The report is the first to examine the American Psychological Association’s role in the CIA’s so-called enhanced-interrogation program.
WASHINGTON — The American Psychological Association (APA) secretly collaborated with the administration of President George W. Bush to bolster a legal and ethical justification for the torture of prisoners swept up in the post-Sept. 11 war on terrorism, according to a new report by a group of dissident health professionals and human-rights activists.
The report is the first to examine the association’s role in the interrogation program. It contends, using newly disclosed emails, that the group’s actions to keep psychologists involved in the interrogation program coincided with efforts by senior Bush administration officials to salvage the program after the public disclosure in 2004 of graphic photos of prisoner abuse by U.S. military personnel at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
“The APA secretly coordinated with officials from the CIA, White House and the Department of Defense to create an APA ethics policy on national-security interrogations which comported with then-classified legal guidance authorizing the CIA-torture program,” the report’s authors conclude.
The involvement of health professionals in the Bush-era interrogation program was significant because it enabled the Justice Department to argue in secret opinions that the program was legal and did not constitute torture, since the interrogations were being monitored by health professionals to make sure they were safe.
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The interrogation program has since been shut down, and last year the Senate Intelligence Committee issued a detailed report that described the program as ineffective and abusive.
Rhea Farberman, an APA spokeswoman, denied the group had coordinated its actions with the government. There “has never been any coordination between APA and the Bush administration on how APA responded to the controversies about the role of psychologists in the interrogations program,” she said.
The Bush administration relied more heavily on psychologists than psychiatrists or other health professionals to monitor many interrogations, at least in part because the psychological association was supportive of the involvement of psychologists in interrogations, a senior Pentagon official said publicly in 2006.
The American Psychological Association “clearly supports the role of psychologists in a way our behavioral-science consultants operate,” said Dr. William Winkenwerder, then the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, describing why the Pentagon relied more on psychologists than psychiatrists at the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. “The American Psychiatric Association, on the other hand, I think had a great deal of debate about that, and there were some who were less comfortable with that.”
By June 2004, the Bush administration’s torture program was in trouble. The public disclosure of the images of prisoners being abused at the Abu Ghraib prison earlier that year prompted an intense debate about the way the United States was treating detainees, leading to new scrutiny of the CIA’s so-called enhanced-interrogation program, which included sleep deprivation and waterboarding, or simulated drowning. Congress and the news media were starting to ask questions, and there were new doubts about whether the program was legal.
On June 4, 2004, the CIA director, George Tenet, signed a secret order suspending the agency’s use of the enhanced techniques, while asking for a policy review to make sure the program still had the Bush administration’s backing.
“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,” Tenet wrote in a memo that has since been declassified.
At that critical moment, the American Psychological Association took action that its critics now say helped the troubled interrogation program.
In June 2004, a senior official with the association, the nation’s largest professional organization for psychologists, issued an invitation to a carefully selected group of psychologists and behavioral scientists inside the government to a private meeting to discuss the crisis and the role of psychologists in the interrogation program.
Psychologists from the CIA and other agencies met with association officials in July, and by the next year the association issued guidelines that reaffirmed that it was acceptable for its members to be involved in the interrogation program.
To emphasize their argument that the association grew too close to the interrogation program, the critics’ new report cites a 2003 email from a senior psychologist at the CIA to a senior official at the psychological association.
In the email, the CIA psychologist appears to be confiding in the association official about the work of James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, the private contractors from Spokane who developed and helped run the enhanced-interrogation program at the CIA’s secret prisons around the world.
In the email, written years before the involvement of the two contractors in the interrogation program was made public, the CIA psychologist explains to the association official that the contractors “are doing special things to special people in special places.”
More than a decade later, the association’s actions during that critical time are coming under new scrutiny. Last November, the association’s board ordered an independent review of the organization’s role in the interrogation program. That review, led by David Hoffman, a Chicago lawyer, is under way.
“We have been given a mandate by the APA to be completely independent in our investigation, and that is how we have been conducting our inquiry,” Hoffman said. “We continue to gather evidence and talk with witnesses and expect to complete the investigation later this spring.”
The three lead authors of the report are longtime and outspoken critics of the association: Stephen Soldz, a clinical psychologist and professor at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis; Steven Reisner, a clinical psychologist and member of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology; and Nathaniel Raymond, the director of the Signal Program on Human Security and Technology at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, and the former director of the campaign against torture at Physicians for Human Rights.