Whistleblower of APA complicity in torture vindicated

Jean Maria Arrigo is a 71-year old psychologist who for nearly a decade tried to expose the complicity of the American Psychological Association in the Bush administration’s torture program and for her pains was subjected to a campaign of harassment by leading officials of the APA, often done behind closed doors, and had her warnings treated with indifference by the bulk of the membership.

Spencer Ackerman has a riveting story about how the recent Hoffman report confirming the abuses has completely vindicated her and she is now being hailed as a hero for her courageous stand.

For a decade, colleagues of the 71-year-old psychologist ignored, derided and in some cases attacked Arrigo for sounding alarms that the American Psychological Association was implicated in US torture. But now that a devastating report has exposed deep APA complicity with brutal CIA and US military interrogations – and a smear campaign against Arrigo herself – her colleagues are expressing contrition.

“I have been wanting to email you since reading the Hoffman report on Wednesday to let you know how ashamed I am about not believing what you and others had been saying about APA’s actions,” wrote a psychologist Arrigo wished to remain anonymous.

Arrigo did not set out to be a crusader but stumbled into the role when she was assigned to serve on a panel.

But in 2005, Arrigo found herself with an unexpected appointment. She was a member of an internal panel, known as the Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security (Pens), that greenlit psychologist participation in national-security interrogations. Hoffman found that the taskforce was “intentionally weighted in favor” of the US department of defense, through stacking it with representatives from the military and CIA. It rejected efforts by Arrigo and two like-minded colleagues to include references to the Geneva Convention and specific interrogation techniques that psychologists could not be involved in.

The discussions within the taskforce appear acrimonious. Hoffman writes that a member of the APA board, Gerald Koocher, “challenged each of Arrigo’s points” on a taskforce email group when Arrigo expressed discomfort with the panel’s ties to the military.

But the acrimony intensified after Arrigo took her concerns public at APA conventions.

One of the key figures in the campaign against her was APA board member and past president Gerald Koocher who spread all manner of false information about her, such as that she had a troubled upbringing because of the suicide of her father, even though Arrigo’s father was very much alive. The Hoffman report specifically mentions Koocher as one of the leading APA officials who made a determined effort to shade APA policies so as to provide cover for the torture program and who participated in the smear attacks on Arrigo.

While welcoming the news that she was right all along, Arrigo is concerned that the APA will try to simply ride out the bad publicity with some mea culpas rather than take the serious steps necessary to get rid of the rot that she thinks exists within the organization.

Scientists and academics in general have no tangible power. All we have is credibility and when that is shredded we have nothing. There are enough forces that seek to undermine science and scientists and other academics to advance their own political agenda, and the last thing that we should do is give them more reasons to argue that we are willing to subvert the pursuit of truth for political and personal expediency. Professional organizations and the officials in them that subvert their ethical responsibilities in order to provide support to, or cover for, government abuses are some of the worst people and deserve to be shamed and censured and even drummed out of the profession because they undermine the trust that the public has placed in them.

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