On the American Psychological Association and Torture
This morning’s New York Times summarizes the findings of a recently completed report containing the findings of a seven-month investigation by a team led by David Hoffman, a Chicago lawyer with the firm Sidley Austin, commissioned by the American Psychological Association (APA). This report (commonly referred to as the Hoffman Report) documents the existence of a long-term conspiracy to engage in collusion between senior leadership of APA and both the CIA and Department of Defense (DOD). It provides evidence that: 1) APA intentionally generated ethics policies (vetted by the DOD) on psychologists’ involvement in interrogations that would provide no constraints on psychologists in the military working for Department of Defense, and 2) APA implemented a dishonest public relations strategy to falsely portray APA policy concerning the protection of detainee welfare and human rights.
In addition, the report provides evidence that APA manipulated internal critics of APA policy to ensure that attempts to change that policy were rendered ineffective. A strategic decision was made to turn heads away from increasing evidence on torture and other detainee abuse, and to deny and/or dismiss any serious ethical complaints against psychologists alleged to have participated in abusive interrogations. The Hoffman report also found that this collusion was accompanied by systematic manipulation of APA governance procedures that included falsely reporting unanimous votes supporting decisions consistent with the conspiracy. In addition, the Hoffman Report concluded that the APA actively solicited opposition to critics (both internal and external) by APA staff.
APA members who have actively worked to change APA’s ethical guidelines and to expose APAs collusion with the CIA and DOD over the years are waiting to see how APA will respond to the findings of the Hoffman Report. Many feel that given the organization’s history of minimizing the seriousness of the problem and actively working to oppose and/or silence internal critics, it will require an organized and sustained effort by concerned APA members to keep the situation in the spotlight of the mainstream media long enough to enact the necessary internal reforms.