January 1st, 2015

APA ethics under investigation

Stephen Soldz, Ph.D., Cert. Psya., a spokesman for. the Coalition for Ethical Psychology, is a professor at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis and director of the Center for Research, Evaluation and Program Development.

New York Times reporter James Risen’s new book, “Pay Any Price: Greed, Power and Endless War,” discloses the hidden costs of war on terror, shameful governmental practices and abuse of power. In this tome, Risen alleges that the American Psychological Association (APA) colluded with the Bush administration regarding torture of detainees.

In response, the APA has issued several statements refuting the allegations.

Rhea Farberman, executive director for communications at the APA, says that the organization is taking the allegations seriously and has engaged David H. Hoffman, an attorney with Sidley Austin LLP in Chicago, to conduct a “thorough and objective” review. “He’s been asked to separate the facts from the allegations. This third-party expert will report on what is based on fact and what is not,” she says.

Hoffman will have access to witnesses, emails, documents and any other resources he needs. “We explicitly told him to follow the facts, wherever they lead,” Farberman adds. In his book, Risen charges that APA changed its code of ethics to express support for “enhanced interrogations;” Hoffman has been instructed to delve into this assertion.

“To make it very clear, there is never any justification for torture,” Farberman emphasizes.

The APA also formed an internal subcommittee comprised of 2014 APA President Nadine J. Kaslow, Ph.D., 2015 President-Elect Susan H. McDaniel, Ph.D. and Treasurer Bonnie Markham, Ph.D., Psy.D. to assist Hoffman throughout the investigation. “The subcommittee has two roles. They are to make sure Hoffman has access to anyone and anything he needs,” Farberman says. “They will receive the report when Hoffman is finished, review it and make recommendations to the full board for consideration. They will hand off Hoffman’s report without any changes to the full board, which will review it and make decisions regarding actions. The report and the board actions will then be made public.”

Hoffman began his investigation in the middle of November and says he will deliver his findings in or around the end of March 2015. He served as a federal prosecutor and inspector general in Chicago’s anti-corruption division and reports that his firm has significant experience in this type of investigation and has no connection to the APA.

He notes that his investigation will focus on two key questions: changes to the 2002 Ethics Code in 2010 and findings in the 2005 PENS (Psychological Ethics and National Security) Report. In both cases, the APA maintains adherence to its current ethical standards regarding violation of human rights, although language changes have raised concerns for some psychologists.

The investigation is not limited to those two aspects though. “There is the broader topic of the APA’s communications and relationship with the Bush administration and detainee interrogations,” Hoffman explains. “We’ll be sweeping quite broadly and encourage people to reach out to us, psychologists or others who might have information to offer.”

“We are starting with an open mind and have no idea what the facts are. We’ll collect the evidence and follow the leads, then draw conclusions,” Hoffman says. The firm created a hotline: 312-456-8468 or APAreview@sidley.com.

Since 2005, the Coalition for Ethical Psychology has raised concerns about the APA and its involvement with the Bush administration and the military, according to Stephen Soldz, Ph.D., Cert. Psya., director, Center for Research, Evaluation and Program Development, full professor and instructor, Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. “The Bush administration sanctioned torture against detainees during the war on terror,” he says. “What’s less known is that health providers and psychologists were central to that program. Enhanced Interrogation Techniques, another name for torture, were designed by a psychologist.”

Soldz says that the Bush administration wanted to “avoid future incidents of prosecution that he couldn’t count on in the political environment so he developed a legal shield.” Risen discovered “torture memos,” a series of approximately 700 emails sent over several years that connects APA officials with White House and CIA officials, according to Soldz. He notes that these memos redefined torture as “extremely severe and long-lasting, causing permanent harm,” and asks, “How can a psychologist know if [torture] will cause permanent harm?”

Additionally, the Coalition takes issue with the above-mentioned PENS task force. “This task force met for two-and-a-half days in June 2005. Most task forces meet for a year,” Soldz says. “Six of the 10 members on the task force were on the payroll of military agencies. Five served in chains of command accused of prisoner/detainee abuse by human rights groups. Our position is that this is a total conflict of interest.”

The Coalition, along with human rights groups, has called for an independent investigation since 2008, Soldz reports. “We’ve been talking with Hoffman and are confident he will do a real investigation. We’ve given him information we’ve gathered over the last 10 years and are cautiously optimistic,” he says, although he expresses some concern about the subcommittee that will work with Hoffman. “We’re concerned it’s an in-group. Two long-term critics should be on the committee for balance.”

The Coalition pressed for removal of Norman B. Anderson, Ph.D., who had operational responsibility for APA actions during the entire post-9/11 period under review. Soldz reports that Anderson did recuse himself, but was replaced with the APA treasurer.

Soldz recognizes and emphasizes that the APA does not directly support and promote torture. But his organization is concerned with the access and oversight APA leaders gave to the Bush administration, the CIA and the defense department to shape APA policies to allow continued psychologist involvement in abuses.

According to Joseph de Rivera, Ph.D., former Division 48 (Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict and Violence: Peace Psychology Division) president and Clark University professor who directed the Peace Studies Program at the school, torture is “a disaster and doesn’t produce results. It’s used to dominate people and psychologists shouldn’t have anything to do with it. I’m glad the APA is doing an independent investigation.”

Working with the military raises a number of concerns, de Rivera says. “You want to be concerned with the mental health of soldiers, but where do you draw the line?” He adds, “Dealing with the ‘enemy’ the ethics get slippery and need a lot of attention.” De Rivera admits the role of the psychologist in situations involving the enemy and/or interrogations can be challenging. “What are your obligations ethically?” he asks.

By Phyllis Hanlon

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