuccessfully ran for the APA presidency last year. “The precedent is that APA is not going to hold any psychologist accountable in any circumstance.”

Not a single person at any level has been disciplined for engaging in torture at Gitmo and elsewhere even though it’s been documented thoroughly and even admitted to by the Pentagon, the CIA and former White House officials, including the president and vice-president. All in flagrant violation of the UN Convention Against Torture, a law that we urged the world to pass in the name of human rights, which requires us to prosecute anyone involved in torture. This man should not only be rebuked, he should be forbidden to practice psychology ever again.

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  • Michael Heath

    Ed writes:

    [John Leso] should not only be rebuked, he should be forbidden to practice psychology ever again.

    A long prison sentence also appears appropriate.

  • But Ed, just think of the precedent such a rebuke would set: if the APA censures psychologists for participating in torture, sooner or later they’ll have to start censuring psychologists who facilitate manipulative ad campaigns and right-wing political messages and scams. That would undermine Free Enterprise!!

  • Just an fyi, the APA isn’t a licensing organization. State boards license psychologists, the APA is just a professional organization, albeit a very important one. They should have black balled him and revoked his membership, but they have absolutely no real authority to revoke his license. They should also have called for a review of his licensing, but the state in which he is licensed could flat ignore their recommendation.

  • nrdo

    Yeah, licensing is out of their hands, but I think professional organizations could be doing more to take a stand against egregious ethical breaches. I don’t know the status of Dr. Leso’s career but sanctions like being dis-invited from conferences and/or prevented from publishing in high-profile journals might at least send a message to young people entering the field that breaching medical ethics has career consequences.

  • corporal klinger

    But…but you are the good guys, its all the others who torture. I’m sure, I’ve seen it in TV and movie theaters.

  • APA has always seemed pretty timid about making any kind of ethical decisions to me. They’re far more useful if you want to know how to do proper research paper citations.

  • Ichthyic

    ^^ 100% agree.

  • Duane is correct. APA doesn’t license psychologists. The action would have to be taken in the state(s) where the psychologist is licensed. That said, the violations of the APA ethics code are so clear that I can’t imagine how they could justify the decision not to expel him from the orgnaization. Psychologists have been tossed out for far less.

    What’s the consequence of being kicked out of the APA? Really not much of anything. Lots of psychologists don’t belong. You would pay a little more for conventions, you don’t receive their publications, but can still easily access those publications. I know many who have resigned for various reasons and that includes me. They’re always trying to get me to join again. I have some beefs with how the operate, so I have no plan to join again. This latest news simply solidifies my conviction that I dont want to be part of APA.

    Bee, who are you referring to when you write about poltitical manipulations by psychologists?

    Ad agencies handle the ads and they’re good at that. Some social psychologists (non-licensed, non-clinicial psychologists) conduct research on voting. They do hire out to assist campaigns, but what is it exactly that’s wrong with telling a political organization how to most effectively get out the vote or how to craft messages that will motivate voters? Both sides are free to do this and they’re doing this in the context of legitimate research on voting behavior, a legitimate research field within social psycology.

    And so far, it’s been pretty much the Democrats who have used this research because Republicans have been skeptical of pointy-headed academics. The researchers learned a lot in 2008, so in 2012 the Obama campaign used the findings to best target subsets of voters and motivate voting.

    This is what the work looks like.

    It isn’t acceptable for the APA to expel psychologists for being Republicans or Democrats and knowing how to do effective campaign work for candidates they support.