“Breaking News”

According to unconfirmed reports, the American Psychological Association is frantically searching for facts that have escaped from the Association’s headquarters in Washington, DC. All of the fugitive facts apparently share one characteristic in common: they support claims that the APA colluded with the CIA and the White House in the Bush Administration’s abusive detention and interrogation operations.

A distraught APA spokesperson advised that such facts are extremely dangerous on the loose. She warned that no one should approach them until they have been captured, tranquilized, and defanged by the APA’s public affairs office. “We need to turn them into mere allegations as quickly as possible,” she was overheard telling an unidentified colleague. “Obviously, we can’t refute facts!”

Despite repeated requests, members of the APA leadership have thus far declined to comment further. The total number of escaped facts is not yet known, but it appears that dozens of them had been tunneling their way out of APA headquarters for over a decade. Others reportedly still remain securely confined in APA and government custody.

Although preliminary reports have now identified many of the fugitive facts, the APA continues to warn that extreme caution should be exercised until the Association has provided specific safety guidelines. Without adequate precautions, close contact has been linked to a variety of psychological symptoms, including denial, defensiveness, and despair.

********

The “breaking news” report above is, of course, satirical. But the facts presented below are quite real. And despite the dismissive attitude that has characterized the APA’s actual public relations campaign, none of the facts that follow has been refuted (which shouldn’t really be surprising – after all, they’re facts).

Meanwhile, APA leaders now insist that they will have no further comment about collusion in the Bush Administration’s “enhanced interrogation program” until they have received and reviewed the report from attorney David Hoffman’s ongoing investigation. Then, at some still unspecified time, both that report and the APA Board’s response will be made public simultaneously.

But the APA’s silence-is-golden-we’re waiting-for-the-facts rationale is misguided and self-serving. In particular, it disguises a simple truth: while Mr. Hoffman’s report may well provide valuable new information, many critically important facts have already been established. Pretending otherwise is a disservice to APA members, to the profession as a whole, and to the public at large. Here are some of the facts we already know:

Fugitive Facts

* Office of Legal Counsel and related government memos from the Bush Administration required the presence of psychologists in order for various “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including waterboarding, to be used. Nevertheless, APA Ethics Office Director Stephen Behnke publicly insisted that psychologists played a valuable role in keeping interrogations “safe, legal, ethical, and effective.” He also asserted that media reports of psychologist involvement in abuse were “long on hearsay and innuendo, short on facts,” and, according to a New York Times reporter, that psychologists “knew not to participate in activities that harmed detainees.”

* James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, the recognized architects of the CIA torture program, were invited participants at a 2003 APA-sponsored (and CIA-funded) invitation-only workshop on the “science of deception.” The workshop agenda included discussion of interrogation strategies, including the use of “pharmacological agents” and “sensory overloads.” When senior APA Science Directorate staff member Geoff Mumford sought feedback from participants after the workshop had concluded, the CIA’s Kirk Hubbard told him that Mitchell and Jessen were unavailable because they were “doing special things to special people in special places.”

* James Mitchell was an APA member during the period in which he designed the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation program” and participated directly in the torture of detainees at CIA black sites. Mitchell was also still an APA member when the first public report suggesting his possible involvement in detainee abuse appeared in the press. The APA Ethics Committee has the authority to investigate possible ethical violations on its own initiative at any time. In its immediate response last October to the publication of James Risen’s book Pay Any Price, the APA public affairs office, directed by Rhea Farberman, falsely claimed that Mitchell was never an APA member.

* APA Ethics Office Director Stephen Behnke hosted a 2004 private meeting at APA headquarters for top-level APA staff, including Deputy CEO Michael Honaker, and senior representatives of the intelligence community, including the CIA’s Kirk Hubbard (who later went to work for Mitchell and Jessen). In his invitation to the meeting, which focused on ethics in national security settings, Behnke assured the participants that their names would never be made public and that “in the meeting we will neither assess nor investigate the behavior of any specific individual or group.” This meeting led to the creation of the APA’s 2005 Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS).

* A clear majority of the nine voting members of the APA’s 2005 PENS Task Force were on the payroll of the Department of Defense or intelligence community at the time of their participation. Several of them served in chains of command where detainee abuses allegedly took place. After a single weekend meeting, the Task Force asserted that it was ethical for psychologists to participate in national security detention and interrogation operations – a stance consistent with pre-existing Bush Administration policy. At the time of the PENS meeting, there were already news reports of psychologists’ involvement in abusive interrogations at Guantanamo Bay.

* After the PENS Report had been issued, APA’s Geoff Mumford thanked Kirk Hubbard for his role “in getting this effort off the ground.” He also assured Hubbard that his views “were well represented by very carefully selected Task Force members.” Hubbard was employed by the CIA at the time that the PENS members were selected. And when he extended his thanks to Hubbard, Mumford knew that Hubbard was employed by the firm of CIA contract psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen.

* Current APA president Barry Anton, an APA Board member in 2005, was the individual who recommended that the APA Practice Directorate’s top official, Russ Newman, participate in the PENS meeting. Even though Newman’s wife – Debra Dunivin – was a BSCT psychologist stationed at Guantanamo, where abuses had allegedly taken place, he nevertheless assumed a key role in directing the meeting. Standard 3.06 (Conflict of Interest) of the APA Ethics Code states: “Psychologists refrain from taking on a professional role when personal, scientific, professional, legal, financial, or other interests or relationships could reasonably be expected to…impair their objectivity, competence, or effectiveness in performing their functions as psychologists.”

* According to the Olivia Moorehead-Slaughter, the Chair of the PENS Task Force, current APA president Barry Anton and past president Gerry Koocher specifically approved Susan Brandon as an undisclosed PENS observer, even though just a few weeks earlier she was a senior official in the Bush Administration. According to APA’s Geoff Mumford, Brandon also participated in the actual drafting of the PENS Report, in particular the section on research. That section included recommendations that psychologists should engage in interrogation research (e.g., “research on cultural differences in the psychological impact of particular information-gathering methods and what constitutes cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment”).

* The APA Board approved the PENS Report, authorizing psychologists’ involvement in national security detention and interrogation operations, in an “emergency” session, without first bringing the matter to the Council of Representatives – APA’s governing body – for discussion and a vote. The names of the Task Force members were never included in the Report itself. These members were also required to keep the meeting discussions confidential and not to discuss the Report publicly.

* In 2013, after almost seven years, the APA Ethics Office closed an ethics complaint filed against Guantanamo psychologist and APA member John Leso, asserting that there was “no cause for action.” Ethics Office Director Stephen Behnke never referred the case to the full ten-person Ethics Committee for review and resolution. The evidence that Dr. Leso played a role in the abuse and torture of detainees had been well established in authoritative reports, and the operative threshold for referral to the full Ethics Committee required merely a preponderance of the evidence. In closing the complaint, the APA did not refute any of the evidence of Dr. Leso’s role in the interrogations.

This article first appeared in Counterpunch.

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