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Incrimination and Vindication

Psychologists react to the release of the Hoffman report

Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

When the New York Times columnist James Risen published his book, Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War, the American Psychological Association (APA) provided another stern rebuttal and rebuke—as they had done many times before in responding to critics. Risen had detailed allegations of a collusive relationship between high level leadership in the APA and Bush Administration military leaders in the War on Terror. The allegations centered around ensuring that military psychologists could participate in abusive interrogation techniques. Following Risen’s critique, the APA board sought out an independent investigation led by former federal prosecutor, David Hoffman. The seven-month investigation by Hoffman’s team (through Chicago-based Sidley Austin) yielded a 542-page report which was leaked to the press over the weekend and summarized by Risen in the New York Times.

The so-called Hoffman report is available, in its entirety, online. It is an absorbing, if highly distressing, read. Among the findings are the following:

Our investigation determined that key APA officials, principally the APA Ethics Director joined and supported at times by other APA officials, colluded with important DoD officials to have APA issue loose, high-level ethical guidelines that did not constrain DoD in any greater fashion than existing DoD interrogation guidelines. We concluded that APA’s principal motive in doing so was to align APA and curry favor with DoD. There were two other important motives: to create a good public-relations response, and to keep the growth of psychology unrestrained in this area.

We also found that in the three years following the adoption of the 2005 PENS Psychological Ethics and National Security () Task Force report as APA policy, APA officials engaged in a pattern of secret collaboration with DoD officials to defeat efforts by the APA Council of Representatives to introduce and pass resolutions that would have definitively prohibited psychologists from participating in interrogations at Guantanamo Bay and other U.S. detention centers abroad. The principal APA official involved in these efforts was once again the APA Ethics Director, who effectively formed an undisclosed joint venture with a small number of DoD officials to ensure that APA’s statements and actions fell squarely in line with DoD’s goals and preferences. In numerous confidential email exchanges and conversations, the APA Ethics Director regularly sought and received pre-clearance from an influential, senior psychology leader in the U.S. Army Special Operations Command before determining what APA’s position should be, what its public statements should say, and what strategy to pursue on this issue.

With members reeling at these revelations, Drs. Nadine Kaslow and Susan McDaniel emailed APA members:

The Hoffman report clearly writes a difficult chapter in our organization’s history. We sincerely apologize for the actions, policies and lack of independence from governmental influence detailed in the report. Our members, our organization, our profession, and the public expected and deserved better. We have announced a series of corrective actions related to policies and procedures to strengthen our organization and demonstrate our commitment to ethics and human rights.

Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Among these actions was the termination of APA Ethics Chair, Dr. Stephen Behnke. Kaslow and McDaniel promise “significant changes in the organization.”

The Hoffman report is the latest (though perhaps most exhaustive and incriminating) revelation related to psychologists’ involvement in torture (among other egregious examples are the CIA contractor-psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who developed SERE interrogation tactics used at Guantanamo Bay).

There have been a number of hero psychologists that have persisted in pushing for reform when it comes to psychologists’ involvement in torture. The Hoffman report is clear vindication for these unflinching psychologists—some of whom have been harshly criticized by APA leadership. The Coalition for an Ethical Psychology, Psychologists for Social Responsibility, and Psychoanalysts for Social Responsibility (within Division 39) have all been instrumental in bringing to light the complicity between APA leaders and military officials . Drs. Steven Reisner, Stephen Soldz, and Jean Maria Arrigo have been notable heroes in this regard.

© 2015 Bruce C. Poulsen, All Rights Reserved

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