Categories & Search ↓

After Standoff, American Psychological Association Honors Dr. Brad Olson In an about-face, two APA divisions will reward his anti-torture work


BradOlson2016For years, NLU’s Brad Olson, Ph.D., and a few other hardy souls were dissenters–the lone voices protesting the American Psychological Association’s close relationship with U.S. military officials who were practicing torture on terrorism suspects.

Last year, the APA did an about-face, with its membership voting overwhelmingly to ban psychologists from assisting the U.S. military with interrogations and subsequent torture of terrorism suspects.

Now, to complete the 180-degree change in its position on torture,  APA is honoring Olson, whom  the association once criticized for his stance against the association’s close ties to the torture process. Actually, Olson is receiving two separate awards from two different APA divisions.

The Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict and Violence, which is Division 48 of the American Psychological Association, is awarding Olson its Outstanding Service Award. It is given to an individual who has, “through an innovative vision and hard work, advanced the mission and goals of the Society.” It will present the award at the APA Convention Aug. 6 in Denver.

That’s a remarkable shift from the early 2000s. Then, APA leadership tweaked the association’s ethics policies to allow psychologists to participate with U.S. government departments, including the CIA and Department of Defense, on national security interrogations. Olson and about five other psychologists responded by forming the Council for an Ethical Psychology and spent nine years protesting that decision.

In approximately 2002-2009, advice from military-friendly psychologists allowed military officials to more effectively torture terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay and other CIA “black sites”, with the aim of extracting information from them. Techniques included sleep deprivation, extreme temperatures, solitary confinement and physically uncomfortable positions.

Earlier this year, the Society for Community Research and Action , which is Division 27 of the American Psychological Association, announced it would honor Olson with its 2016 Special Contribution Award for his work holding APA’s feet to the fire to ensure the organization did not turn a blind eye to torture practices at Guantanamo Bay. Division 27  plans to present the award at the APA convention in Denver, just like Division 48.

About the APA’s Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict and Violence: Peace Psychology Division (Division 48): The Society works to promote peace in the world at large and within nations, communities and families. It encourages psychological and multidisciplinary research, education and training on issues concerning peace, nonviolent conflict resolution, reconciliation and the causes, consequences and prevention of violence and destructive conflict. The division fosters communication among researchers, teachers and practitioners who are working on these issues and are applying the knowledge and methods of psychology in the advancement of peace and prevention of violence and destructive conflict. The division seeks to make connections between all areas of psychological work and peace and welcomes participation from all areas of the discipline. A division journal, Peace and Conflict:The Journal of Peace Psychology, is published quarterly.