A “Smoking Gun” e-mail archive documents collusion by American Psychological Association

In 2014, Pulitzer Prize winner, James Risen provided insider documentation for APA’s backroom collusion in his book, Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War. Risen’s source is a treasure trove of internal e-mail correspondence documenting the secret backroom collusion between APA’s leadership and officials in the CIA, Pentagon, and the White House. The emails (excerpts reproduced in the book) serve as a veritable “smoking gun” showing

“for the first time the degree to which behavioral science experts from within the government’s national security apparatus played roles in shaping the PENS task force. They show that APA officials were secretly working behind the scenes with CIA and Pentagon officials to discuss how to shape the organization’s position to be supportive of psychologists involved in interrogations – long before the task force was even formed.” (p.197)

The emails contradict years of APA public pronouncements denying its collusion; they show who the key players were who ensured that APA policies were in sync with CIA, military intelligence, & White House priorities. The e-mails belonged to Scott Gerwehr, a Rand Corp. research analyst and CIA contractor who specialized in “deception detection.” After 9/11, he became a close ongoing collaborator on issues related to national security and interrogations research with an insider group of “national security psychologists who had influence behind the scenes at key institutions throughout Washington.”

Scott Gerwehr collaborated closely with Susan Brandon, PhD, APA’s former “Senior Scientist” whose entire career was focused on “deception detection.” Brandon was Chief of Research and Behavioral Science adviser at the White House, when she was one of the “silent observers” at the PENS Task Force; Kirk Hubbard, CIA’s chief behavioral scientist, who had recommended James Mitchell to the CIA; Geoff Mumford, APA’s director of science policy; and Stephen Behnke, APA’s ethics director.

The e-mails document how they worked in tandem, and organized invitation-only meetings and a conference titled Science of Deception; Integration of Practice & Theory (2003) bringing together psychologists – researchers and operatives – to collaborate. James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, the architects of CIA’s torture protocol were among the operatives present at these invitation-only meetings.

A pattern of accommodation lent a veneer of legitimacy to the government’s clandestine torturous interrogations. APA’s pattern of accommodation to CIA and military-intelligence priorities was shaped by the collusion of high ranking APA officials with these agencies; and that covert pattern of accommodation has led to the codified erosion of APA’s professional code of ethics, in 2002 and again in 2005. Within days after the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) secretly issued the infamous torture memos (August 1, 2002) redefining torture and disengaging from core international ethics standards, the APA rushed to bend its professional rules of ethics. (Read A 10-year Timeline “Psychology, Torture and the APA” Complete Timeline here)

APA amended section 1.02 to its code to permit psychologists to participate in non-consensual experiments in which instruments of torture are tested; and to permit psychologists to ignore the other provisions of the code of ethics when these provisions conflict with “law, regulations, or other governing legal authority.” (Presumably, “other legal authority” refers to the military.) The Office of Legal Counsel and the APA both sought to lend a veneer of legitimacy to torture and to non-consensual human experiments in torture. (The OLC torture memos were concealed from the public until 2009).

It is chilling and noteworthy that the “legal authority” defense crafted by the U.S. Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel and by the American Psychological Association is precisely the defense invoked by the Nazi doctors at Nuremberg who claimed that they had “followed legal authority.” The American tribunal rejected that defense.

“Facing charges that their participation as health care professionals had provided both expertise and a veneer of legitimacy to a process that involved violations of basic human rights, many health professionals claimed that they were neither responsible nor accountable for their acts. They had acted under laws, regulations, and governmental authority that shielded them from personal responsibilities and accountability. They were “just following the law” or “just following orders.” The judgments at Nuremberg and world opinion refused to accept this reasoning.” (Pope and Gutheil. Psychologists Abandon the Nuremberg Ethic, International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 2009

It is noteworthy as well, that in January 2003, CIA’s Chief of Interrogations, Scott Shumate, was so repulsed by the brutality of the interrogation procedures that he sent an e-mail to CIA colleagues stating that the relentlessly brutal treatment of prisoners was “a train wreck waiting to happen and I intend to get the hell of the train before it happens.” He indicated that he advised his bosses that he had ”serious reservations” about the program and no longer wanted to be associated with it “in any way.” (Scott Shane, NYT, 2014) The brutality evidently did not repulse APA’s leaders when they became aware of it; their concern was to provide a seal of legitimacy.

In April 2004, the world was shocked to learn about the sadistic abuse at Abu Ghraib. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld assured the American public that the abuse shown in the pictures were the acts of only a few “bad apples.” The public had as yet no knowledge about a series of authoritative, confidential reports issued in 2004 following internal investigations by the Defense Department and the CIA. They include:

The Military Police Brigade’s “Taguba Report” (Feb. 2004) documented “sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses” at Abu Ghraib; the CIA Inspector General Review (May, 2004) reported the use of “improvised, inhumane, and undocumented detention and interrogation techniques.” Another two reports were issued by the International Committee of the Red Cross; Report on the Treatment… of Prisoners of War (Feb. 2004); and Report on the Treatment of Guantanamo Detainees. (Nov. 2004).

The content of these highly critical reports was tightly concealed from the public for years; they corroborated independent investigative journalist reports about ghastly U.S. torture operations at both CIA and Defense Department “black sites” and at Guantanamo. The reports confirmed that the sadistic abuse documented in the Abu Ghraib pictures was not the isolated action of a few “bad apples.” Brutal psychological and physical torture techniques were designed and primarily carried out by psychologists who specialized in behavioral science.

In the wake of the horrific Abu Ghraib revelations
Highest officials of the Bush Administration and their accomplices in the torture enterprise, scrambled to come up with legal cover for the policy. Recently declassified memos from CIA Director, George Tenet indicate that in response to public and congressional concern about the torture program following the CBS broadcast of the Abu Ghraib photos, Tenet issued his resignation on June 4, 2004 (effective July 11, 2004). He then signed a secret order that “suspended the use of interrogation techniques, enhanced or otherwise, until further notice.”

Tenet addressed the memo to National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, emphasizing just how high the stakes were during this period and how much conflict appears to have arisen among the Administration leadership. He asked for a policy review to make sure the program still had the Bush administration’s backing.

“Given all this increased scrutiny now upon us in the wake of treatment of prisoners in Iraq and all the questions the administration is being asked, I strongly believe that the administration needs to now review its previous legal and policy positions with respect to detainees to assure that we all speak in a united and unambiguous voice about the continued wisdom and efficacy of those positions in light of the current controversy.”

At this critical juncture, officials at the highest levels of the Bush administration were meeting to address the legality of the enhanced interrogation program:

“In a meeting on July 20, 2004, National Security Council principals, including the vice president, provided their authorization for the CIA to use its enhanced interrogation techniques… They also directed the Department of Justice to prepare a legal opinion on whether the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques were consistent with the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.” (All the President’s Psychologists, 2015) 

At the very same time, APA leaders were meeting with key national security psychologists from the CIA, and the White House, to plan the “Ethics and National Security” conference. APA’s Director of Science Policy, Geoffrey Mumford, and APA’s Ethics Director Stephen Behnke, invited officials from the CIA, the Pentagon and the White House to a secret luncheon meeting held on July 20, 2004. Whereas the public had no inkling, at that time, that psychologists were involved in torture operations, these APA officials, very likely, had knowledge about the content of those classified reports. And they were anxious to lend legitimacy to psychologists’ participation in those ghastly interrogations, should the public get wind of their role.

The invitation indicated that the APA wanted to take a “positive approach, in which we convey sensitivity to and appreciation of the important work mental health professionals are doing in the national security area…”  The invited guests included, Kirk Hubbard, CIA’s Chief Behavioral Psychologist; Kirk Kennedy from DoD, and Scott Gerwehr from RAND. The invitation stated that the purpose of the meeting was “to identify [ ] important questions, and to discuss how we as a national organization can better assist psychologists and other mental health professionals…” (Steven Reisner. CIA on the Couch, SLATE, 2014) The e-mailed invitation promised the invited participants to keep their identity secret and not to assess ethical behavior:

“I would like to emphasize that we will not advertise the meeting other than this letter to the individual invitees that we will not publish or otherwise make public the names of attendees or the substance of our discussions, and that in the meeting we will neither assess nor investigate the behavior of any specific individual or group.”  (Risen, Pay Any Price: Greed, Power… p.198)

As Risen indicates, APA’s leadership sought “advice and guidance” about how to address psychologists’ involvement in torture — not from within its membership — but from “psychologists and other behavioral science experts inside the government’s national security apparatus… The insiders were being given a chance to influence the APA’s stance before anyone else.” (Risen, p. 199)

The Senate Intelligence Committee Executive Summary (2014, of its classified report) cites a memorandum from the CIA Office of Medical Services (OMS) dated April 11, 2005, which reveals that when OMS personnel reviewed a draft opinion by the Justice Departments’ Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), they objected: “OMS personnel specifically protested being asked to define torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment (CIDT), a role they believed to lie outside their medical and scientific expertise.”

“OMS is not in the business of saying what is acceptable in causing discomfort to other human beings, and will not take on that burden…. OMS did not review or vet these techniques prior to their introduction, but rather came into this program with the understanding of your office and DOJ that they were already determined as legal, permitted and safe.” (p. 420)

The professionals at OMS had apparently reached an ethical limit on doing research on human subjects whose goal is to cause and/or measure harm. OMS professionals protested the role they were being asked to carry out because it was professionally inappropriate and unsuitable. CIA officials misrepresented OMS views because without their involvement the mantle of ethical legitimacy would vanish; and so would the legal justification for torture.

“The resistance of OMS staff to collecting and providing data on the techniques and guaranteeing that they were medically “safe” and did not constitute torture or [cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment] CIDT, meant the legal justification for the program was in jeopardy.” (All the President’s Psychologists ) 

APA “saves” the government’s torture program with PENS ethics policy
By the time of the PENS meeting (June 2005), the CIA program faced both external and internal legal, political, and operational conflicts. The OLC “torture memos written by Steven Bradbury re-authorizing the use of  torture (“enhanced” techniques) required monitoring and evaluation of their safety and efficacy. There was “widespread and secret complicity” by the APA particularly when the CIA torture program was threatened. All the President’s Psychologists underscores APA’s singularly  immoral position vis-a-vis other professional healthcare organizations:

“The complicity between APA and government entities appears to have directly influenced the APA ethics policy changes, codified into the June 2005 report of the APA’s Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS). The PENS report, in combination
with associated, past APA ethics code changes, permitted psychologists to take on the roles of monitoring and evaluating the safety and efficacy of the “enhanced” interrogation program.”

“The Task Force report explicitly recommends a psychologist research role in (a) evaluating the efficacy of the techniques, and (b) determining “what constitutes cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” (CIDT). This latter category of abuse, along with torture, is banned under domestic and international law. The report also endorses engaging in research to determine if there are “cultural differences” in the psychological impact of “information ­gathering” — a PENS euphemism for interrogation techniques.”

After successfully getting the APA PENS Task Force to endorse the continued involvement of psychologists in the interrogation program, and after the APA Board’s hasty approval, Geoffrey Mumford, APA’s Science Policy Director, sent a congratulatory e-mail dated July 2005, to a small number of behavioral scientists connected to the national security community who had been part of the PENS effort. Mumford thanked Kirk Hubbard, CIA’s Chief Behavioral Psychologist for helping to influence the outcome of the task force.

“I [  ] wanted to semi-publicly acknowledge your personal contribution… in getting this effort off the ground. Your views were well represented by very carefully selected task force members. I thought you and many of those copied here would be interested to know that A.P.A. grabbed the bull by the horn and released the report today.”

Mumford also noted that Susan Brandon had served as an “observer” at the PENS task force meetings and “helped craft some language related to research” for the task force report. (Risen. p. 200; Report Finds Collaboration, The New York Times, 2015)

The Geweher emails further reveal that — at the time of Mumford’s thank-you letter – Hubbard had retired from the CIA and was working directly for Mitchell Jessen and Associates, the company that was created by the two psychologists specifically for the purpose of testing their gruesome techniques. Between 2005 and 2009, the firm collected $81 million from the CIA.

Risen reports that psychologists who supported the White House and the CIA agenda “were showered with government money and benefits…For America’s psychologists, cooperation with interrogations was all about money and status, many critics argue.” (p. 196) Susan Brandon was awarded APA’s Presidential Citation (in 2005) in “recognition of her visionary efforts to promote the value of psychological and behavioral sciences as they apply to our counter-terrorism, homeland security, and national security interests.”

Risen and others who have examined the entire body of evidence suggest that the “enhanced interrogation” program was likely rescued by the willingness of the APA to go along with it.

Scott Gerwehr gave the email cache to Nathaniel Raymond, an investigative war reporter in whom he had confided that he worked as a contractor for the CIA detecting deception by detainees during interrogations; and that he had been at a secret CIA facility at Guantánamo in the summer of 2006, but left after the agency would not let him install cameras “like at the other facilities.” Scott Gerwehr died in a motorcycle accident in 2008.

Nathaniel Raymond analyzed these secret communications for the FBI; then shared them with Steven Risen. [They are now posted on The New York Times website. Raymond heads Harvard’s Program on Human Security and Technology. In Oct. 2014, Raymond responded to questions about APA’s collaboration with the CIA:

“I believe the APA’s collaboration with the CIA regarding the Bush-era interrogation program will eventually be recognized as one of the greatest scandals in the history of American medical ethics. Ethics educators will eventually teach about the APA’s co-option by the U.S. intelligence community in a similar way to how students are now taught about the Tuskegee experiments in the mid-twentieth century.”

We agree, but the collaboration has not ended with the Bush presidency; it is thriving under the Obama presidency.