Doing Harm: How the World’s Largest Psychological Association Lost Its Way in the War on Terror


Roy Eidelson – TRANSCEND Media Service

Source: Roy Eidelson

A thought-provoking, unflinching, scrupulously documented account of one of the darkest chapters in the recent history of psychology.

Doing Harm pries opens the black box on a critical chapter in the recent history of psychology: the field’s enmeshment in the so-called war on terror and the ensuing reckoning over do-no-harm ethics during times of threat. Focusing on developments within the American Psychological Association (APA) over two tumultuous decades, Roy Eidelson exposes the challenges that professional organizations face whenever powerful government agencies turn to them for contributions to ethically fraught endeavours.

In the months after 9/11 it became clear that the White House, the Department of Defense, and the Central Intelligence Agency were prepared to ignore well-established international law and human rights standards in prosecuting the “war on terror.” It was less clear, however, that some of Eidelson’s fellow psychologists would become part of the abusive and torturous operations at overseas CIA black sites and Guantanamo Bay. Nor was it initially clear that this ruthless enterprise would garner acquiescence and support from the APA’s leadership.

Doing Harm examines how and why the APA failed to join human rights groups in efforts to constrain the US government’s unbridled pursuit of security and retribution. It recounts an ongoing struggle – one that has pitted APA leaders set on preserving strong ties to the military-intelligence establishment against dissident voices committed to prioritizing do-no-harm principles.

Doing Harm Endorsements

* “Doing Harm shows how a toxic mix of intrigue, questionable decisions, and a ‘just following orders’ mentality created a crisis still not fully resolved. A monumentally important work, it should be required reading in all psychology programs.” — Kenneth S. Pope, recipient of APA Award for Distinguished Contributions to Public Service

* “In Doing Harm Roy Eidelson exposes a dark chapter in the history of American psychology. Some practitioners’ complicity with government authorities in abetting torture violated the highest ethical standards. The story must be told if it is not to be repeated.” — Brigadier General (Ret.) Stephen N. Xenakis

* “The APA’s collusion with the Bush administration’s torture program was unique among medical associations. Eidelson and a group of colleagues, tellingly called ‘the dissidents,’ fought to end psychologists’ involvement and forced the APA to clean house. Doing Harm shows why, despite their tireless advocacy, key lessons have yet to be learned.” — Lisa Hajjar, author of The War in Court

* “The post-9/11 torture program was sustained by a web of enablers that wrapped brutality in a veneer of legitimacy. Doing Harm chronicles the courageous campaign to disrupt that web, providing vital insights for all who hope to root out systemic injustice.” — Elisa Massimino, former President and CEO, Human Rights First

* “Doing Harm lifts the cloak of invisibility on the opportunists and profiteers who have survived, evaded, resisted, and escaped accountability for the US government’s post-9/11 torture program. Eidelson refused to learn helplessness, exposing the calibration of cruelty within black sites, dark prisons, and the Guantanamo Battle Lab.” — Mark Fallon, author of Unjustifiable Means

* “Roy Eidelson’s searing and important book deserves a wide readership. It tells a sordid chapter in the APA’s history, offering a cautionary tale about how professional organizations can stray to the ‘dark side’ in a climate of fear and conformity.” — Eyal Press, author of Dirty Work

Now available for pre-order: Doing Harm: How the World’s Largest Psychological Association Lost Its Way in the War on Terror (McGill-Queen’s University Press)


Roy Eidelson is a member of the TRANSCEND Network and was a member of the American Psychological Association for over 25 years, prior to his resignation. He is a clinical psychologist and the president of Eidelson Consulting, where he studies, writes about, and consults on the role of psychological issues in political, organizational, and group conflict settings. He is a past president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, former executive director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Solomon Asch Center for Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict, and a member of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology. Roy is the author of Political Mind Games: How the 1% Manipulate Our Understanding of What’s Happening, What’s Right, and What’s Possible and can be reached at

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 12 Jun 2023.

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