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Report Suggests Top Psychologists Worked With the C.I.A. on Torture Program

Newly-published emails reveal secret collaboration between the A.P.A. and Bush Administration

(Brooks Kraft/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

The American Psychological Association worked in secret with the administration of George W. Bush to boost justification for torturing prisoners, according to a new report released yesterday.

The report, which was conducted by critics of the A.P.A. and human rights activists, argues that the group coordinated with top officials from the C.I.A., White House and Department of Defense to allow psychologists to remain active in the interrogation program as it came under heavy fire from the public.

“Psychologists from the C.I.A. and other agencies met with association officials in July, and by the next year the association issued guidelines that reaffirmed that it was acceptable for its members to be involved in the interrogation program,” writes James Risen for the New York Times.

Keeping psychologists involved in the program, Risen explains, was critical for the Justice Department’s argument that the interrogations were legal and not technically considered torture. Employing accredited psychologists meant that the administration could claim the detainees were being monitored by health professionals and therefore were not being tortured. This came in handy when, starting in 2004, when images were released showing shocking conditions at Abut Ghraib. In the following years, criticism of the ways in which U.S. prisoners were treated mounted. The interrogation program was shuttered a few years ago, and last year, the Senate Intelligence Committee deemed the program both abusive and ineffective.

The new report details communications between a high-ranking C.I.A. psychologist and a top official from the A.P.A. regarding the program’s architects, as well as meetings between members of both groups in the summer of 2004 following the release of the Abu Ghraib photos. After analyzing hundreds of email, the report found that “there is no evidence that any A.P.A. official expressed concern over mounting reports of psychologist involvement in detainee abuse during four years of direct email communications with senior members of the U.S. intelligence community.”

Rhea Farberman, a spokesperson for the A.P.A., denied “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,” according to Risen.

In 2005, an association committee called the Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security released a set of guidelines that “concluded that it was appropriate for psychologists to remain involved with interrogations, to make sure they remained safe, legal, ethical and effective,” writes Risen. The guidelines came under such heavy criticism from the psychologist community that the A.P.A. was later forced to retract them.

The A.P.A. is currently conducting an independent review of the association’s role in the program.

About Danny Lewis

Danny Lewis is a multimedia journalist working in print, radio, and illustration. He focuses on stories with a health/science bent and has reported some of his favorite pieces from the prow of a canoe. Danny is based in Brooklyn, NY.

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