Report Finds Feds Colluding on Psych Ethics

     (CN) – Officials of the American Psychological Association colluded with the Pentagon and CIA to maintain loose ethics policies that let psychologists participate in “enhanced interrogation techniques,” an independent report found.
     The 542-page report, released Friday by a team of attorneys at Sidley Austin led by David Hoffman, examines the relationship between officials at the CIA, the American Psychological Association (APA) and the Department of Defense (DoD).
     It says that the APA sought to “maximize its influence with and build its positive relationship with the DoD,” rather than institute firm guidelines to prevent abuses within the profession.
     Calling the DoD a “rich, powerful uncle” to the APA, Hoffman called it “difficult” to act independently of such a benefactor.
     The DoD is one of the largest employers of psychologists in the country, and provides millions of dollars in grants and contracts for psychological research each year.
     Of particular importance to the court is a 2002 revision by the APA of its ethics code for psychologists who experience a conflict between an ethical obligation and an order from a superior.
     The revised guidance says psychologists who follow the order have not commited an ethical violation.
     Critics labeled the amendment the “Nuremberg defense,” named after the defense repeated again and again by high-level Nazi officials at the war crimes trials in Nuremberg over their conduct in World War II – that they were just following orders.
     Friday’s report says that the change was not made directly in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
     The APA revised the code again in 2005 to explicitly permit psychologists to play a role in military interrogations.
     Hoffman found that the APA’s Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS) was particularly motivated to “please and curry favor with the Department of Defense (DoD)” to foster the growth of the profession.
     “Their joint objective was to, at a minimum, create APA ethics guidelines that went no farther than – and were in fact virtually identical to – the internal guidelines that were already in place at DoD or that the key DoD officials wanted to put in place,” the report states. “Thus, their joint objective was to create APA ethics guidelines that placed no significant additional constraints on DoD interrogation practices.”
     DoD guidelines did not prohibit the use of stress positions and sleep deprivation in interrogations, and these techniques became pervasive at Guantanamo Bay.
     Critics say the APA ignored multiple important conflicts of interest within its ranks.
     While coordinating the association’s statements to the media with a top DoD official, for example, APA ethics director Stephen Behnke received a Pentagon contract to help train interrogators.
     In addition, Russ Newman, head of the APA Practice Directorate, was married to Debra Dunivan, one of the military’s lead psychologists supporting interrogations at Guantanamo Bay.
     Dunivan was one of the DoD psychologists who would be most affected by the APA’s ethical rules regarding military interrogations, but Friday’s report says the organization made no effort to keep Newman out of the deliberations on the topic, despite the obvious risk of bias.
     As a result, the organization intentionally neglected to craft strict ethics rules, researchers found.
     “Being involved in the intentional harming of detainees in a manner that would never be justified in the U.S. criminal justice system could do lasting damage to the integrity and reputation of psychology, a profession that purports to ‘do no harm,'” the report states. “And engaging in harsh interrogation techniques is inconsistent with our fundamental values as a nation and harms our national security and influence in the world. These countervailing concerns were simply not considered or were highly subordinated to APA’s strategic goals.”
     The report later says, “By explicitly declaring it ethical for psychologists to be involved in interrogations of detainees in DoD or CIA custody, while not setting strict and explicit limits on a psychologist’s involvement in the intentional infliction of psychological or physical pain in these situations, APA officials were intentionally setting up loose and porous constraints, not tight ones” on the use of a psychologist’s skills.
     The APA was also well aware that of Bush administration’s “legal contortions” that severely narrowed the legal definition of torture, even while more and more information about abusive interrogation practices became public knowledge, according to the report.
     Nevertheless, its ethical guidelines failed to “draw any sort of meaningful line under the circumstances,” and created a large loophole that allowed psychologists to follow explicitly unethical orders and still avoid sanctions, the report states.
     James Mitchell, a CIA psychologist who personally participated in waterboarding detainees, told Hoffman’s team he believed his actions were legal under the APA ethics code because he weighed the potential harm to the individual being interrogated against the potential harm to the public caused by a terrorist attack.
     The report did not include specific recommendations, because the APA requested the team not to make any, “a request we do not see as problematic,” Hoffman said.
     “It is the province of APA governance to decide on, and take responsibility for, the proper response here,” he said.
     The APA issued an apology after the report was made public on Friday.
     “The organization’s intent was not to enable abusive interrogation techniques or contribute to violations of human rights, but that may have been the result,” Nadine Kaslow, the former APA president and chair of the independent review committee, said in a statement .
     “The actions, policies and the lack of independence from government influence described in the Hoffman report represented a failure to live up to our core values,” Kaslow added. “We profoundly regret, and apologize for, the behavior and the consequences that ensued. Our members, our profession and our organization expected, and deserved, better.”
     This report adds to the brutal picture of U.S. interrogation techniques portrayed in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s report on enhanced interrogation released in part last year.
     It gives added momentum to a bill passed in the Senate last month to limit acceptable interrogation techniques to those named in the Army Field Manual. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Diane Feinstein and Sen. John McCain.

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