Psychologists guilty of torture abuse

In May of this year, three Stephen Soldz (clinical psychologist and professor at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis), Steven Reisner (clinical psychologist and founding member of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology), and Nathaniel Raymond (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) issued a report that was highly critical of the complicity of the American Psychological Association in the torture practices of the Bush administration, providing it with the cover to claim that what it did was legal and ethical.

The APA went into immediate damage control mode and said that it was launching its own investigation. Now details of a new report have been leaked and it is damning.

The largest association of psychologists in the United States is on the brink of a crisis, the Guardian has learned, after an independent review revealed that medical professionals lied and covered up their extensive involvement in post-9/11 torture. The revelation, puncturing years of denials, has already led to at least one leadership firing and creates the potential for loss of licenses and even prosecutions.

For more than a decade, the American Psychological Association (APA) has maintained that a strict code of ethics prohibits its more than 130,000 members to aid in the torture of detainees while simultaneously permitting involvement in military and intelligence interrogations. The group has rejected media reporting on psychologists’ complicity in torture; suppressed internal dissent from anti-torture doctors; cleared members of wrongdoing; and portrayed itself as a consistent ally against abuse.

Now, a voluminous independent review conducted by a former assistant US attorney, David Hoffman, undermines the APA’s denials in full – and vindicates the dissenters.

Sources with knowledge of the report and its consequences, who requested anonymity to discuss the findings before public release, expected a wave of firings and resignations across the leadership of an organization that Hoffman finds used its extensive institutional links to the CIA and US military to facilitate abusive interrogations.

Several officials are likely to be sacked. Already out, a past APA president confirmed to the Guardian, is Stephen Behnke, the APA’s ethics chief and a leading figure in recasting its ethics guidelines in a manner conducive to interrogations that, from the start, relied heavily on psychologists to design and implement techniques like waterboarding.

But the reckoning with psychologists’ institutional complicity in torture may not stop there.

Evidence in the Hoffman report, sources believe, may merit referral to the FBI over potential criminal wrongdoing by the APA involvement in torture. The findings could reopen something human rights groups have urged for years: the potential for prosecutions of people involved in torture. The definition of “collusion” adopted by Hoffman is said to be similar to language used in the federal racketeering statute known as Rico.

If so, however, it would not be American military or intelligence interrogators themselves under investigation, nor the senior officials who devised torture policy in the Bush administration, but the psychologists who enabled them.

Of course, the psychologists were going along with policy decisions made at the highest levels of the Bush administration and those people should be criminally prosecuted too.


  1. says

    At least “I was only following orders” is not being allowed as a defense. Of all people, they should have known what they were doing was wrong. I just hope that their successful prosecution is used to move up the chain of command.

  2. says

    The group has rejected media reporting on psychologists’ complicity in torture;

    It wasn’t just the media that were guilty of participating and supporting the US government and military’s war crimes, which is why they’re so willing to report on the APA’s actions, to draw attention away from their own. Crawling and toadying careerists are everywhere, willing to sign on for anything they think will get them ahead, without thinking about the long term consequences of doing so.

    Unfortunately, it’s often only the crawlers and toadies who ever face any consequences. The Gang of Four (Bush, Rice, Rumsfeld, Cheney) and other high ranking war criminals will never see a courtroom. Only those who enabled it or carried it out (the APA psychopaths, torturers like England and Graner) have been held accountable thus far.

  3. says

    Of course, the psychologists were going along with policy decisions made at the highest levels of the Bush administration

    Yeah, but they were doing it for money. The Bushites were doing it because they were a bunch of stupid delusional ideologues. Personally, I hold more contempt for someone who’d be involved in torture because they wanted the cash to renovate their kitchen, or something like that.

  4. doublereed says

    How could they justify prosecuting the psychologists but not the torturers or higher-ups? That doesn’t make any sense. It makes the trial sound more like scapegoating rather than justice.

    Even if “I was just following orders” isn’t a defense, it’s still true that they were following orders so the people sending those orders should obviously be brought to justice as well.

  5. doublereed says

    On the other hand, having an actual trial would make all these details come out to public spotlight in public court documents which would make it pretty hard for them to justify not continuing prosecutions.

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