A new report from a group of mental health professionals and human rights activists alleges that the American Psychological Association (APA) worked with the George W. Bush administration in secret on the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program.
This is a new and more severe departure from a damning Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report released in December that found that several scientists and medical doctors were directly involved in the CIA’s torture program.
The new report uses newly disclosed emails to allege that the APA, the nation’s largest association of psychologists, was not only directly and secretly involved in the program but helped justify the torture along legal and ethical lines.
“The emails reviewed in this analysis are evidence of apparent widespread and secret complicity between senior APA and US government personnel,” according to the report, which was written by two clinical psychologists, two human rights experts, and two high-profile doctors including NYU medicine professor Allen Keller.
That report claims the APA invited psychologists directly involved with the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” to meet with its ethics office. It also claims a US government research scientist “secretly drafted” language into the APA’s ethics policy on interrogations, and that there was no evidence that any APA official ever expressed concerns with with psychologists’ involvement with detainee abuse.
Rhea Farberman, an APA spokeswoman, told The New York Times there “has never been any coordination between A.P.A. and the Bush administration on how A.P.A. responded to the controversies about the role of psychologists in the interrogations program.”
Allegations of collaboration between the APA and the Bush administration for the purpose of justifying its torture program date back at least as far as 2009, when New York Times reporter James Risen reported on supposed links between the two in a book on the subject.
Last November, the association released an official statement condemning the enhanced interrogation techniques and ordered an independent review of its potential role in the interrogation program. That review is happening now, the New York Times reports.
Two psychologists developed the CIA’s torture program, Jim Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, according to the Senate’s report on torture released in December. Their company, Mitchell, Jessen & Associates, received more than $US80 million from the government for their services, the December Senate report found.
The new report claims the APA concealed Mitchell’s APA membership, and that it also hid its ties to both Mitchell and Jessen despite having a “longstanding relationship” with both of them.
Last year’s Senate Select Committee report documented several examples of the grisly torture of prisoners:
- Once, a doctor reportedly X-rayed a prisoner’s feet and determined they were badly broken only to have another physician recommend that the prisoner could be made to stand for 52 hours straight.
- In another instance, another prisoner had been repeatedly tortured in a way that affected the area around his eyes, but a doctor only suggested stopping the torture when he lost his sight in one of his eyes.
- A team of doctors decided that prisoners could be waterboarded, a torture technique that makes the person feel as though he or she is drowning, up to three times a day.
Doctors have been increasingly involved in torture for decades
Despite their pledge to “do no harm,” medical professionals have increasingly assisted the government in coming up with new ways to torture its alleged enemies and get critical information since the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001.
In a 2004 essay in the New England Journal of Medicine, Robert Jay Lifton, a Harvard trauma expert who served as an Air Force psychiatrist, called out the American doctors who were involved in the torture at Abu Ghraib, a US-run detention center in Iraq.
They “were part of a command structure that permitted, encouraged, and sometimes orchestrated torture to a degree that it became the norm — with which they were expected to comply,” he wrote. “Even without directly participating in the abuse, doctors may have become socialised to an environment of torture and by virtue of their medical authority helped sustain it.”
Worse still, wrote Lifton, is that “the participation of doctors can confer an aura of legitimacy and can even create an illusion of therapy and healing.”
A 1991 review of torture by medical professionals came to a similar conclusion. “Individual factors may have been of importance for motivation,” the authors write, “but far more important seems to have been the organisation of the system.”
Abusive interrogations remain tough to justify
The Senate report, written mostly by Democrats, concludes the answer is no; Republicans who wrote a rebuttal to it say the answer is yes.
Out of 119 prisoners who were tortured, 26 were wrongfully detained.
According to Mitchell, one of the psychologists who allegedly designed many of the torture tactics, the interrogation program was arranged so that one officer conducted the torture while another asked questions related to the information the CIA wanted. This good cop, bad cop scenario meant that no intelligence came directly from the interrogation techniques themselves.
“I would be stunned if they found any kind of evidence that would suggest that Enhanced Interrogation Techniques as they were being applied yielded actionable intelligence,” Mitchell told VICE News in a recent video interview.
Lauren F. Friedman contributed to this report.
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