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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 4/27/09

Bioethicist Steven Miles joins call for investigation of American Psychological Association ties to military

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Bioethicist Steven Miles joins the call -- first issued by Psychologists for Social Responsibility last week -- for an investigation of the American Psychological Association's ties to the military-intelligence establishment that led to its continuing to support psychologist participation in US national security interrogations long past the point where it was obvious that psychologists had designed, conducted, standardized, and legitimated US torture. Miles' call takes the form of an open letter to Drs. Stephen Behnke, APA Ethics Director, and Gerald Koocher, 2006 APA President, two of the fiercest defenders of the APA's "policy of engagement" in interrogations:

Dear Dr. Koocher and Dr. Behnke,

The collapse of the rationalizations and denials and secrecy that obscured the previous Administration's program of abusive interrogation is accelerating. The UN, European Parliament, and ICRC long ago named these practices for what they were: torture.  Today, even senior Republican party officials and former Bush officials also refer to the documents as torture memos.  The pretense that some form of accountability can be avoided is gone.

Psychologists and physicians were central to the implementation of these human rights abuses.  As a physician, I am working to secure the accountability of physicians.  As a health professional, the APA must hold its own Truth Commission.

You had leadership roles in the APA's relationship to these interrogations.  You gave an APA platform, the PENS Task Force, to the control of senior Department of Defense officials who were intimately involved in the support, protection, and implementation of corrupted interrogation standards. As the scandal unfolded you continued to allow those officials to speak through the public voice of the APA.

I am asking you to lend your voices to publically urging the APA to conduct a transparent review of how the APA got into this position.

What were the formative contacts between DoD and APA that led to the creation of the PENS Task Force?

Who nominated and selected the members of the PENS Task Force?

What were the back channel communications between APA and DoD officials as the PENS Task Force Report was drafted and modified?

The answers to these questions cannot undo the damage but they are needed for those who can work to prevent such recruitment of a health professional organization in the future.


Steven Miles, MD
N504 Boynton, 410 Church St SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455-0346

I would go beyond the call of Dr. Miles and say that any investigation has to examine the entire nexus of ties between the APA and the military-intelligence establishment that created the environment for the current crisis. Why, for example, is the APA's tiny division of Military Psychology often given veto power over any APA initiatives in the national security arena, a power never granted to the far larger Divisions for Social Justice or any other human rights advocates? Why does the APA Board usually have several members with close military ties? Why did the Defense Department interfere in last summer's APA referendum on participation in interrogations? ? And why for so long did the APA maintain the fiction that the psychologists in interrogations were primarily there to protect, rather than to break down detainees?

We need answers if psychology is to survive as a profession with a commitment to human betterment.

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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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