Doing Harm

How the World's Largest Psychological Association Lost Its Way in the War on Terror

By (author) Roy J. Eidelson
Categories: Psychology, Society and Social Sciences
Publisher: McGill-Queen's University Press
Hardcover : 9780228018612, 272 pages, September 2023

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


Doing Harm pries open 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 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

“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

“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

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. Roy 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

“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

“While Doing Harm is a deeply troubling case study of how a profession can, in the pursuit of power and influence, come to betray its own principles, ethics, purpose, and indeed the very people it is supposed to serve, it is also an inspiring one in that it shows how even a handful of professionals of conscience can work to bring truth to light.” The Winnipeg Free Press

“Eidelson provides a comprehensive and highly readable background story to APA’s accommodative stance toward the priorities of the Department of Defense and the CIA at a time when both agencies were clearly reconciled to indefinitely detaining and abusing—and often torturing—hundreds of detainees. … Doing Harm is essential reading. It is a detailed exploration of how the powerful make monsters behind the scenes of hollow performances of slick benevolence. And, in this regard, the APA isn’t just the American Psychological Association. It’s an ominous synecdoche of the uncannily glitching duality of the United States itself.” Counterpunch

"An excellent read for all involved in psychology as a discipline. Highly recommended." Choice