Psychologists Who Collaborated on Torture Program May Face Ethics Charges

A new independent review has revealed extensive details on how members of the the American Psychological Association, the world’s largest group of psychologists, were complicit in torture, lied and covered up their close collaboration with officials at the Pentagon and CIA to weaken the association’s ethical guidelines and allow psychologists to participate in the government’s enhanced interrogation programs after 9/11. The 542-page report was commissioned by the association’s board of directors last year based on an independent review by a former Assistant US Attorney David Hoffman and undermines the APA’s repeated denials that some of its 130,000 members were complicit in torture. The Guardian reports the new details could provide grounds to file ethics charges against members of the APA. We speak with Dr. Stephen Soldz, professor at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis and co-founder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology. Earlier this month, he was invited to address the APA’s board of directors with Steven Reisner on the organization’s response to the anticipated Hoffman report. And we’re joined by Dr. Jean Maria Arrigo, a social psychologist, oral historian and a member of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology. She participated in the 2005 APA task force that condoned psychologists’ involvement in enhanced interrogations, and later blew the whistle. She has since established the APA PENS Debate Collection at University of Colorado at Boulder Archives.

TRANSCRIPT:

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show with a story Democracy Now! has been closely following for about the past decade. A new independent review has revealed extensive details on how members of the American Psychological Association, the world’s largest association of psychologists, were complicit in torture and lied and covered up their close collaboration with officials at the Pentagon and CIA to weaken the association’s ethical guidelines and allow psychologists to participate in the government’s so-called enhanced interrogation programs after 9/11. The 542-page report was commissioned by the association’s board of directors last year based on an independent review by a former assistant US attorney, David Hoffman. It undermines the APA’s repeated denials that some of its more than 130,000 members were complicit in torture. The report’s findings were first revealed Friday in The New York Times and conclude the association’s, quote, “principal motive in doing so was to align APA and curry favor with DOD” – that’s the Department of Defense.

Among the leading officials it implicates are the director of the APA Ethics Office, Stephen Behnke. After the APA received the Hoffman report, Behnke reportedly departed his position last Wednesday. It’s unclear whether he was fired or resigned. He has now hired former Clinton FBI Director Louis Freeh to defend him.

We invited a representative from the American Psychological Association to join us, but they declined.

Meanwhile, The Guardian reports the new details could provide grounds to file ethics charges against members of the APA. Recommendations for reform are expected to be made ahead of the APA’s annual convention in Toronto next month.

For more, we’re joined by two guests. In Boston, Dr. Stephen Soldz is with us, a professor at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis and co-founder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology. Earlier this month, he was invited to address the APA’s board of directors with Steven Reisner on the organization’s response to the anticipated Hoffman report. And from Irvine, California, we’re joined by whistleblower Dr. Jean Maria Arrigo. She’s a social psychologist and oral historian, and a member of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology. She participated in the 2005 APA task force that condoned psychologists’ involvement in “enhanced” interrogations, and later blew the whistle. She has since established the APA PENS Debate Collection at University of Colorado, Boulder, Archives.

We welcome you both back to Democracy Now! Let’s begin with Dr. Stephen Soldz in Boston. Can you explain the scope of the Hoffman report and what he found?

STEPHEN SOLDZ: Well, as you know, Amy, and those who have watched the show for years, since at least 2005, there’s been a major debate in the association and the profession about the role of psychologists in national security interrogations and torture. The association has denied it, as you said. So, the report says that the association was wrong; the so-called dissidents, the critics were right.

So the main findings are that there was a years-long conspiracy to collude between the leadership of the association and representatives of the Bush administration intelligence agencies, the Defense Department and CIA; second, that there was a major duplicitous PR campaign to falsely present the APA as being concerned about human rights and detainee welfare, when, as Mr. Hoffman shows in the report, their actions were not motivated by that at all; thirdly, they – while claiming that they would investigate all claims of abuse, in fact they dismissed, without any reasonable investigation, claims of abuse that were filed with their Ethics Office. So, those are the main findings. There are many more. This 500-page report has extensive detail. They conducted over a hundred interviews. There are – you know, they had probably thousands of emails that documented this collusion in great detail.

And one of the things we find is that virtually every word in APA policy was approved by Defense Department officials before it was submitted to the membership or the Council of Representatives. It was all, as Mr. Hoffman calls it, pre-vetted. Everything was pre-vetted by the Defense Department to make sure that it did not in any way constrain the Defense Department psychologists, the military psychologists, active at Guantánamo and elsewhere, while sounding like it was opposing torture.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain who David Hoffman is and how this report came into being, Dr. Soldz.

STEPHEN SOLDZ: Well, David Hoffman is an attorney at a law firm in Chicago, an expert in institutional corruption; as you said, a former federal prosecutor; and former inspector general of Chicago. So, last October, James Risen of The New York Times published a book in which he – one of his chapters reported on emails between Scott Gerwehr, a deceased CIA contractor, and APA officials, CIA officials and White House and Defense Department officials, that demonstrated collusion between the groups. The APA initially dismissed Risen’s claims; however, after a month, they backtracked and said, “Well, we think we’re – they’re not true. We know they’re not true, but we’ve got to show it. So we’ve hired this independent investigator to conduct a review of charges of collusion between us and the Bush administration.” So, Hoffman and his team of six have been active for the last seven months. I know I and my colleagues decided to help him. We had a number of phone meetings and gave him all the documents we had, and encouraged others to do so. We were hopeful that he was the real deal, and it turns out that he was.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to read from part of the press release issued by the APA in response to the report. They said, quote, “The organization’s intent was not to enable abusive interrogation techniques or contribute to violations of human rights, but that may have been the result. The actions, policies and the lack of independence from government influence described in the Hoffman report represented a failure to live up to our core values. We profoundly regret, and apologize for, the behavior and the consequences that ensued.” Is that enough, Stephen Soldz?

STEPHEN SOLDZ: No, especially if – there are two things wrong with the APA’s statement. That first sentence, while it is true that – as the report shows, it wasn’t exactly about torture. The APA didn’t care about what was happening to the detainees. What it was about was making the Defense Department happy so that they would help psychology as a profession. So, in that sense, yes. But Mr. Hoffman also shows that there was a strategic decision made within the APA to not obtain any information about abuses occurring at Guantánamo, in CIA, elsewhere. In other words, they deliberately turned their heads the other way. So, they can’t claim that, you know, it was completely inadvertent, especially when there were thousands of people in the association and around the world telling them that this wasn’t working.

The other thing, which is elsewhere in there, is they blame a small group. And while this small group is like 20 of the top leaders of the association who were directly involved in the collusion, including the CEO, the deputy CEO, the current president, the director of their public affairs, their – as you said, their Ethics Office, the former science directorate, former practice directorate – in other words, the whole structure – but the report also documents that the group engaged directly in the collusion, were carrying out APA policy to make the Defense Department – to please the Defense Department. So, the association can’t claim it was just this group of rogue people. It was not. They were creative, let’s put it this way, in how they carried out the APA policy. But that they were carrying out the policy was clear. And the report documents that top leaders knew many of the things that were being done. So, we’re still open to see. I think the association has made many positive steps, come far from where they were, but they still have far to go.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion, and we’ll be joined by one of the original whistleblowers in a 2005 task force of the American Psychological Association, what she exposed about this task force that weakened – recommended weakening the guidelines for the APA in dealing with torture. We’ll be speaking with Dr. Jean Maria Arrigo in addition to Dr. Stephen Soldz. Stay with us.