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Posted by on Apr 30, 2015 in At TMV, Crime, Featured, Government, Law, Scandals, Terrorism | 10 comments

Report: American Psychological Association Secretly Conspired With Bush Torture Regime

There has been ample evidence for years that the Bush administration sought the cover of health-care professionals to justify its use of Nazi-like torture techniques, but a new report that the American Psychological Association secretly collaborated with the administration still shocks.

Indeed, the report by a group of so-called dissident health-care professionals, as well as human rights activists, is sodden with unstated comparisons — analogies that call to mind the machinations of officials in the torture regime of Hitler’s Third Reich to create a veneer of respectability for their vile deeds — in documenting how the Bush administration, in response to shocking photos of the abuse of prisoners by American military personnel at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2004, sough to salvage a hitherto secret torture program initiated under the guise of fighting the so-called War on Terror.

This was done by arranging for the APA to secretly work — or collaborate, a word with justifiably odious connotations — with officials from the CIA, White House and the Department of Defense “to create an APA ethics policy on national security interrogations which comported with then-classified legal guidance authorizing the CIA torture program,” the report states.

This secret deal in turn enabled the Justice Department to argue in secret legal opinions that the program — since revealed to be ineffective, constitutionally dubious, in violation of the Geneva Conventions and deeply damaging to America’s standing abroad — was legal and did not constitute torture, since the interrogations were being monitored by health-care professionals to make sure they were safe.

A spokeswoman for the APA, the nation’s largest professional organization for psychologists, denied that the group had coordinated its actions with the government, a not surprising response since the group’s hierarchy — if not necessarily its rank and file — has been in denial about its complicity for years.

There “has never been any coordination between APA and the Bush administration on how APA responded to the controversies about the role of psychologists in the interrogations program,” Rhea Farberman said.

The report details how the Bush administration relied more heavily on psychologists than psychiatrists or other health-care professionals to monitor interrogations because the APA was supportive of the involvement of psychologists.

In early June 2004, the report said, a senior APA official issued an invitation to a carefully selected group of psychologists and behavioral scientists inside the government to a private meeting to discuss the Bush administration’s public relations crisis and the role of psychologists in the torture program. Following a meeting, the association issued guidelines that reaffirmed that it was acceptable for its members to be involved in the interrogation program.

That program, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee report released in December, included waterboarding, imprisoning detainees in small boxes, slapping and punching them, depriving them of sleep for as long as a week, and sometimes telling them that they would be killed, their children maimed and their mothers sexually assaulted. Some detainees were subjected to medically unnecessary “rectal feeding” — a technique that the C.I.A.’s chief of interrogations described as a way to exert “total control over the detainee.”

The cynical involvement of the APA and its member psychologists in the program was a clear violation of the associations own ethical standards.

The APA report states that “the APA’s complicity in the torture program, by allowing psychologists to calibrate and administer permitted harm, undermines the fundamental ethical standards of the profession. If not carefully understood and rejected by the profession, this may portend a fundamental shift in the profession’s relationship with the people it serves.”

Why have I and everyone else who has closely followed the torture regime and its fallout correctly assumed that no one of consequence would be held accountable for this darkest of eras? Will psychologists who aided and abetted torturers lose their licenses or otherwise be sanctioned? No way.

Anyone who thought that Barack Obama, having said boo about torture while campaigning for president in 2008, would denounce it after taking office was engaging in fuzzy-wuzzy liberal thinking. For one thing, the new president understood that denouncing, let alone going after Bush and his enablers for their crimes, would scuttle any chance he had of forging a bipartisan consensus for his ambitious first-term agenda. But even this Obama supporter is deeply disappointed at how unwilling the president has been to lay bare the regime’s excesses even if stopping short of even suggesting its architects should be prosecuted.

America’s moral standing in the world community was squandered during the Bush interregnum, while the CIA’s gruesome tactics have provided a ready recruiting tool for terrorists and further exposed American soldiers, journalists and others to the enmity that our refusal to come to terms with these depravities will provoke.

Meanwhile, identifying the APA report’s authors as “dissidents,” as The New York Times and other outlets are doing, is a bitter reminder of how divided Americans remain — and how conflicted the mainstream media has been — over the Bush Torture Regime. Does opposing torture make one a dissident? Have we so little shame over this darkest era in our history? What a sick commentary on the times in which we live.

* * * * *

In 2008, TMV‘s own Dr. E and I discussed the issue of members of the “healing profession,” as she calls it, collaborating in unethical and unlawful government conduct. A reprint of our dialogue is here.

PHOTOGRAPH: A restraining chair and force-feeding apparatus at the terrorist prison at Guantánamo Bay

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  • The_Ohioan

    OK, now I’m confused. The author calls the authors of the report dissidents but complains about the NYT calling them dissidents.

    As far as I can see the authors of the report are dissidents about the APA’s actions, which is what the NYT reports. Given the authors’ actions, that’s less a pejorative term than an accurate description, I would think, and has nothing to do with the NYT’s approval or disapproval of torture in general.

    And, yes, it is shocking that any professional organization would collaborate with a request for covering up government misconduct. It’s always shocking whether it’s a communications giant or a mental health organization.

    • shaun

      Apologies if this author has been less than clear. I tagged the report as written by “so-called dissidents” in order to not tar them with the same brush as The Times.

      This otherwise estimable publication’s grammatical sleight of hand should not be allowed to stand in light of its years long avoidance of the T word.

      By the way, not only am I a “dissident” because I have opposed the use of torture, but I also am “unpatriotic” for that reason, according to Cheyney, Rumsfeld et. al., despite my status as a proud veteran who would bleed red, white and blue for his country. And has.

      • JSpencer

        Well, I’m only a veteran of life, but anyone brought up with a basic grasp of the difference between right and wrong should have been able to catch on pretty fast that bullsh!t artistry was a staple of the Bush/Cheney/neocon club.

      • The_Ohioan

        Sorry, I’m still not clear why calling one group, that dissents from another group’s action, “dissidents” is considered pejorative.

        The NYT is not calling the complainers dissidents as in anti-government dissidents but dissidents as in dissenting from the second group’s actions. Being a dissident from any group is perfectly legal (and patriotic) as far as I know. In fact dissenting from some groups can be considered very patriotic.

        Assuming the NYT is assigning the authors a pejorative as opposed to a descriptive term seems a step too far given the NYT’s position on these particular government actions. After all, they did print the story. But I won’t quibble further, keeping in mind the old caution on using the word “assume”. 🙂

        • shaun

          I concede the point.

  • JSpencer

    “the new president understood that denouncing, let alone going after Bush and his enablers for their crimes, would scuttle any chance he had of forging a bipartisan consensus for his ambitious first-term agenda.”

    An understandable and pragmatic (if less than courageous) position, which in retrospect is saturated with irony since the GOP was dead set against anything resembling bipartisanship from the get go.

    America’s moral standing in the world community was squandered during the Bush interregnum”

    Agreed, and I think the damage that caused has been hugely underestimated. Ethics has to be an integral underpinning of any government that doesn’t want to fall into moral decrepitude. When it’s compromised, the consequences are guaranteed to come banging on the door, whether we are talking foreign policy, the criminal justice system, or economic policy.

    • The_Ohioan

      Couldn’t agree more. This stain on our country needs to be removed by bringing the perpetrators to justice – no matter how long it takes. The longer it remains the harder it will be to remove. Our moral authority in the world has been deeply damaged (further damaged, I should say).

      I still have faith that the grand jury that has heard all the evidence will someday be allowed to render a judgement. They know more about what happened than anyone other than the actors.

  • archangel

    When Shaun sent me the nyt link, what I read there and here and thanks Shaun for both and being stalwart on this — I cannot think of a word deep enough to describe this

    It’s not just a failure to be human and humane; It appears to be bloodlust and the coveting of power to demean by unjustly asserting power over another’s life, mind, body, soul and spirit, in ways that any and every just scripture forbids, let alone medical ethics, the ethics of ANY helping professional who claims to be a healer.

    I find it the work of the Predator. It is not the work of the Helper nor the work of the healer. The predatory is both lustful and sexual– the rush in the paraphilias, including abject torturing of others to make them beg for mercy, to hear their screams or even imagine them… is arousal in ways that are seldom spoken about in polite society.

    However, listening to sadistic murderers or maimers who are incarcerated will tell the story of the arousal some few demented persons feel when causing another person to fear for their lives and to be threatened with or assaulted by overwhelming pain to their bodies, minds, hearts, spirits and one’s very soul.

    I think too, one can see the quickness by many good souls to witness wrong, their/our striving to speak against those wrongs, and again, as we have seen in every war launched without the people’s vote supporting claims at the top for such war, any egregious interloper, any evil unleashed on the vulnerable, that the very few at the top of the pile, whether that be the Vatican, The American Psychological Association, or any government… refuses to listen in order to continue to have its orgiastic involvements; its ‘highs’ on destruction of ‘the other’.

    I ask, why would not the MASSIVELY mentally unstable, but functional, be drawn to power positions in psychological associations driven by powerlust, bloodlust and the pathological paraphilias, the same way persons who are pedophiles are drawn to the priesthood. That is where their engagements can take place and often, no where else where there are persons watching carefully from the top… watching for the predatory that is slight or beyond human cohesiveness toward decency.

    Abject mental distortion often attempts to involve itself in its own brand of ‘religion’, pontificating with spew and spittle about how right they are, how their very “god” is behind their ideas of ‘truth, justice, and the ‘way”. Cheney and Rumm-dumb and others had their Mammon god, and literally empowered others, by PROXY, to go do their torturing of others. It reminds of the Cardinals of medieval times who would tour the dungeons in their robes and scepters to witness the screams and those dying from being beaten, burnt, bludgeoned– by others. No, never those in the robes. Only their chosen ones who do their dirty work for them and with gusto. If one reads of the time of Torquemada, or of the “spanish’ prelates unleashing the Mexican Inquisition in the “new world”, or the logs of the slave traders; one sees what used to be human, devolved into Walking Filth — as noted in many a scripture in Hinduism, Buddhism, Catholicism, Judiasm and more— Filth of mind, of heart, of soul, of spirit, of body– toward other human beings who cannot defend nor retaliate.

    Again, the high many a hunter feels when tracking and killing an animal is understood as primal, and the animal is used as food to survive. But that similar kind of exhuberance, feeling ‘so alive’, that kind of absolute body chemistry drug high is not supposed to be summoned to those lusting for it, by them harming human beings who are incarcerated, in chains, unable to move or flee. Not ever.

  • As a psychologist, I can only say that I am as appalled by the idea of APA complicity in the Bush administration’s torture of detainees as I was when the program itself was first made public. That was one of the reasons I travelled to Pennsylvania to help get out the vote for John Kerry in 2004. I support the prosecution of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Addington et al for war crimes. Failure to do so has been one of my greatest disappointments in President Obama.

    Andrew Rosenthal published an op-ed in the Times yesterday that is worth a read. He notes that the APA has done some reassuring things since the torture regime became public.

    “That group, which participates in the accreditation of graduate programs and has an ethics policy that guides its members and informs the states’ licensing and regulation of psychologists, made strongly worded statements starting in 2007 denouncing torture. It said its members should never participate in that sort of activity.

    In 2007, the association called on the Bush administration to change its interrogation policies. In 2009, it issued a policy that said that “psychologists may not work 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 are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights.”

    http://takingnote.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/04/30/did-psychologists-help-the-government-torture/?action=click&contentCollection=U.S.&module=RelatedCoverage&region=Marginalia&pgtype=article

    There is an ongoing investigation into possible complicity by those within APA with the program from its inception. The investigation is reportedly headed by three psychologists who have been outspoken critics of the torture program and the involvement of psychologists in it.

    There has also been an outcry from APA membership to suspend/revoke the licenses of the two psychologists known to be directly involved in the program, doing business under the name of Mitchell Jessen and Associates. I have read that these two men have retired after their company was reportedly paid $81 million in consulting fees by the government.

    This was a very dark time in our country’s history. It demonstrates what we are capable of when traumatized and ruled by rage and fear. I think holding those within the Bush administration and outside it who were responsible for this stain on our country to account is essential to recovering from it.

    • shaun

      Thank you for the update, but I stand by my view that no one will be sanctioned, even the Mitchell Jessen. There is a perversely simple reason for this: Successfully sanctioning, let alone prosecuting a health-care professional would be a precedent of a sort in determining that the government’s “enhanced interrogation” techniques were indeed torture, and that might open the floodgates to other sanctions/prosecutions. A welcome prospect, but I am not holding my breath.

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