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Psychologist and Health Provider Complicity in Torture

Time for an Independent Investigation of the Ties Between the APA and the Defense Establishment

by COALITION For An ETHICAL PSYCHOLOGY

The COALITION for an ETHICAL PSYCHOLOGY today calls for an independent and unbiased investigation into possible collusion between top APA leadership and the Bush administration’s Defense Department and CIA. Newly released emails from the American Psychological Association’s (APA) task force on Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS) posted on the ProPublica web site today raise serious concerns regarding the role of the APA in providing cover for the Bush Administration abusive interrogation program. The emails suggest collusion between the APA and the Defense Department to create an ethics policy consistent with the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memos authorizing torture:

"’We can now see that the APA provided a platform to rewrite APA ethics policy for psychologists who were aware of, and possibly involved in, these abusive interrogation processes,’ said Steven Reisner, founding member of the COALITION for an ETHICAL PSYCHOLOGY. “The APA undermined 2000 years of medical ethics by giving its imprimatur to policy derived from secret interrogation manuals.”

The newly released Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) report provides dramatic confirmation of what last week’s release of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memos made clear: that the Bush administration’s program of detainee abuse and torture depended crucially upon the profession of psychology and individual psychologists for its implementation and legal justification. The SASC report documents that at CIA black sites and at Guantanamo, psychologists helped design and implement the SERE-based abusive interrogation techniques, constituting cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and often crossing the line into torture. The SASC report reveals, for example, that as early as March 2002, psychologist Bruce Jessen, who introduced water-boarding and other SERE techniques into CIA interrogations, began “ad-hoc ‘crash’ training courses” to bring abusive techniques to Guantánamo. Psychologist Gary Percival continued the training. And psychologist Col. Morgan Banks, while arguing against physical torture, nonetheless trained the Guantanamo BSCTs in the uses of SERE techniques in preparation for detainee interrogations. Following that training, SASC has reported that BSCT psychologist John Leso advocated for and helped implement abusive techniques, including “psychological stressors such as sleep deprivation, withholding food, isolation, and loss of time.”  Leso is known to have participated in the interrogation of Mohammed al-Qahtani, an interrogation recently described as meeting the legal definition of “torture” by Susan Crawford, the Pentagon official appointed by President Bush to coordinate the military commission trials.

Last week’s release of the OLC memos also confirmed the central role psychologists and physicians played in providing legal cover for the abusive interrogation techniques. The memos assert that the techniques ostensibly do not violate torture statutes because they do not cause “lasting mental harm;” in fact, the memos argue, the presence of trained health professionals guarantees against such harm. The memos go further, asserting that should harm occur, CIA operatives would be indemnified against prosecution because they could rely on a good faith defense: “Good faith may be established by, among other things, the reliance on the advice of experts.”

For years the American Psychological Association has fully endorsed such a role for psychologists in aiding national security interrogations, stating “psychologists have a critical role in keeping interrogations safe, legal, ethical, and effective,” The phrase, taken from instructions to BSCTs distributed to the PENS task force by Col. Morgan Banks, was included in the Task Force Report, written during the task force meeting by the APA’s Ethics Director, Dr. Stephen Behnke. Behnke, an observer to the PENS process, wrote the first draft of the report within four hours of the start of the 2 ½ day meeting.

Chief Army SERE psychologist, Morgan Banks was one of six military and intelligence psychologists on the nine-member task force. Four of these PENS members served in chains of command accused of abuses, including the CIA Counter Terrorism Center, JPRA’s SERE program, the Joint Intelligence Group at Guantánamo, and detention facilities in Afghanistan. In spite of their knowledge of widespread implementation of interrogation protocols based on abusive SERE techniques, none of the military or intelligence members of the Task force acknowledged any coercive or stressful interrogations now known to have occurred at Guantanamo, in the CIA black sites, and elsewhere in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not one of the psychologists described in these reports whose command participated in these abuses reported the abuse or refused to participate. Instead, these psychologists simply denied that abuse was taking place. For example, Col. Larry James stated on the PENS listserv: “the fact of the matter is that since Jan 2003, where ever we have had psychologists no abuses have been reported .” Col. James was Chief Psychologist for the Joint Intelligence Group, Guantánamo during a period when SERE-style abuses were widely reported.

The PENS report includes a citation of APA ethics standard 1.02 which essentially wrote the Nuremberg defense – “I was just following orders” – into the ethics code. The standard, added to the ethics code in 2002, asserts that a psychologist may follow military regulation or law when these conflict with ethical obligations.

“The Nuremberg defense, and related research ethics problems must be removed from the ethics code if psychology as a profession is to stand on a clear moral foundation. Otherwise ethics will just remain a cover for abuse,” stated Dr. Stephen Soldz, of the COALITION for an ETHICAL PSYCHOLOGY.

The listerve further shows that soon after the task force report was finalized, two military members of the task force  [Morgan Banks and Larry James] along with JPRA/SERE psychologist Debra Dunivin brought the PENS report to the Surgeon General of the Army, Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley. Kiley attached the PENS report to BSCT standard operating procedures he issued in 2006.

From the intelligence side, in 2003 the APA collaborated with CIA officials from the Counter Terrorism Center, responsible for the SERE-based enhanced interrogation (torture) program, in organizing a 2003 workshop on the Science of Deception. James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, the chief former SERE psychologists who reportedly designed and implemented the CIA’s interrogation program were present at this invitation-only workshop. The workshop discussed such topics as the use of drugs and sensory overload in overcoming deception.

The close collaboration between APA Defense Department and CIA officials raises serious concerns about possible direct collusion with APA leaders to provide the ethical cover required to keep psychologists involved in this process – of certifying that interrogations were “safe, legal, and ethical” (as required by the OLC memos). Every effort was made during the PENS process to keep the final report consistent with military and administration policy. Thus, when the three non-military members of the Task force raised issues of human rights for detainees, the Chair of the Task force (who was Vice-chair of the APA ethics committee) made clear that the Task force was not to contradict military policy: “[W]e discussed the role of human rights standards for the document, and it seems that our colleagues from the military were clear that including such standards in the document would likely (perhaps definitely) put the document at odds with United States law and military regulations.”

The COALITION for an ETHICAL PSYCHOLOGY is joining the call of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, Physicians for Human Rights, and others for an independent, unbiased investigation to examine the nature of any collaboration and coordination between the top APA leadership and Bush administration Defense Department and CIA officials. The Coalition also supports calls for a non-partisan commission to examine detainee abuse, including the central roles of psychologists and other health providers in designing, implementing, and legitimizing recent detainee abuse. We further call for ethics sanctions, including loss of professional licenses, and possible criminal prosecution for all health providers found to have participated in torture or abuse.

“The future of psychology as a profession dedicated to helping people depends on investigating and seeking accountability for the assistance provided by some of our colleagues to the horrific abuses committed by our country” said Coalition co-founder Stephen Soldz. “We cannot ignore that the leadership of our professional association may have aided those abuses. In order to build a more humane future, we must look back and see where and how some members of our profession went so terribly wrong.”

The COALITION for an ETHICAL PSYCHOLOGY is dedicated to putting psychology on a firm ethical foundation in support of social justice and human rights. The Coalition has been in the lead of efforts to remove psychologists from torture and abusive interrogations.

Contacts:

Stephen Soldz, Ph.D.
ssoldz@bgsp.edu

Steven Reisner, Ph.D.
drreisner@gmail.com.