[Marxism] What a Bombshell Report Tells Us About the APA’s Abetting of Torture
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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.
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
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
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
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
Tom Bartlett is a senior writer who covers science and other things.
Follow him on Twitter @tebartl.
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