Other Shoe Drops In CIA-Psychological Association Torture Conspiracy

That sound you hear — or in all likelihood didn’t hear at all — is the other shoe dropping in the scandal involving the secret collaboration between the American Psychological Association and the Bush administration to justify the CIA’s use of Nazi-like torture techniques.

The first shoe dropped in April when a group of dissident health-care professionals and human rights activists released a scathing report stating that the APA had tossed ethical concerns aside and created an association ethics policy on national security interrogations which conveniently comported with then-classified legal guidance authorizing the CIA torture program in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks.  This secret deal in turn enabled the Justice Department to argue in secret legal opinions that the program — since revealed to be ineffective, constitutionally dubious, in violation of the Geneva Conventions and deeply damaging to America’s standing abroad — was legal and did not constitute torture, since the interrogations were being monitored by APA-approved health-care professionals to make sure they were safe.

The APA, the nation’s largest professional organization for psychologists, denied in responding to the report that it had coordinated its actions with the government, which was not surprising since the group’s hierarchy — if not necessarily its rank and file –had been in denial about its complicity for years.

The second shoe dropped last Friday night when official Washington and much of the press corps had decamped for the weekend.  In a scathing report growing out of an investigation by a team led by a former federal prosecutor undertaken at the request of the APA’s no-longer-in-denial board, it found that:

  • Some of the APA’s top officials, including its ethics director, cynically “colluded” with Pentagon officials by keeping the association’s ethics policies in line with the Defense Department’s interrogation policies.
  • Several prominent outside psychologists aided the CIA’s interrogation program and helped protect it from dissent from professionals inside the agency’s own Office of Medical Services who raised objections over the interrogation techniques, objections that were covered up by the government.
  • Two former APA presidents were on a CIA advisory committee and one of them gave the agency an opinion that sleep deprivation did not constitute torture.  This individual later held a small ownership stake in a consulting company founded by two men who oversaw the agency’s interrogation program.

The APA assembled a task force in 2005 to study concerns over the CIA torture program that was dominated by national security insiders who, of course, concluded that psychologists could assist in the brutal interrogations.

The association’s ethics office “prioritized the protection of psychologists — even those who might have engaged in unethical behavior — above the protection of the public,” the report stated.

“The evidence supports the conclusion that APA officials colluded with DOD officials to, at the least, adopt and maintain APA ethics policies that were not more restrictive than the guidelines that key DOD officials wanted.  The APA chose its ethics policy based on its goals of helping DOD, managing its PR, and maximizing the growth of the profession.”

Some context is helpful:

The White House, CIA and FBI were unprepared for the 9/11 attacks despite warnings that they were imminent because they failed to take seriously the threat to the homeland that Al Qaeda represented.  Intelligence officials, goaded by Bush administration official who prior to the attacks had been content to continue fighting the Cold War although the Soviet Union had collapsed a decade earlier, were desperate to head off new attacks and this spawned the collaboration between the APA and Pentagon, which was willing to pay big bucks for experts who could give the new torture program a veneer of legitimacy.

Both reports are chockablock with analogies that call to mind the machinations of officials in the torture regime of Hitler’s Third Reich to create a veneer of respectability for their vile deeds in documenting how the Bush administration, in response to shocking photos of the abuse of prisoners by American military personnel at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2004, sough to salvage the hitherto secret torture program initiated under the guise of fighting the so-called War on Terror.

The CIA program, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee report released in December, included waterboarding, imprisoning detainees in small boxes, slapping and punching them, depriving them of sleep for as long as a week, and sometimes telling them that they would be killed, their children maimed and their mothers sexually assaulted.  Some detainees were subjected to medically unnecessary “rectal feeding” — a technique that the CIA.’s chief of interrogations described as a way to exert “total control over the detainee.”   The interrogations were carried out at so-called black site — prisons around the world where suspects were held secretly for years.

There is overwhelming evidence that the use of torture was ineffective nor, despite claims to the contrary did it lead to locating and killing Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.

In response to the second report, former APA President Nadine Kaslow said in a statement that “The actions, policies and lack of independence from government influence described in the report represented a failure to live up to our core values.  We profoundly regret and apologize for the behavior and the consequences that ensued.”

The APA said it was now considering proposals to prohibit psychologists from participating in interrogations and to modify its ethics policies.

Physicians for Human Rights called on the Justice Department to begin a criminal investigation into the APA’s role.  “As mental health professionals, our first obligation must be to our patients,” said Dr. Kerry Sulkowicz, a psychiatrist and the vice chairman of the board of Physicians for Human Rights.  “The APA’s collusion with the government’s national security apparatus is one of the greatest scandals in U.S. medical history.”

The Obama administration has refused to prosecute the torturers, let alone Bush administration enablers, and only one CIA official has been prosecuted — a former employee who in protest went public with details about the program.

* * * * *

Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés and I discussed the issue of members of the “healing profession,” as she calls it, collaborating in unethical and unlawful government conduct in 2008.  Dr. E is a psychoanalyst who has been in clinical practice for over 40 years and specializes in post-trauma recovery, often including veterans, as well as being a poet and bestselling author whose books have been published in 32 languages.

A reprint of our dialogue is here.  An index of eight years of torture-related posts is here.


Editor’s Note: This essay originally appeared on July 12, 2015, on Kiko’s House, a website featuring commentary by journalist and author, Shaun Mullen.  It was reproduced here with the consent of Mr. Mullen.

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