A seventeen-year-old boy is locked in an interrogation cell in Guantanamo. He breaks down crying and says he wants his family. The interrogator senses the boy is psychologically vulnerable and consults with a psychologist. The psychologist has evaluated the boy prior to the questioning and says, “Tell him his family has forgotten him.” The psychologist also prescribes “linguistic isolation” (not letting him have contact with anyone who speaks his language.) The boy attempts suicide a few weeks later. On the eve of the boy’s trial, the psychologist apparently fearing her testimony will only further implicate her, indicates she will plead the Fifth Amendment if she is called to the stand. The trial is postponed, leaving the boy in further limbo.
The military psychologist is merely a foot soldier in psychology’s participation in torture. It goes much deeper. We now know that psychologists helped design and implement significant segments of George Bush’s torture program. Despite their credo, “Above all, do no harm,” two psychologists developed instruments of psychological torture. They “reversed engineered” psychological principles. They used the very therapeutic interventions psychologists use to ameliorate psychological suffering, but “reversed” their direction to create psychological distress and instability. If one’s reality sense is threatened, a good therapist validates and supports it as appropriate. In reverse engineering, the environment is deliberately made more confusing and the victim’s trust in his own perceptions is intentionally undermined. In extreme form, this can ultimately drive a person to insanity from which some never come back. These were the types of techniques that were used on the seventeen-year-old detainee and others.
Military psychologists also colluded with the Justice Department to help CIA operatives circumvent the legal prohibitions against torture. Under the Justice Department definition of torture, if a detainee was sent to a psychologist for a mental health evaluation prior to interrogation it was per se evidence that the interrogator had no legal intent to torture the detainee because the referral “demonstrated concern” for the welfare of the detainee.
Most remarkably of all, this whole process occurred under a protective “ethical” seal from the American Psychological Association (APA), psychologists’ largest national organization. The APA governance repeatedly rejected calls from its membership for APA to join other health organizations in declaring participation in Bush detention center interrogations unethical.
Most psychologists are appalled at what the APA has done, and many, like me, have resigned from the APA. But the true story behind APA’s involvement with torture has not been fully told.
I have had ample opportunity to observe both the inner workings of the APA and the personalities and organizational vicissitudes that have affected it over the last two decades. For most of the twenty-year period from 1983 to 2003, I either worked inside the APA central office as the first Executive Director of the APA Practice Directorate, or I served in various governance positions, including Chair of the APA Board of Professional Affairs and member of the APA Council of Representatives. Since leaving APA I have maintained a keen interest in the organization.
The transformation of APA, in the past decade, from a historically liberal organization to an authoritarian one that actively assists in torture has been an astonishing process. As with many usurpations of democratic liberal values, the transformation was accomplished by a surprisingly small number of people. APA is an invaluable case study in the psychological manipulations that influence our governmental and non-governmental institutions.
To explain APA’s behavior two questions have to be answered. First, how did the APA develop the connections with the military that fostered the shameful role it has played in torture? Second, why did the APA governance not join other health professions in prohibiting participation in the Bush Administration’s “enhanced interrogations,” as APA’s rank and file members were demanding?
The APA-military connection
One source of APA’s military connections is obvious to anyone who has worked at APA over the last twenty-five years. Strangely, it has been overlooked by the media. Since the early 1980’s, APA has had a unique relationship with Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye’s office. Inouye was an honored WWII veteran, a Japanese American who himself was a medical volunteer in the midst of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He entered office in 1962. For much of the ’70s, he was Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Later he became, and is currently, the chair of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, which, of course, makes up the largest chunk of federal discretionary spending and is why economists often split discretionary government funding into defense spending versus “everything else.” This appropriations committee covers not only all of the armed forces but the CIA as well. Put succinctly, Inouye controls the military purse strings, and is very influential with military brass.
One of Inouye’s administrative assistants, psychologist Patrick Deleon, has long been active in the APA and served a term in 2000 as APA president. For significant periods of time DeLeon has literally directed APA staff on federal policy matters and has dominated the APA governance on political matters. For over twenty-five years, relationships between the APA and the Department of Defense (DOD) have been strongly encouraged and closely coordinated by DeLeon.
Inouye himself has served as an apologist for the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp (”Gitmo”) since the inception of the War on Terror. In a press briefing at the U.S. State Department, held shortly after his trip to Gitmo in February of 2002, Inouye affirmed Rumsfeld’s propagandist vision of the site, and then remarked: “Watching our men and women treat these detainees was rather impressive. They would go out of their way to be considerate. …”
From what we know now, that is true, but not in the benevolent way Inouye implied. Inouye’s comments bore a chilling similarity to Barbara Bush’s famous comments about the alleged good fortune of Katrina victims, in the Houston Astrodome. The detainees, he said, are being treated “in some ways better than we treat our people.” (R. Burns, Associated Press, 2002). And he compared the Guantanamo climate to Hawaii’s. (It is “somewhat warmer.”)
More significantly, it was Inouye who recently stripped the funding needed for closing Gitmo from a supplemental appropriations bill. This “Inouye Amendment,” threw a stick in the spokes of any U.S. movement away from the worst of global war on terror policies. In announcing the funding cut, Inouye’s press release was a remarkable illustration of Orwellian “newspeak,” ostensibly supporting the very opposite of what he was doing:
“But let me be clear. We need to close the Guantanamo prison. Yes, it is a fine facility. I, too, have visited the site. Yes, the detainees are being well cared for. Our servicemen and servicewomen are doing great work. But the fact of the matter is Guantanamo is a symbol of the wrongdoings which have occurred, and we must eliminate that connection.” (Inouye, Press Release May 20, 2009).
DeLeon’s connection with Inouye is not by any means the only APA connection with defense interests. In 1951 the military established The Human Resource Research Organization (HumRRO) to develop techniques for “psychological warfare.” HumRRO was run by psychologist Dr. Meredith Crawford who spent ten years as APA treasurer and was deeply involved in APA activities for three decades. Crawford’s former student, Raymond Fowler, became Chief Executive Officer of APA in 1989 and stayed in that position until 2003. Today, fifty-five percent of HumRRO’s budget comes from the military.