# 10 APA Complicit in CIA Torture

by Project Censored
Published: Last Updated on

Salon, June 21, 2007
Title: “The CIA’s torture teachers”
Author: Mark Benjamin

Vanity Fair, July 17, 2007
Title: “Rorschach and Awe”
Author: Katherine Eban

Democracy Now!, August 20, 2007
Titles: “American Psychological Association Rejects Blanket Ban on Participation in Interrogation of US Detainees,” “APA Interrogation Task Force Member Dr. Jean Maria Arrigo Exposes Group’s Ties to Military,” “Dissident Voices: Ex-Task Force Member Dr. Michael Wessells Speaks Out on Psychologists and Torture,” and “APA Members Hold Fiery Town Hall Meeting on Interrogation, Torture”

Student Researchers: Dan Anderson, Corey Sharp-Sabatino, Lindsey Lucia, and Andrea Lochtefeld

Faculty Evaluator: David Van Nuys, PhD

When in 2005 news reports exposed the fact that psychologists were working with the US military and the CIA to develop brutal interrogation methods, American Psychological Association (APA) leaders assembled a task force to examine the issue. After just two days of deliberations, the ten-member task force concluded that psychologists were playing a “valuable and ethical role” in assisting the military. A high level of secrecy surrounding the task force prohibited disclosure of the proceedings and of members and attendees. It wasn’t until a year later that the membership was finally published on Salon.com, revealing that six of nine voting members were from the military and intelligence agencies with direct connections to interrogations at Guantánamo and CIA black sites that operate outside of Geneva Conventions.

The Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS) task force was assembled in response to growing evidence that psychologists were not only taking part in procedures that have shocked the senses of humanity around the world, but were in fact in charge of designing those brutal tactics and training interrogators in those techniques.

Two psychologists in particular played a central role: James Elmer Mitchell, who was contracted to the CIA, and his colleague Bruce Jessen. Both worked in the classified military training program for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE)—which conditions soldiers to endure captivity in enemy hands. In a very quasi-scientific manner, according to psychologists and others with direct knowledge of their activities, Mitchell and Jessen reverse-engineered the tactics inflicted on SERE trainees for use on detainees in the “global war on terror.”

With complete adoption of SERE interrogative techniques by the US Military, the CIA put Mitchell and Jessen in charge of training interrogators in the brutal techniques, including waterboarding, in its network of black sites. Meanwhile it is increasingly clear that the US has sacrificed its conscience and its global image for tactics that are at best ineffective.

With close to 150,000 members, the APA is the largest body of psychologists in the world. Unlike the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association who, since 2006, have completely barred doctors from participation, the APA continues to allow its members to participate in detainee interrogations, arguing that their presence keeps interrogations safe and prevents abuse.

Dr. Jean Maria Arrigo, one of the three civilian members of the 2005 PENS task force, whose task was to consider the appropriateness of psychologists’ involvement in harsh methods of interrogations, claims that the highest levels in the Department of Defense (DOD) preordained the task force’s conclusions.

Citing a series of irregularities, including haste, intimidation, and secrecy, Arrigo contends that the task force was far from balanced or independent. She discloses that APA President Gerald Koocher exerted strong control over task force decisions and censured dissidents. Six of the ten members were highly placed in the DOD, clearly in attendance to represent decisions that had already been made. Those were a) the adoption of the permissive definition of torture in US law as opposed to the strict definition in international law, and b) the participation of military psychologists in interrogation settings.

Many angry psychologists insist that the APA policy has made the organization an enabler of torture.

At the annual APA convention in August 2007, members presented the APA Council of Representatives with a moratorium amendment to the APA resolution, stating,

Be it resolved that the objectives of the APA shall be to advance psychology as a science and profession and as a means of promoting health, education and welfare. And therefore the roles of psychologists in settings in which detainees are deprived of adequate protection of their human rights should be limited as health personnel to the provision of psychological treatment.

The Council voted overwhelmingly to reject this measure that would have banned its members from participating in abusive interrogation of detainees.

In a fiery town hall meeting that followed the convention, dozens of infuriated psychologists testified. Among them, Dr. Steven Reisner, a member of the Coalition for an Ethical APA, asked why the Council of Representatives voted to reject the moratorium in such clear contradiction to the convictions of a vast majority of APA membership.

Reisner reflected on the lack of ethical standards essential to such an association and its members, “This goes to the essence of who we are as ethical psychologists. If we cannot say, ‘No, we will not participate in enhanced interrogations at CIA black sites,’ I think we have to seriously question what we are as an organization and, for me, what my allegiance is to this organization, or whether we might have to criticize it from outside at this point.”


A month after Salon published “The CIA’s Torture Teachers,” Vanity Fair followed in July 2007 with an in-depth article revealing more details about the same small cabal of psychologists who helped create the CIA’s brutal interrogation program: a model that would metastasize at Guantánamo Bay, Afghanistan, and in Iraq at places like Abu Ghraib.

By December, I was taking readers on an insider’s tour of the CIA’s secret “black sites,” when Salon published the first in-depth interview with a former prisoner of the agency, Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah. Bashmilah even provided chilling drawings of his barren cells. Apparently the Yemeni man was guilty of nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time: the CIA released him after nineteen months of grueling imprisonment. “Whenever I saw a fly in my cell, I was filled with joy,” he told me about the crushing sensory deprivation and isolation. “Although I would wish for it to slip from under the door so it would not be imprisoned itself.”

On April 22, 2008, the Washington Post published an article suggesting that the US government had gone beyond abusing detainees with stress positions, sleep deprivation, and sexual humiliation and may have resorted to mind-altering drugs to further disorient prisoners. Somehow, it seemed, the agency believed this would result in squeezing out reliable information. At the end of that month, Senators Joe Biden, Jr. (D-DE), Carl Levin (D-MI), and Chuck Hagel (R-NE), asked the inspectors general at the Pentagon and CIA to look into the story.

In May 2008, the Department of Justice inspector general released a separate report showing that for years, FBI agents had complained about the rough interrogation tactics employed by the CIA and the Pentagon. That concern fell on deaf ears at the National Security Council.

It would be great to say that justice will prevail in the end. When it comes to torture, however, most of the efforts by Congress to look into the behavior of the CIA and the military have been anemic at best.

On paper at least, at the time of this writing the Senate Armed Services Committee was still looking into the activities of James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, the two psychologists first identified by Salon who allegedly helped the government reverse-engineer tactics devised to help elite soldiers resist torture into interrogation techniques. The House Judiciary Committee is probing into this as well.

But few expect anyone in the administration to be frog marched in front of any kind of a tribunal. And with a White House utterly convinced that abuse is an effective interrogation tactic—and equally committed to protecting those who traffic in it—few experts think justice will be served. That goes for the psychologists who set up the diabolical program, and those who gave them the authority to carry it out.

Physician for Human Rights has consistently chased this story. You can learn more about that organization and how you can get involved at http://physiciansforhumanrights.org/.

Censored Web Update

Psychologists Vote to End Interrogation Consultations

by Benedict Carey
September 18, 2008 by The New York Times

Members of the American Psychological Association have voted to prohibit consultation in the interrogations of detainees held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, or so-called black sites operated by the Central Intelligence Agency overseas, the association said on Wednesday.

The vote, 8,792 to 6,157 in a mail-in balloting concluded Monday, may help to settle a long debate within the profession over the ethics of such work. Psychologists have helped military and C.I.A. interrogators evaluate detainees, plan questioning strategy and judge its psychological costs. The association’s ethics code, while condemning a list of coercive techniques adopted in the Bush administration’s antiterrorism campaign, has allowed some consultation “for national security-related purposes.”

The referendum, first posted on the Internet as a petition in May, prohibits psychologists from working in settings where “persons are held outside of, or in violation of, either International Law (e.g., the U.N. Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions) or the U.S. Constitution, where appropriate,” unless they represent a detainee or an independent third party. The association’s bylaws require that it institute the policy at the next annual meeting, in August 2009.

“The good part of this is that the membership has spoken, the process worked, and we’re going to follow it,” said Alan E. Kazdin, the association’s president and a psychologist at Yale University. “Will everyone be happy? Well, it’s a typical human enterprise, and there are nuanced positions on both sides. So, we’ll see.”

Steven Reisner, a New York psychoanalyst running for the association presidency on the issue, called the vote “fabulous news.”

“The membership has sent a strong message to the leadership of the association that it wants to see this ethical prohibition as policy,” Dr. Reisner said, “and now it has to be policy.”

He added that the association should add the ban to its ethics code immediately and work out details of its enactment in the coming months. “This is a major step, but it’s a first step,” he said.

Like other professional groups, the association has little direct authority to restrict members’ ability to practice. But state licensing boards that can suspend or revoke a psychologist’s license often take violations of the association’s code into consideration.

Many military and civilian psychologists have resisted a prohibition, arguing that consultants provide some accountability, making sure that questioning does not become abusive, for example. The association, these experts contend, should focus on the behavior of individual psychologists, rather than abandon the work altogether.