Intended for healthcare professionals


Contrasting ethical policies of physicians and psychologists concerning interrogation of detainees

BMJ 2009; 338 doi: (Published 30 April 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b1653

Psychologists and Torture

Drs. Pope and Guetheil nicely summarized the history of why
psychology was more willing to abet the abusive interrogations of the US
government during its war on terror negotiations.
Recently released US government documents clearly show the magnitude of
that abuse.1,2,3.

The American Psychological Association was unique about US health
professional associations in providing policy cover for abusive
interrogations that were based on the theory of inducing learned
helplessness.4 By definition, learned helplessness based interrogations
profoundly damage prisoners. A full inquiry is needed into how the
American Psychological Association was recruited into a collaboration with
the Defense Department in this matter.


Steven Miles, MD

1. Senate Armed Services Committee. Inquiry into the treatment of
Detainees in US Custody. Nov 20-08 http://armed-

2. Office of Legal Counsel. Memorandum for John A. Rizzo, Senior Deputy
General Counsel, CIA. Re: Application of US Obligations Under Article 16
of the Convention Against Torture to Certain Techniques that May Be Used
in the Interrogation of High Value al Qaeda Detainees. 30-May-05.

3. Asst Attorney General. Memorandum for John Rizzo Acting General Counsel
of the CIA Re: Interrogation of an al Qaeda Operative. 1-Aug-02.

4. Olson B, Miles SH. The American Psychological Association and War on
Terror Interrogations. in Oath Betrayed: America's Torture Doctors. ed.
Miles SH. University of California Press, 2009, p. 186-98.

Competing interests:
None declared

Competing interests: No competing interests

01 May 2009
Steven H Miles
Professor of Medicine
University of Minnesota, 410 Church St SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455