Human Rights Groups and Advocates Call for Annulment of APA’s PENS Report


Roy Eidelson – TRANSCEND Media Service

Recognizing that the world has been shocked by the specter of abusive interrogations and the torture of national security prisoners by agents of the United States government since 9/11, over a dozen human rights groups and hundreds of advocates – health professionals, social scientists, social justice and human rights scholars and activists, and concerned military and intelligence professionals – have initiated a call for the annulment of the American Psychological Association’s (APA’s) 2005 “PENS Report.”

This Report by the APA’s Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS) is of critical importance because it is the defining document endorsing psychologists’ engagement in national security detainee interrogations. Despite evidence that psychologists were involved in abusive interrogations, the PENS Task Force nevertheless concluded that psychologists play a critical role in keeping interrogations “safe, legal, ethical and effective.” With this stance, the APA – the largest association of psychologists worldwide –became the sole major professional healthcare organization to support practices contrary to the international human rights standards that ought to be the benchmark against which professional codes of ethics are judged.

This annulment call reflects the reality that the PENS Report remains an influential and authoritative guiding operational document today within psychology and the national security establishment. The Department of Defense (DoD) continues to disseminate the PENS Report in its instructions to psychologists involved in intelligence operations. The Report also has been adopted, at least informally, as the foundational ethics document for “operational psychology” as an area of specialization involving psychologists in counterintelligence and counterterrorism operations. And the PENS Report is repeatedly cited as a resource for ethical decision-making in the APA Ethics Committee’s new National Security Commentary, a “casebook” for which the APA is currently soliciting feedback.

The PENS Report was the result of institutional processes that were illegitimate and inconsistent with APA’s own standards. Merely updating or correcting deficiencies in the Report therefore would be an inadequate response in light of the inherent bias in the Task Force membership (e.g., six of the nine voting members were on the payroll of the U.S. military and/or intelligence agencies); significant conflicts of interest (e.g., unacknowledged participants included high-level APA staff involved in lobbying military/intelligence agencies for psychology funding); irregularities in the report approval process (e.g., the Board’s preemption of standard review mechanisms); and unwarranted secrecy associated with the Report (e.g., unusual prohibitions on Task Force members’ freedom to discuss the Report).

Individuals interested in reading the annulment statement and signing the petition can do so at, where more information about the call for annulment, including a list of organizational and individual signers to date, is also available.

Contact: Roy Eidelson (


Roy J. Eidelson, Ph.D.:

Member, TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment.

Past President, Psychologists for Social Responsibility

Member, Coalition for an Ethical Psychology

President, Eidelson Consulting

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 24 Oct 2011.

Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TMS: Human Rights Groups and Advocates Call for Annulment of APA’s PENS Report, is included. Thank you.

If you enjoyed this article, please donate to TMS to join the growing list of TMS Supporters.

Share this article:

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.

One Response to “Human Rights Groups and Advocates Call for Annulment of APA’s PENS Report”

  1. David Doerr says:

    The study of ethics involves the question of what we ought to do. What is right? Naturally, this involves theology, and the questions related to that field of inquiry. I find the fault in the nation’s thread of thinking in that realm of discourse. Very, very few Christians seem to be aware that Moses’ father in law’s name – Reuel – has the meaning of “friend of God”. To identify with the Christian religion means that we have to strive to be “friends of God”. The New Testament does not annul the Old. Christ defended the teachings of Moses in the fifth chapter of Matthew (Sermon on the Mount), and in the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. When Christians attempt to define ethics, it is important for them to understand this tradition that influenced the prophet Moses (that Jews and Moslems also claim to adhere to). How is it that most Christians have never heard of Reuel? There is an important element of monotheistic theology that has not reached the general public. To seek to be a friend of God is at the very core of Western theological tradition, yet the emphasis is wrongly placed on rites and ceremonies and dress. Protests in the street will not achieve as much as increasing the awareness of the public regarding mysteriously missing elements of Christian theology. Although seeking communion with God – and friendship – through the observance of signs is a thread that runs through the entire length of the Bible, (see Acts, chapter two), our society never discusses this element of our theology. Everything seems politicized, as though theology is not a relevant element in solving society’s problems. The body-politic will follow the brain, and that feeds on ideas. To dismiss the concepts that are presented in the study of theology as being irrelevant to political discussion is a grave and serious mistake for a society to make. Man must live on every word of God, according to Moses, and Jesus of Nazareth. Yet most Christians shun the study of Scripture in defiance of this precept. If we would chance society so that it would advance, then we need to look there.