The American Psychological Association secretly collaborated with the administration of President George W. Bush to bolster a legal and ethical justification for the torture of prisoners swept up in the post-Sept. 11 war on terror, according to a new report by a group of dissident health professionals and human rights activists.
“The A.P.A. secretly coordinated with officials from the C.I.A., White House and the Department of Defense to create an A.P.A. ethics policy on national security interrogations which comported with then-classified legal guidance authorizing the C.I.A. torture program,” the report’s authors conclude.
On June 4, 2004, the C.I.A. director, George J. Tenet, signed a secret order suspending the agency’s use of the enhanced techniques, while asking for a policy review to make sure the program still had the Bush administration’s backing.“I strongly believe that the administration needs to now review its previous legal and policy positions with respect to detainees to assure that we all speak in a united and unambiguous voice about the continued wisdom and efficacy of those positions in light of the current controversy,” Mr. Tenet wrote in a memo that has since been declassified.At that critical moment, the American Psychological Association took action that its critics now say helped the troubled interrogation program.In early June 2004, a senior official with the association, the nation’s largest professional organization for psychologists, issued an invitation to a carefully selected group of psychologists and behavioral scientists inside the government to a private meeting to discuss the crisis and the role of psychologists in the interrogation program.Psychologists from the C.I.A. and other agencies met with association officials in July, and by the next year the association issued guidelines that reaffirmed that it was acceptable for its members to be involved in the interrogation program.To emphasize their argument that the association grew too close to the interrogation program, the critics’ new report cites a 2003 email from a senior psychologist at the C.I.A. to a senior official at the psychological association. In the email, the C.I.A. psychologist appears to be confiding in the association official about the work of James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, the private contractors who developed and helped run the enhanced interrogation program at the C.I.A.’s secret prisons around the world.
The three lead authors of the report are longtime and outspoken critics of the association: Stephen Soldz, a clinical psychologist and professor at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis; Steven Reisner, a clinical psychologist and founding member of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology; and Nathaniel Raymond, the director of the Signal Program on Human Security and Technology at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, and the former director of the campaign against torture at Physicians for Human Rights.“In 2004 and 2005 the C.I.A. torture program was threatened from within and outside the Bush administration,” Mr. Soldz said by email. “Like clockwork, the A.P.A. directly addressed legal threats at every critical juncture facing the senior intelligence officials at the heart of the program. In some cases the A.P.A. even allowed these same Bush officials to actually help write the association’s policies.”Rhea Farberman, a spokeswoman for the American Psychological Association, denied that the group had coordinated its actions with the government. There “has never been any coordination between A.P.A. and the Bush administration on how A.P.A. responded to the controversies about the role of psychologists in the interrogations program,” she said.
It's bad enough to know our own government tortured people and went to extraordinary lengths to keep the torture programs hidden from public knowledge. But to know they had the help of the A.P.A. and a number of willing psychologists and psychiatrists in the administration and covering up of the program is beyond Orwellian...it may have indeed been a war crime.
UPDATE July 10, 2015: The full report has been released, and it's even worse than we thought.
Indeed, the report said that senior officials of the association had “colluded” with senior Defense Department officials to make certain that the association’s ethics rules did not hinder the ability of psychologists to remain involved with the ’s interrogation program.The report’s most immediate impact will be felt at the association, where it has been presented to the board and its members’ council. The association’s board met last week to discuss the report and is expected to act on its findings soon. The association has since renounced 2005 ethics guidelines that allowed psychologists to stay involved in the harsh interrogations, but several staff members who were named in the report have remained at the organization.