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Psychology and Torture

The recent release of the long awaited Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s program to detain and interrogate terrorism suspects, has been receiving extensive coverage in the media. Among the many troubling details revealed is that the CIA paid two military psychologists $81 million to devise and carry out enhanced interrogation techniques on detainees. News about psychology’s involvement in the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program first began to emerge in the mid 1980s. For me and many other psychologists, one of the many troubling revelations that have been emerging since that time, is the extent to which the American Psychological Association (APA) has played a complicit role in perpetuating the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program over the years, by covering up the depth and extent of psychology’s involvement in the program, and by refusing to take a formal stance prohibiting it.

A number of psychologists who are colleagues of mine have continued to actively lobby from within the organization to bring about a change in APA’s stance, and a number have resigned from APA over this issue. In response to this pressure, APA did conduct an internal investigation, leading to a report that was released in 2005. This report, which was designated as the Report of the Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security (The PENS Report), concluded that any involvement by psychologists in the interrogation of detainees, was for purposes of ensuring that the activities were safe, legal and ethical. Despite the fact that the PENS Report was subsequently revealed to be deeply biased and flawed, APA has taken the stance that its results are definitive and authoritative.

Now, in response to growing external pressure, APA has finally agreed to an independent investigation to be conducted by David Hoffman, a former inspector general and federal prosecutor. A colleague of mine, Frank Summers (current President of the APA Division of Psychoanalysis) who has played an active role in lobbying for reforms in APA’s ethics policy, had agreed to write an article on this topic for Public Seminar, to be posted today. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances (a computer crash, not a conspiracy), he has been delayed.

In the interim, I am posting a link to a piece on this topic published for Slate Magazine, by another colleague, Steven Reisner, a founding member of The Coalition for an Ethical Psychology.

Also for you:

Jeremy Safran

  • Chiara Bottici

    thanks jeremy for bringing the issue to our attention: it is troubling and i look forward to learn more about it.

  • Ainoko NZ

    It would be a nice assumption if Summers were to place some bearing on the use of Bentham’s philosophy whilst lobbying for reforms in APA’s ethics policy because they have been lacking for many years.

  • Friedrich

    Great read

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