No-Torture-No-Collaboration by Roy Eidelson
The past decade has witnessed persistent claims that the American Psychological Association (APA) crafted its ethics policies in order to support the Bush Administration's use of psychologists in abusive and torturous detention and interrogation operations. The standard response from APA authorities has followed the CIA's unofficial motto: "Admit nothing. Deny everything. Make counter-accusations."
That approach, however, finally changed last fall after the publication of Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War by New York Times investigative reporter James Risen. The APA's immediate response was quite familiar: the allegations of collusion were dismissed as "largely based on innuendo and one-sided reporting." But a month later the APA Board of Directors reversed course and grudgingly hired attorney David Hoffman of the law firm Sidley Austin to conduct an internal investigation of the APA. In so doing, the APA leadership offered the assurance that Mr. Hoffman would have full authority and cooperation in conducting interviews and in obtaining "all information and documents that he believes would assist in his work."
Mr. Hoffman's investigation is now underway and one focus is undoubtedly the APA's controversial 2005 Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS). The review of PENS that follows highlights specific issues demanding careful scrutiny by the investigative team.
Credible reports began to emerge in 2004 that psychologists -- contrary to their do-no-harm ethical principles -- were involved in the mistreatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, CIA black sites, and elsewhere. Removal of psychologists from these roles would have undermined the rationale the Bush Administration used to authorize its brutal "enhanced interrogation techniques." As described in the infamous Office of Legal Counsel "torture memos," the involvement of psychologists as consultants to and monitors of detainee interrogations purportedly ensured that these techniques were not psychologically torturous -- and were therefore lawful.
As a result, from the perspective of the White House, the CIA, and the Pentagon, it was important that the APA legitimize the ongoing participation of psychologists in detainee interrogations and related operations. And from the perspective of the APA's leadership, it was apparently a high priority to maintain the Association's cherished seat at the national security table and to nurture psychologists' lucrative ties to the "war on terror" agenda.
The PENS Task Force was the APA's direct response to the reports of psychologists' involvement in the abusive and torturous treatment of detainees. After a single weekend meeting in June 2005, the task force issued the PENS Report asserting that psychologists play a critical role in keeping interrogations and related operations safe, legal, ethical and effective. This language was drawn directly from the Pentagon's Standard Operating Procedures for its Behavioral Science Consultation Teams. By adopting this stance, the APA -- the largest association of psychologists worldwide -- became the sole major professional healthcare organization to disavow the international human rights standards that many believe should be the benchmark for professional codes of ethics.
PENS Areas of Concern
The single most crucial factor in determining the outcome of the PENS meeting was the selection of the individuals who would comprise the PENS Task Force. Now ten years later, the APA has still never adequately explained that critical selection process. According to APA Ethics Office Director Stephen Behnke, who was the primary drafter of the PENS Report, well over 100 names were submitted in response to a call for nominations. But neither the identities of the decision-makers nor the selection criteria they used have ever been revealed by the APA.
In that regard, Risen's Pay Any Price describes a troubling and previously undisclosed email from then APA Science Policy Director Geoff Mumford to psychologist Kirk Hubbard, an "enhanced interrogation" advocate who had recently retired from the CIA. Sent just days after release of the PENS Report, Dr. Mumford's email thanked Dr. Hubbard -- who was then working for Mitchell Jessen & Associates -- for his key role in getting the PENS effort "off the ground" and assured him that his views were "well represented by very carefully selected task force members."
The specific improprieties revealed in this email raise broader concerns. As part of his investigation, Mr. Hoffman should therefore obtain the names and correspondence of everyone who was involved -- directly or indirectly -- in the selection of the PENS Task Force members. He should also ascertain the basis upon which these individuals -- including Dr. Hubbard -- were given this weighty responsibility. Furthermore, the investigative team should obtain and thoroughly review the full set of task force applications, along with all notes and correspondence relating to why certain individuals were selected for the task force and why others were not.
It is difficult to imagine that any reasonable, unbiased selection process involving over 100 candidates could have produced a PENS Task Force in which a majority of the nine voting members -- Morgan Banks, Michael Gelles, Larry James, Bryce Lefever, and Scott Shumate -- were on the payroll of the U.S. military or intelligence agencies and had served in locations where detainee abuses allegedly took place. Yet the APA leadership has never acknowledged that this task force composition represents a source of legitimate and serious concern.