Dec. 2001: American Psychological Association Collusion Facilitates the use of Torture

In December 2001, a small group of professors and law enforcement and intelligence officers gathered outside Philadelphia at the home of a prominent psychologist, Martin E. P. Seligman, to brainstorm about Muslim extremism. Seligman is most famous for his work in the 1960s in which he was able to psychologically destroy caged dogs by subjecting them to repeated electric shocks with no hope of escape. The dogs broke down completely and ultimately they would not attempt to escape through an open cage door when given the opportunity to avoid more pain. Seligman called the phenomenon “learned helplessness.” These cruel experiment were conducted at the University of Pennsylvania.

Among the participants at Seligman’s home was psychologist James Mitchell, who attended with a C.I.A. psychologist, Kirk M. Hubbard. The meeting may have inspired the course of the brutal interrogation methods used to break prisoners psychologically by producing helplessness.

The same month, the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Board Resolution on Terrorism endorses APA lobbying “at congressional and executive levels for increased use of behavioral experts and behavioral knowledge in dealing with both the threat and impact of terrorism” and “Encourages increased support for behavioral research that will produce greater understanding of the roots of terrorism and the methods to defeat it, including earlier identification of terrorists and the prevention of the development of terrorism and its related activities.” (Coalition for Ethical Psychology Timeline)

Of note, the APA website has scrubbed many of its internal documents about its involvement with torture.