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The American Psychological Association and the Missing Ethics Investigation

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In an important development in the American Psychological Association saga, Jeffrey Kaye has reported that psychologist Michael Gelles, a member of the association's 2005 PENS [Psychological Ethics and National Security] task force, was himself accused of ethics violations during the interrogation of Navy Petty Officer Daniel King. This occurred well before Gelles' appointment to the PENS Task Force.

Kaye bases his account of Gelles' involvement largely on the statements to the Senate Intelligence Committee [SIC] of King's three attorneys, highly respected George Washington University Constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley and Navy Jags Robert Baile y and Matthew Freedus. [See the Federation of American Scientists page on the case for these and other documents.] The attorneys' accounts are, in turn, based on an actual videotape of Gelles' interrogation of King.

According to the statement given to SIC, in late September 1999 King was accused of spying after an ambiguous result on his routine polygraph test. As a result, King was interrogated by the Navy Criminal Investigative Service [NCIS], for whom Gelles worked, for 17 to 19 hours at a time for 30 days straight.

As Turley relates:

"King was given at least five polygraphs in a single day during his interrogations by the NCIS. He was not only lied to about his results but lied to about the meaning of these results. NCIS agents told King that these results indicate that something did happen. In this sense, the polygraph examinations were used in combination with the NCIS insistence that King write down his fantasies. NCIS agents convinced King that these results indicated that his fantasies were simply suppressed memories."

The King interrogation reportedly was rife with abuse. King allegedly was illegally denied an attorney when he requested one. Agents repeatedly lied to him about the results and the meaning of ambiguous or incorrectly administered polygraph tests. He was repeatedly threatened with further abuse if he did not cooperate.. He was encouraged to report his fantasies, after which agents told him that these fantasies meant they must have a basis in fact. During his extended interrogation, accompanied by sleep deprivation, King made a confession, only to recant it the next day and thereafter. After at least 520 days of detention, he was released, and the case was dropped without charges. The case was later the subject of hearings before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Turley describes Gelles' interview with King:

"At times, King is shouting "I don't know what I'm supposed to give you" over and over at the agents as they press him for a signed confession. Moreover, it is noteworthy that King seeks the assistance of a psychologist for hypnosis on the videotaped interview with NCIS psychologist Dr. Michael Gelles. After his return to the United States, King was clearly trying to find a way to distinguish fantasy from reality. He told Gelles that he had no memory of the espionage facts but says that the polygraph examinations prove that he must have done something - a clear misconception that neither Gelles nor the agents correct. King asked for hypnosis and truth serum to determine if this is merely a dream. Gelles told him that he might give King hypnosis if King goes back and gives the agents "corroborating" evidence. Gelles told King that he could trust the agents and says that the agents are clearly his friends, he had a "special relationship" with the agents and the agents "will be with you forever." Gelles virtually ignored the statement of King that he had suicidal thoughts when he left Guam - two days before the interview. Instead, Gelles told King to give corroborating evidence as a precondition for the hypnosis that King sought to clear his doubts as to any espionage. These tapes show a sailor who is struggling with his total inability to remember any act of espionage while clearly accepting the false representation that, if a polygraph examination shows deception, he must have committed such an act. It is difficult to watch and listen to these tapes because they show a total disregard by the NCIS for any effort at determining the truth of these allegations as opposed to making a case at any costs."

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Understandably appalled the attorneys determined to take action against Gelles. Turley says,

"Dr. Gelles has already been notified of our intention to file formal charges against him with the American Psychological Association. Dr. Gelles has refused to give licensing information to the defense or to respond to allegations of violation of basic canons of professional conduct as a licensed psychologist. Dr. Gelles is on the videotape telling an individual with stated suicidal thoughts to return to interrogation and that the agents are not only his close friends but that they would stand with him "forever." Dr. Gelles specifically tells King that, if he offers 'corroborating' evidence to the NCIS, he might be able to give King the hypnosis that he seeks [to help determine what is real and what is not real]."

American Psychological Association

According to Kaye, Turley confirmed to him that he, indeed, filed an ethics complaint with the APA regarding Gelles' behavior in this case, but the complaint was never investigated:

"In a private communication, Mr. Turley subsequently indicated the ethics charges were filed, and dismissed without any investigation by APA." [Emphasis added.]

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The Ethics Director of the APA at the time was Dr. Stephen Behnke, who assumed the position in 2000. This is important because, in 2005, Dr. Behnke was involved in the process of appointing the members of the PENS task force to examine the ethics of psychologist participation in national security interrogations of detainees. At the time the task force was convened, and even after the Task Force report was published, the membership of the PENS task force remained secret. The report was unsigned (apparently the only case of an unsigned Presidential Task Force report in APA history, requests for the names of Task force members from the membership and the press were denied. In fact, soon after the report was published, Gelles and Behnke shared a panel on Ethics and National Security at the APA Convention. Gelles reported back to the other task force members on the listserv of the PENS task force, that "I was once again impressed with how Dr. Behnke eloquently represented our work and insured the confidentiality of the panel, despite pressure to reveal the identities of the task force members"" It was later revealed that six of the 10 members were from the military-intelligence establishment.

It is hard to understand any way in which Dr. Behnke could not have been aware of the ethics complaint filed with his office against Gelles in a high-profile case.

Not surprisingly, this stacked task force concluded that psychologist participation in national security interrogations at Guantanamo, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and at CIA black sites was ethical. In fact, they claimed:

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Stephen Soldz is psychoanalyst, psychologist, public health researcher, and faculty member at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. He is co-founder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology and is President of Psychologists for Social Responsibility. He was a psychological consultant on two of (more...)
 

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associated with this deriliction of duty should be... by Archie on Wednesday, Jul 29, 2009 at 11:46:56 PM
Clearly we have lost our way. We are a land of law... by Nick van Nes on Thursday, Jul 30, 2009 at 1:18:34 AM
Democrats let them off.... by John Hanks on Friday, Jul 31, 2009 at 7:37:25 PM