scorecardresearch Skip to main content

Lapses in ethical training may be at root of psychologists’ role in interrogations

Re “Psychologists colluded in interrogations, report finds” (Page A6, July 11): With the release of the Hoffman report, we learn that the American Psychological Association colluded with Department of Defense officials as well as the CIA to allow psychologists to participate in interrogations in order to give torture an air of legitimacy, which in turn would offer protection against future prosecutions of interrogators.

How could the association descend to such depths and violate every international code of ethical conduct? Perhaps it is because psychologists receive little training about the ethical duties of health care personnel in military settings, and simply didn’t know better.

In a recently published paper, colleagues and I surveyed psychology graduate students in programs across the country and found that 74 percent of students had received less than one hour of instruction about military medical ethics. Less than half of the students could correctly answer questions pertaining to the Geneva Conventions, such as when they’d be required to disobey an unethical order.


Perhaps this is why the American Psychological Association was able to collaborate with the CIA in torturing prisoners, and relatively few psychologists protested. In addition to sanctions against those within the association’s leadership who participated in this atrocity, which have already begun, the group ought to call for significant increases in ethics education for psychology students.

Dr. J. Wesley Boyd

The writer is on the faculty of the Center for Bioethics and the department of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.