Psychologists adjusted ethics code to Pentagon & CIA post 9/11 torture - report

Reuters/Jim Young
The US’s leading professional psychologists’ organization helped justify CIA and Pentagon torture programs, a new 542-page report shows. The psychologists involved later profited from torture-related contracts.

The report, concluded this month, examined the involvement of the American Psychological Association (APA) in the validation of the so-called program of enhanced interrogation, under which terror suspects were subjected to torture at CIA black cites and at the Pentagon's Guantanamo Bay prison facility.

The document prepared by a former assistant US attorney, David Hoffman, says some of the APA's senior figures, including its ethics director, pushed to keep the association's ethics code in line with DoD's interrogation policies. Other prominent external psychologists took actions that aided CIA's torture practices, defending it from growing dissent among its own psychologists.

“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 report published on Friday by the New York Times said. “APA chose its ethics policy based on its goals of helping DoD, managing its PR, and maximizing the growth of the profession.”

The Hoffman report focuses on the APA's close ties with the Pentagon and can be viewed as complimentary to last December’s Senate report that exposed the brutality of post 9/11 CIA tactics towards terror detainees, the NYT said. It also gives additional details about how the intelligence agency adopted the enhanced interrogation program and solicited outside advice to stem concerns among its own medical professionals.

The report also describes several instances in which senior figures involved in the program moved into the private sector to get lucrative contracts from the CIA and the Pentagon. For instance, Joseph Matarazzo, a former president of the psychological association and a member of the CIA advisory committee, was asked by Mr Kirk Hubbard (CIA psychologist who was chairman of the agency advisory committee), to provide an opinion about whether sleep deprivation constituted torture. The conclusion was that it did not.

Later, Matarazzo became a partner in Mitchell Jessen and Associates, a contracting company created by James Mitchel and Bruce Jessen to consult with the CIA on their interrogation program. They were instructors for the Air Force’s SERE (survival, evasion, rescue and escape) program, in which US troops are subjected to simulated torture to prepare them for possible capture. They adapted the program's techniques for use against terror detainees, the report said.

After the Hoffman report was made public, the American Psychological Association issued an apology.

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

READ MORE: Study accuses psychologists group of complicity in CIA torture program

One of the more immediate consequences of the report was the resignation of the APA's ethics chief, Stephen Behnke, according to the Guardian. The psychologists coordinated the group’s public policy statements on interrogations with a top military psychologist, the report said. He later received a Pentagon contract for training interrogators, without notifying the American Psychological Association’s board.

Kaslow told the newspaper that Behnke's last day at the APA was July 8, after the association received Hoffman's report, and that further resignations were likely to follow.

A similarly damning report on the APA's involvement in US government torture programs was published in April.