[Marxism] What a Bombshell Report Tells Us About the APA’s Abetting of Torture

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Jul 14 05:27:38 MDT 2015

Chronicle of Higher Education July 13, 2015
What a Bombshell Report Tells Us About the APA’s Abetting of Torture
By Tom Bartlett

The American Psychological Association gave psychologists involved in 
the often-brutal interrogation of detainees at Guantánamo Bay and 
elsewhere a free pass. The association tweaked its ethics code for the 
convenience of the U.S. military. For years it failed to investigate 
serious complaints of unethical conduct — and when it did investigate, 
its efforts were laughable. Officials seemed more interested in currying 
favor with the government than living up to the "high standards of 
ethics" the APA proclaims as integral to its mission.

The association not only didn’t meaningfully object to torture committed 
under the administration of President George W. Bush; it aided and 
abetted that abuse.

That’s the verdict of the 542-page independent review prepared by David 
Hoffman, a former federal prosecutor, at the request of the association.

The fact that psychologists participated in the so-called 
enhanced-interrogation program is in itself not a revelation: The 
complicity of psychologists has been known for years. A 2007 article in 
Vanity Fair spelled out how two psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce 
Jessen, had helped create interrogation tactics that amounted to 
torture. Even then there were questions about whether the APA had 
secretly given the military its approval, though the association denied 
doing so repeatedly.

James Risen’s book Pay Any Price, published last fall, provided some 
evidence to back up those long-held suspicions. Mr. Risen, a reporter 
for The New York Times, concluded that the APA’s cooperation, 
particularly its willingness to loosen its ethics code, was "essential 
to the Bush administration’s ability to use enhanced-interrogation 
techniques against detainees."

The Hoffman review was commissioned in response to Mr. Risen’s book, 
which the association had criticized for peddling "innuendo and 
one-sided reporting." Presumably APA leaders believed the review would 
uncover the facts Mr. Risen had supposedly twisted and perhaps polish 
the association’s besmirched reputation.

It did not. Instead the review, which was leaked on Friday to The New 
York Times, bolsters the allegations of Mr. Risen and the handful of 
very vocal psychologists, like Stephen Soldz, Steven Reisner, and Jean 
Maria Arrigo, who had worked for a decade to persuade the organization’s 
leadership that participating in cruel, coercive military interrogations 
was unethical. While much of what’s contained in the review has been 
reported or at least hinted at before, the new details, taken as a 
whole, are damning.

Close Coordination

The star — some might say the villain — of the Hoffman review is Stephen 
Behnke, who had served as the association’s director of ethics since 
November 2000. (Mr. Behnke was "terminated for cause" as a result of the 
Hoffman review.) It’s clear from the emails that the APA provided to Mr. 
Hoffman, which are now published online, that Mr. Behnke made certain 
each step of the way that government interrogators wouldn’t be hampered 
by the association’s ethics code. He coordinated very closely with Col. 
Louie Morgan Banks, then the chief psychologist with the Army Special 
Operations Command, keeping him informed of discussions within the APA, 
getting his advice on specific policies, and working with him to craft 
language on restrictions.

According to the Hoffman report, Mr. Behnke made sure that the ethics 
code did not contain a simple mandate to "do no harm." Instead, the code 
included watered-down guidelines to "take care to do no harm" and to 
"minimize harm," wording that provided psychologists with the military 
and the Central Intelligence Agency the wiggle room they desired.

Mr. Behnke regularly forwarded emails to Mr. Banks, who is now retired 
from the military, asking for advice. When a reporter from Washington 
Monthly started asking questions about psychologists’ involvement in 
interrogations, in July 2006, Mr. Behnke sent a draft of his response to 
Mr. Banks, asking him: "Please let me know where I’ve gone astray. Also, 
if you think there are other points I should make, I can do so. I hope 
I’ve done a good job here."

Mr. Hoffman writes that the two were "teammates" and that Mr. Behnke 
"turned to his partners and friends in DoD [the Department of Defense] 
to craft a unified response to critics and to ensure that the APA and 
military media strategies aligned in message and theme."

Indeed, reading the correspondence between the two, it appears that the 
common enemies of the APA and the military included both the news media 
and psychologists critical of the APA’s permissive ethical guidelines on 
interrogation. Mr. Hoffman notes evidence indicating that Mr. Banks was 
"consulting with other military leaders" — suggesting that, via the 
Behnke-Banks relationship, top military officials were able to influence 
the APA’s positions on crucial matters.

Mr. Behnke understood that, should the degree of coordination become 
known, they would have a public-relations problem. He titled emails 
"Eyes Only." After allowing Mr. Banks to review a draft of an APA 
statement, Mr. Behnke warned that "discretion about prior review is 

Mr. Behnke appears to have been the primary conduit for military 
influence. His name is mentioned in the Hoffman review nearly 2,000 
times. But he is not the only official Mr. Hoffman determined was 
willing to skew APA policy to comport with the government’s wishes.

Until 2007, Russ Newman was executive director for professional practice 
at the APA. As such, he played a role in creating the task force that 
composed the association’s ethics guidelines; he also had a say in their 
wording. According to the review, Mr. Newman specifically objected to 
including the word "coercive" in those guidelines. The word was replaced 
with the vaguer, less inflammatory "various investigative techniques." 
Like Mr. Behnke, Mr. Newman was in touch with Mr. Banks and was aware of 
his preferences.

Perhaps more troubling was the fact that Mr. Newman’s wife, Lt. Col. 
Debra Dunivin, worked for the Department of Defense and at one time was 
the lead psychologist for interrogations at Guantánamo. That obvious 
conflict of interest was not disclosed, according to Mr. Hoffman. In 
fact, the review found that during the creation of the ethics code the 
couple "inserted themselves and influenced the process and outcome in 
important ways."

‘Disingenuous’ Statements

While some APA leaders did raise concerns, those who were more 
sympathetic to the government quickly shot them down. When Diane F. 
Halpern, a former APA president and board member, suggested in an email 
that "somewhere we add data showing that torture is ineffective in 
obtaining good information," Mr. Behnke pushed back immediately. Rhea K. 
Farberman, executive director for public and member communications, 
supported him: "Hopefully, Diane’s suggestion is dead in the water," she 

When the APA wasn’t modifying language to please the military, it was 
desperately trying to convince its membership and the public that its 
intentionally lax ethics code actually prevented psychologists from 
taking part in torture. Ronald F. Levant, the association’s president at 
the time, emphasized in a letter to The New York Times in 2005 that the 
association had put in place "strict ethical guidelines." The Hoffman 
review reveals that the letter was actually written by Mr. Behnke, 
citing it as part of a "disingenuous media strategy" that made the 
association appear to be strongly against torture.

Despite the toothless ethics code, complaints were still filed. Publicly 
the APA swore again and again that it was vigorously upholding its code. 
Mr. Behnke, the ethics director, said that if APA members had acted 
"inappropriately," the association would deal with any complaints "very 
directly and very clearly."

The APA did nothing of the sort.

In 2005, The New Yorker published an article by Jane Mayer, who reported 
that a psychologist named James Mitchell had suggested using severe 
interrogation techniques against Al Qaeda suspects. Later a complaint 
about Mr. Mitchell was made to the ethics office, which conducted a 
search that found three members named James Mitchell in the database — 
and that’s where the investigation ended. It turns out one of the James 
Mitchells in the database was indeed the psychologist mentioned in Ms. 
Mayer’s article, but no action was taken against him.

In 2007 a complaint was made against Col. Larry C. James, who served as 
chief Army psychologist at Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib. The complaint 
alleged that Colonel James’s public statements denying the use of 
certain harsh interrogation techniques were untrue, and included 
references to those remarks. But the investigation was stymied because 
the articles cited were behind subscription paywalls at The New York 
Times and The Wall Street Journal, so the assigned investigator did not 
view them.

The Hoffman review also examines claims that high-profile psychologists, 
like Philip Zimbardo and Martin Seligman, might have cooperated with the 
military in designing its torture program. The review found little 
evidence to support those allegations.

Mr. Zimbardo acknowledged giving a talk to a small group at the CIA but 
said that was the extent of his involvement.

Mr. Seligman met with CIA psychologists at his home to talk about his 
theory of learned helplessness, an idea that was incorporated into the 
government’s torture program. He also met with CIA psychologists several 
times after that and gave a lecture at the Navy’s Survival, Evasion, 
Resistance, and Escape training school, known as SERE. But Mr. Seligman 
said that the theory was discussed as it related to captured Americans, 
not the interrogation of suspected terrorists.

The Hoffman review raises an eyebrow at Mr. Seligman’s defense: "On 
balance, it seems difficult to believe that Seligman did not at least 
suspect that the CIA was interested in his theories, at least in part, 
to consider how they could be used in interrogations."

In an email to The Chronicle, Mr. Seligman wrote that he is "grieved and 
horrified that scientific findings about learned helplessness" were used 
to torture detainees. "I have never and would never abet such 
activities," he wrote.

None of the APA officials contacted over the weekend replied to requests 
for interviews.

Tom Bartlett is a senior writer who covers science and other things. 
Follow him on Twitter @tebartl.

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