The US Lags in Investigating Psychologists Who Torture

By Steven H. Miles, MD

The essence of the scandal at the US American Psychological Association (APA) is quite simple. The US Department of Defense (DOD) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) forged a secret partnership with APA leaders to create a policy that was designed to authorize and protect psychologists who designed and managed/oversaw interrogation by torture. The APA and DOD agreed that psychologists worked for military intelligence rather than having a core responsibility for the health of prisoners. In writing this policy, the ‘scientific society’ ignored and failed to communicate a huge body of research showing that torture or coercion is counterproductive in interrogation. This research is compiled by no less than the National Defense Intelligence College and is encyclopedically organized by Darius Rejali, a nationally recognized expert on government torture and interrogation. The policy disparaged human rights, international laws and professional ethics.

Through the secret partnership with the DOD and CIA, psychologists on “behavioral science consultation teams” ordered and monitored interrogation “approaches” bearing names such as “fear up harsh” and “ego down.” APA members oversaw waterboarding, joint-distorting stress positions and religious and sexual degradation. The APA concealed the membership of these “professionals” and thwarted investigations into their misconduct. A newly published independent review fully undermines APA denials of misconduct.

The US Senate confirmed what could be predicted: no intelligence was gained through the use of these techniques. The vast majority of interrogated prisoners were injured; most, by the US Government’s own reckoning, were innocent or ignorant. Prisoners and interrogators were destroyed. Opponents were radicalized. The stature of the US was tarnished. The US destroyed international law against torture by asserting that “national emergency” and “executive order” could void the laws against torture.

A few APA officials who managed eight years of collaboration and cover-up have been forced to resign. No criminal charges have been brought. APA officials who moved on to universities have prestigious offices and titles. No one has lost his or her license.

The human rights movement is turning against clinicians who torture.[i],[ii]After Nuremberg, there was complete impunity. In 1975, a Greek torture doctor was sent to jail. In South America, some countries emerging from junta began to systematically identify and try to punish doctors. The punishments are increasing exponentially. Turkey and Egypt punished torture doctors in the last month. The US does not lead: it lags.


Steven H. Miles, MD, is Professor of Medicine and Maas Family Foundation Chair in Bioethics at the University of Minnesota.

Please contact the author at

[i] S. H. Miles, Doctors who torture: The pursuit of justice (Amazon Books, 2015).;

[ii] S. H. Miles, The doctors who torture accountability project. Available at


More from this author:

The New Accountability for Doctors Who Torture


Related Links

Report on interrogation tactics roils academics: Psychologists linked to Harvard defend work with Pentagon

Psychologist Implicated in APA’s Torture Report Resigns Academic Post

Complicit and Culpable: The Role of Health Professionals in CIA Torture Activities 

An interview with Steven Miles about the Doctors Who Torture project