Apr 30 5:14 PM

Psychologists worked with CIA, Bush administration to justify torture

A U.S. flag flies near the razor wire around Camp Delta, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The torture that wen on at the base and elsewhere around the world was justified with help from the APA, according to new report.
Mark Wilson / Getty Images

The American Psychological Association (APA) worked closely with United States intelligence agencies and the George W. Bush administration to justify and support the torture of people captured after the attacks of September 11, 2001, according to a new analysis by watchdog health professionals.

The report, “All the President’s Psychologists” [PDF], was compiled a by a group of psychologists and physicians, many with ties to the group Physicians for Human Rights, draws on newly declassified emails to detail the APA’s role in what was then euphemistically called “enhanced interrogation.”

“The APA secretly coordinated 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,” said the report’s authors.

After revelations of the abuse of detainees by American personnel at Iraq’s notorious Abu Ghraib prison, the Bush administration’s interrogations procedures came under fresh scrutiny. In June 2004, George Tenet, the Director of the CIA, signed a secret memo suspending use of the torture techniques while administration lawyers sought a policy review.

As disclosed in the December summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee report, a September 17, 2001, Memorandum of Notification gave White House authorization for US interrogators to use methods commonly understood as torture on people detained in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. (As noted then, that “MON” has never been rescinded, and is still used by the current administration to justify drone strikes, as well as the withholding of information about Bush-era torture.)

In 2004, with the torture program under review, the Bush administration turned to the APA, which had been more open to participation than the leading group of psychiatrists, which had previously questioned the involvement of U.S. doctors in torture. The APA was much more cooperative.

Relying on the work of former Army psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, two contractors who had helped design and run Bush’s global torture initiative, the APA adjusted its ethics guidelines to provide room for member participation in torture sessions. Mitchell and Jessen had previous ties to notorious CIA programs that used psychotropic drugs and a variety of brutal and demeaning physical tactics to extract information from captives.

Beyond the long-challenged ethics of these programs, the December Senate report is one of many to show that information obtained in this way is rarely verifiable, timely or useful.

“In 2004 and 2005 the C.I.A. torture program was threatened from within and outside the Bush administration,” said Stephen Soldz, a clinical psychologist and professor at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis and one of the new report’s authors, by email to the New York Times. “Like clockwork, the APA directly addressed legal threats at every critical juncture facing the senior intelligence officials at the heart of the program. In some cases the APA even allowed these same Bush officials to actually help write the association’s policies.”

The APA for its part claims in a statement that 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.” But the organization is also conducting its own review on its actions during that period.

The report also details an incestuous revolving door where psychologists went from APA members to CIA employees to working for Mitchell Jessen Associates, the contractor that oversaw the torture program.

The new report is yet more documentary evidence in what has become a hefty corpus that demonstrates how private citizens and government officials worked diligently not only to design and implement a broad program of torture, but to come up with tortured legal and ethical justifications for the abusive tactics.

To this day, however, no senior members of the Bush administration involved with the torture program have been held to account.


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