2015: Independent Review Censures APA & its Ethics Guidelines

In July 2015, a devastating 542-page report, Independent Review Relating to APA Ethics Guidelines, National Security Investigations, and Torture, by David Hoffman, a former federal prosecutor who is an attorney with a Chicago law firm, revealed the magnitude of what has been called, “the greatest ethical breaches in the history of psychology.” Hoffman’s report refutes a decade of denials by the American Psychological Association that it collaborated with the US military and the CIA.

The report confirms what critics for over a decade have contended; namely, that the leadership of the American Psychological Association (APA) “colluded” and worked hand-in-glove with the military and the CIA. To accommodate the government, APA loosened its professional ethics guidelines, thereby providing a green light for APA psychologists to take an active role in refining, devising and testing various experimental torture techniques on suspected Al Qaeda detainees. (Read an excellent series of articles about the report findings in the UK Guardian (July 2015)  here, here, here (Read also extensive posts on AHRP CIA Torture Experiments section)

APA leadership took covert measures to loosen APA’s code of ethics to curry favor with the government. APA disregarded its members’ appeals against collaboration with the military and intelligence agencies in a morally despicable enterprise; APA rejected media reports about psychologists’ complicity in torture; APA suppressed internal dissent from conscientious doctors and psychologists; APA cleared members who engaged in ethical breaches by devising and providing guidance in the application of cruel and inhumane torture techniques. But APA portrayed itself as having a consistent position against abuse and against involvement in torture.

But as the Hoffman report leaves no doubt about the penetration of corrupt practices at the highest levels that precipitated a major moral crisis.

Joseph Matarazzo former APA President / CIA

Joseph Matarazzo former APA President / CIA

“Two former presidents of the APA were on a C.I.A. advisory committee, the report found. [Joseph Matarazzo] gave the agency an opinion that sleep deprivation did not constitute torture, and later held a small ownership stake in a consulting company founded by two men who oversaw the agency’s interrogation program.

“The report is by far the most detailed look yet into the crucial roles played by behavioral scientists, especially top officials at the American Psychological Association and some of the most prominent figures in the profession, in the interrogation programs. It also shows that the collaboration was much more extensive than was previously known.” (James Risen. Outside Psychologists Shielded U.S. Torture ProgramThe New York Times, July 2015)

Such blatant conflicts of interest undermined the professional integrity of the APA and precipitated a major moral crisis that has been compared to Tuskegee: “There is little doubt that the APA’s actions will go down in history books next to the chapter on the Tuskegee and Guatemalan syphilis experiments.”  (Stephen Soldz, cited by David Elkins in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 2015)

Hoffman discovered that even medics within the CIA were concerned about the ethics of the interrogation program and sought to distance themselves from engaging in such interrogations. Hoffman reports that one witness stated that doctors and psychologists in CIA’s Office of Medical Services (OMS) “were not on board with what was going on regarding interrogations.” Terrence DeMay, head of OMS berated James Mitchell for his involvement in the interrogation program. His complaints “led to substantial dispute within the CIA.” The FBI disengaged completely.

The most damning findings in the Hoffman report show that the APA Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS) was created to provide a shield to the government after revelations about the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” were publicly exposed. The PENS task force — six of the nine voting members who wrote the ethics guidelines had consulting relationships with the DOD or CIA. Furthermore, one former APA president owned a financial stake in the consulting company that oversaw the CIA interrogation program.

The three non-military members of the task force did not know that the APA Ethics Director and others were secretly consulting on a regular basis with DOD officials to ensure that the PENS guidelines would place no significant restrictions on the interrogation (i.e., torture) program and techniques.

The government hoped to quell this internal resistance, by enlisting the support of the APA. An editorial in the journal, Nature notes that since 1917, the U.S. military has been a friend to the APA. The defense department employs more than 700 psychologists and it was a key ally in the 1980s endorsing psychologists’ efforts to obtain prescribing authority for drugs..

The panel adopted the unprecedented definition applied by the Bush administration to determine what constitutes “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.” The PENS ethics guidelines gave psychologists a green light to work in the military and in national security settings by disingenuously claiming that the presence of psychologists ensures that interrogations were “safe, ethical, and effective.”

(Read APA PENS Ethics Policy “saves” government torture policy)

APA pact with DevilThis calculated undermining of professional ethics is unprecedented in the history of US medical practice and shows how the CIA torture program corrupted other institutions in our society.” Donna McKay, the executive director of Physicians for Human Rights (PHR)

Steve Behnke APA Ethics chief

Steve Behnke APA Ethics chief

The Hoffman report identifies the primary culprits:
Stephen Behnke, APA’s ethics director since 2000. who was a defense department contractor, is named as a primary culprit in maneuvering the APA toward loosening its opposition to torture while denying doing any such thing. According to the report, Behnke, undertook “extensive behind-the-scenes efforts to manipulate” APA’s council of representatives “in an effort to undermine attempts to keep psychologists from being involved in national security interrogations.

Hoffman found that Behnke ghostwrote statements opposing APA member motions to rebuke torture; was involved in voter irregularity on motion passage; spiked ethics complaints; and took other actions to suppress complaints and stifle dissent.

The Hoffman report names other senior APA officials who were implicated in torture:
Longtime CEO, Norman Anderson, Michael Honaker, Deputy CEO, and Rhea Farberman, APA’s communications director for 22 years.

Norman Anderson CEO APA

Norman Anderson CEO APA

On July 14, 2015, the APPA announced “retirements and resignations” of these four officials.
Farberman insisted to the press that the APA had taken a consistent position against torture. She told the Guardian: “A thorough review of these public materials and our standing policies will clearly demonstrate that APA will not tolerate psychologist participation in torture.”Rhea_Farberman_APA Torture

Following the forced departure of Behnke, he retained Louis J Freeh, Bill Clinton’s FBI director, who now runs a risk management firm, who called the Hoffman report “a gross mischaracterization” of the “intentions, goals and actions” of Stephen Behnke. He did not deny any of the specific facts outlined in the report.

Freeh blasted the APA as complicit, self-serving, and sacrificing Behnke as a convenient scapegoat –without ever mentioning the word torture. Freeh threatened unspecified legal action on Behnke’s behalf.

The Hoffman report notes:

“For the APA officials who played the lead role in these actions, their principal motive was to curry favor with the Defense Department for two main reasons: because of the very substantial benefits that DoD had conferred and continued to confer on psychology as a profession, and because APA wanted a favorable result from the critical policy DoD was in the midst of developing that would determine whether and how deeply psychologists could remain involved in intelligence activities.”

Following the departure of the four APA officials, Stephen Soldz, a longtime APA critic on torture affiliated with Physicians for Human Rights, said: “This is a major step toward reforming the APA and the profession. I hope it is only the beginning of change. The selection of the right CEO will be crucial.

However, it remains to be seen whether these are the only APA officials to step down

Norman Anderson - Barry Anton Outgoing-Incoming APA CEO

Norman Anderson – Barry Anton Outgoing-Incoming APA CEO

Barry Anton, the APA’s current president, is also listed in the “Key Players” section of the report. Anton is said to have “participated in the selection” of members of a critical task force on psychologist involvement in torture that was stacked with US defense department officials.

Steven Miles, MD, s a professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School, a board member of the Center for Victims of Torture, and author of Oath Betrayed: America’s Torture Doctors. In an article in the Guardian (2015) Dr. Miles wrote:

“a policy document intended to justify and protect psychologists who designed and oversaw interrogation by torture to break prisoners down, despite laws and professional ethics designed to prevent exactly that behavior. The core of the APA position – which was appended to DOD policies – was that psychologists worked for interrogators and had no responsibility for the health of prisoners.With this cover, psychologists went far beyond “psychological torture”: they oversaw waterboarding, joint-distorting stress positions and the use of military dogs that lunged at and bit prisoners. Behavioral Science Consultation Teams carefully recorded the effects of interrogation “approaches” with names like “fear up harsh” and “ego down” and suggested how to amend these approaches to induce prisoners to exhaustion and compliance.

The APA-DOD-CIA plan succeeded at two of its three aims. It destroyed prisoners and it protected torture psychologists from punishment by licensing boards and from the APA itself.

the devastating effects of US torture persist. Prisoners were injured; most, by the government’s own reckoning, were innocent or ignorant. Government personnel who tortured were traumatized. The United States destroyed a 60-year framework of international law against torture when it asserted that “national emergency” and “executive order” could void the laws against torture – a view that is sweet music to dictators around the world.

And because of the APA’s collusion with the government and the lack of accountability for doctors who assisted with torture, the credibility of the United States medical and psychological associations’ challenges against colleagues who torture in other countries has been destroyed by unwillingness to convict, de-license or even censure torture the United States’ torture clinicians. The ability of United States medical and psychological associations to speak on behalf of the simple proposition “do no harm” has been silenced by the APA’s silent, shameful complicity with torture. “ (Psychologists’ Collusion With US Torture, July 11, 2015)

After the highly critical Hoffman report was made public, the APA issued an apology by former APA president Nadine Kaslow:
The actions, policies and 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.
In response to the report, at its 2015 convention in Toronto the APA Council of Representatives voted overwhelmingly– 156 to 1, with 7 abstentions and 1 recusal — to pass a resolution prohibiting APA members from taking part in US military and national security interrogations. The resolution states:
 “psychologists “shall not conduct, supervise, be in the presence of, or otherwise assist any national security interrogations for any military or intelligence entities, including private contractors working on their behalf, nor advise on conditions of confinement insofar as these might facilitate such an interrogation”;
And it redefines the term “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” (CIDTP) in the 2006 and 2013 Council resolutions in accordance with the UN Convention Against Torture (rather than with the 1994 U.S. Reservations to this treaty, which were co-opted
by the Bush administration to justify harsh interrogation techniques) to ensure it provides protections to everyone, everywhere, including foreign detainees held outside of the United States;
However, the search committee appointed by APA’s board of directors, included three people who were criticized in the Hoffman report for their role in subverting the ethics code. One of the three is president and CEO of a company that has major military contracts with the national security and intelligence establishment. (Elkins, 2015) Outraged APA members mobilized and formed a Steering Committee of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, which resulted in a changed composition of the search committee.
APA’s integrity is still a long way from being salvaged. Its sullied reputation may never recover.
The report garnered attacks from psychologists with a direct vested interest in their continued involvement in such operations — including torture. They participated in abusive, inhumane interrogations at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, and their careers and spheres of influence benefited directly from these immoral activities. (Read Stephen Soldz and Steven Reisner. Attacks on Hoffman Report From Military Psychologists Obfuscate Detainee Abuse, Counter Punch, Jan. 2016)
As for the government, so far, there is no indication from the justice department that it intends to revisit the politically fraught question of legal accountability for torture. The defense department continues to assign psychologists to Guantanamo; and the White House has made no public comment.
Excellent series of articles in the UK Guardian series by Spencer Ackerman:
US psychology body declines to rebuke member in Guantánamo torture case
, January 9, 2014;
CIA torture appears to have broken spy agency rule on human experimentation, June 15, 2015
US torture doctors could face charges after report alleges post-9/11 ‘collusion’ July 11, 2015;
Psychologist accused of enabling US torture backed by former FBI chief, July 12, 2015;  
Three senior officials lose their jobs at APA after US torture scandal, July 14, 2015;
Psychologists’ collusion with US torture limited our ability to decry it anywhere by Steven Miles, MD, Guardian, July 11, 2015;
The American Psychological Association and the Hoffman Report by David Elkins, Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 2015
Lessons must be learned after psychology torture inquiry, Editorial, Nature, July 2016
Outside Psychologists Shielded U.S. Torture Program by James Risen The New York Times, July 10, 2015