WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has asked the American Psychological Association to reconsider its ban on the involvement of psychologists in national security interrogations at the Guantánamo Bay prison and other facilities.
The Defense Department reduced its use of psychologists at Guantánamo in late 2015 in response to the policy approved by the association last summer.
But in a letter and accompanying memo to association officials this month, Brad Carson, the acting principal deputy secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, asked that the group, the nation’s largest professional organization for psychologists, revisit its “blanket prohibition.”
Although “the Department of Defense understands the desire of the American psychology profession to make a strong statement regarding reports about the role of former military psychologists more than a dozen years ago, the issue now is to apply the lessons learned to guide future conduct,” Mr. Carson wrote.
“The context of future conflicts — whether a traditional international armed conflict like World War II or the Korean War, a defense of the homeland against international terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda or the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or something entirely unpredictable — is today unknown,” he continued. “A code governing psychologists’ ethics in future national security roles needs to fit all such contexts. We respectfully suggest that a blanket prohibition on participation by psychologists in national security interrogations does not.”
The American Psychological Association’s council of representatives voted overwhelmingly in August to approve the ban, but the association’s formal ethics code still must be revised to reflect it.
Mr. Carson asked the group to agree to consider that its “views regarding the presence of psychologists at Guantánamo” are “a matter of policy, not an ethical mandate.”
A spokeswoman for the association, Kim Mills, said association and Pentagon officials planned to meet soon to discuss the group’s policies.
James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, contractors who helped run the C.I.A.’s harsh interrogation program, were the most controversial examples of psychologists involved in George W. Bush-era interrogations before the abusive programs were ended. The military had its own interrogation program, carried out at Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and other sites.
The Pentagon is trying to temper the American Psychological Association’s actions just as current and former military psychologists are disputing the findings of an independent investigation ordered by the association’s board that led to its ban.
The report, written by David H. Hoffman, a Chicago lawyer, and released in July, concluded that some of the nation’s most prominent psychologists had helped protect the C.I.A.’s harsh interrogation program, while some association officials worked with the Pentagon in 2005 to ensure that the group’s policies allowed psychologists to continue participating in military interrogations.
In separate rebuttals, the military psychology division of the American Psychological Association and four psychologists named in the Hoffman report argue that the report’s central findings are skewed.
They say Mr. Hoffman failed to take into account that by the time the 2005 policy review had determined that psychologists could remain involved in interrogating detainees, the Pentagon had ended abusive interrogations in the wake of a scandal over the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
Even before the review, “the Department of Defense had enacted strict policies, tight guidelines and close oversight for military interrogation activities in response to abuses that had occurred in 2002-2004,” the military psychology division said.
The separate rebuttal by four psychologists came to similar conclusions, citing Defense Department documents.
“Hoffman talks about putting into place policies and procedures to allow abuses to continue, when in fact policies were already in place to prevent abuses, and I helped draft those policies,” said Debra L. Dunivin, a retired Army psychologist and a co-author of the rebuttal. “There were mistakes that were made, but not by D.O.D. at that time.”
Their rebuttal points out that Ms. Dunivin and other of its authors all played roles in reforming Defense Department policies related to interrogations.
In response, Ms. Mills, the American Psychological Association spokeswoman, said the military psychology division “is an important and valued part of A.P.A., and the concerns, issues and recommendations raised by its 57-page report are being given full and careful consideration.”
She added that the association was also reviewing the Defense Department documents cited in the rebuttal by the four psychologists.
In an interview, Mr. Hoffman declined to respond to the criticism of his report.
But Steven Reisner, a New York psychologist, and Stephen Soldz, a Boston psychologist, who both campaigned for the association’s interrogation ban, said the rebuttal by the four psychologists raised “peripheral issues,” while failing to challenge the Hoffman report’s key conclusion about collusion between the association and Defense Department officials.
Mr. Reisner and Mr. Soldz added that the four psychologists ignored “a wealth of evidence that systemic military interrogation abuses continued long after the time when the authors claimed they were banned.”