Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Empire Strikes Back: APA Tops Lash Out at Anti-Torture Opponents

While few may be aware of it, the battle to keep Bush's torture camps and "black sites" operational continues in listservs and little-known websites and state psychological association meeting rooms. The situation is heating up, fueled by charges of slander, corrupt practices, and accusations and denials -- all under the looming shadow of Senator Levin's pending Senate hearings on psychologists and torture, due this fall.

There are two plot lines, for those trying to understand what's happening:

1) Military psychologists who work for the Pentagon's Survival, Evasion, Rescue, and Escape program (SERE), meant to "stress innoculate" U.S. pilots and officers against POW interrogation by hostile forces, were implicated by the Pentagon's own Inspector General in reverse-engineering SERE training methods to produce torture; and that these methods were spread from forward bases in Afghanistan to Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and CIA "black site" prisons holding Bush's "war on terror" "enemy combatants". (One ex-President of the APA has already been swept up via association, with some of these SERE-influenced accused torturers.)

2) The APA passed a "reaffirmation" of their 2006 resolution against torture. The 2007 resolution refused to ban psychologist participation at prison sites where indefinite detention, sensory deprivation or overload, or sleep deprivation were inflicted upon prisoners (at least insofar at they didn't cause "significant" or "lasting" harm -- itself an abandonment of APA's ethical aspiration to "to benefit those with whom they work and take care to do no harm").

How Torture Task Force Was Manipulated

At the APA convention where the issue was "debated" (only Council of Representative members are allowed to vote on resolutions), a member of the APA Presidential Task Force (PENS) that helped create the 2006 resolution, Jean Maria Arrigo, spoke out forcefully about how political pressures were placed upon the task force, beginning with the stacking of its membership with military psychologists, in order to bring about a set of positions that would be consistent with Pentagon and Bush Administration needs. Dr. Arrigo's presentation was later publicized by Amy Goodman at Democracy Now! The result? A torrent of invective and mea culpa from APA leadership.

What follows is a selection of Dr. Arrigo's statement. The quote is long, but very important and revealing about how "democracy" really works in our contemporary institutions.

When appointed to the task force in April 2005, I looked forward to a fruitful collaboration with six members employed by the Department of Defense.

Although perplexed and disturbed by our PENS report in June 2005, I did not take any public action for months. Gerald Koocher's President's Column in the February 2006 issue of the APA Monitor first alerted me to my responsibility. Koocher represented the task force -- the PENS report as the product of an independent ten-member task force. I knew it was not independent....

So the first irregularity was APA board liaisons who interfered in task force business. As I learned from these other insiders, APA task forces typically have only one liaison from the APA board. The liaison's role is to coordinate with the task force, but not to make decisions or to intervene in task force business. For us, a second board liaison was added: President-Elect Gerald Koocher. He exerted strong control over task force decisions, as evidenced in the PENS listserv, printed matter, and he censured dissidents.

For example, the last item in the task force mandate from the APA board was the question, "Has APA responded strongly enough to media accounts of activities that have occurred at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo?" Nothing in the mandate precluded our recommending an investigation. But Koocher emphatically denied this possibility and castigated the person who raised the issue. He also personally took a very strong stand against the APA adopting strict international law, rather than permissive US law, in defining torture....

The second irregularity were observers who intervened or who had conflicts of interest. Task force meetings typically have no observers or only expert consultants invited in briefly. The following people sat in on our task force meeting: Russ Newman, Director of the APA Practice Directorate; four members from Science Policy or Science Directorate, Susan Brandon, Steven Breckler, Heather Kelly, Geoff Mumford; the APA Office of Public Affairs publicist Rhea Farberman; Mel Gravitz, a former director of the Navy Internship Program; and an APA intern, whose name I didn’t catch.

Russ Newman, who is the head of the Practice Directorate, took a lead role and prevailed with these principles: that the task force mission was to put out the fires of controversy right away, that we would keep the proceedings confidential so as not to feed the fire, that the PENS report must express unity, and that only a couple of people would speak for the task force....

Dr. Arrigo then went on to detail the links between the task force "civilian" observers and the Department of Defense. Courageously, she was not afraid to name names (some of which I have highlighted in similar ways but other contexts):

Numerous announcements at the APA's online Science Insider Policy News, or SPIN, show the four observers associated with APA Science Policy to be very high-level lobbyists for DOD funding, people who would meet with very high-level DOD people and congressional leaders and so on. For example, in October 2004, Geoff Mumford and Heather Kelly met with the DOD Counterintelligence Field Activity Agency -- that’s CIFA -- which allocates resources. At that time, one of the DOD task force members headed CIFA's Behavioral Sciences Directorate, where he supervised "20 psychologists and a multi-million dollar budget," There were many such reports on SPIN. Now, this is not to criticize at all the APA for lobbying DOD funders, OK? The criticism I’m making is that these observers had a very highly vested interest in a PENS report which was compatible with DOD policy, because they’re seeking DOD funding....

A third matter is an unbalanced task force [link added by Valtin, to list of task force member bios]. Six of the ten members were highly placed in the Department of Defense, as contracts and military officers. For example, one was the commander of all military psychologists....

There were also two APA outsiders, you know, finishing out the ten. One resigned in protest in February 2006, and I am here regrettably as a dissident member....

By majority vote -- all but the two outsiders -- the task force imposed confidentiality on the proceedings. There was also an informal ban on note-taking at the meeting. On the first afternoon, a military psychologist sharply told me not to take notes, and no one gainsaid him. After that I took only brief notes, and nobody else appeared to take any notes, except for the Director of the Ethics Office who prepared our report. Because of the severe conflicts of interest of the observers and the liaison with DOD members, I call this one-sided secrecy.

No task force member was permitted to speak about the PENS report. Two non-members of the task force were authorized to field all public inquiries: that is, the Director of the APA Ethics Office and the APA publicist....

A Counterintelligence Expert Speaks Up

Dr. Arrigo continued:

In trying to understand this a couple years afterwards, I finally consulted with two retired intelligence operatives. David DeBatto served in the Sunni Triangle of Iraq as a Team Leader of the Elite Tactical Human Intelligence team....

DeBatto interpreted the PENS task force process as a typical legitimization process for a decision made at a higher level in the Department of Defense. Because of the hierarchical structure of the DOD, he said, it was absolutely impossible that the six DOD members of the task force participated as individuals bringing their expertise and judgment to the policy issues at hand for [inaudible]. He said that they were certainly there as representatives of the decision maker. And because the decision maker's decision had to be sustained, had to prevail, a quorum of DOD members was necessary, rather than just one or two to express DOD concerns.

The presence of the APA Science Policy observers, DeBatto said, was a standard intimidation tactic to insure the DOD task force members stayed in line. As funding lobbyists and recipients, they were strictly beholden to DOD interests. In effect, they outranked the DOD task force members because of their high-level connections.

Zeus Fires His Thunderbolts

Gerald Koocher, who is described by Arrigo as exerting "strong control over task force decisions", fired back at Arrigo with an "Open Letter to Amy Goodman", which can be found at his website. Koocher was angry:

Dr. Jean Maria Arrigo recently spoke on “Democracy Now” and made a substantial number of false and defamatory allegations regarding me and other members and staff of the American Psychological Association. She also omitted mention of several factors regarding personal her biases [sic] and troubled past....

Koocher takes exception at Arrigo's characterization the PENS panel was stacked with military representatives, but ignores her documentation of multiple and pervasive links of many civilian members to the Department of Defense. He then tries to minimize his role, i.e., he was "only" there for the "six hours of the two day meeting" -- almost the complete first day!

Here are the facts. The PENS group was officially the Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security. It was appointed by 2005 APA President Ronald F. Levant. The Board of Director’s liaison was Dr. Barry Anton of the University of Puget Sound. Because Dr. Levant could not attend the meeting, I (as 2006 President) represented him at the start of the meeting to help the group understand it’s charge and . [sic -- Dr. K really did a poor proofreading job!) I was present for only the first six hours of the two day meeting.
And then, in a twist of logic and psychological motivation that I will leave others to unravel, Koocher offered that Dr. Arrigo's childhood traumas had made her advocate

...a broad expansion of the task force's mission and scope. At that time I spoke up, expressed sadness and respect for her traumatic life experiences, but noted that the task force had been budgeted for a single 2-day meeting and had a highly specific charge (i.e., to recommend to the Ethics Committee - the only body authorized to interpret our ethics code - what guidance might be offered to our members who found themselves in roles involving such matters). It was Dr. Arrigo, not me, who sought to intervene in the business of the task force, and who became embittered when she was rebuffed by the full group.

Imagine that! Dr. Arrigo, a task force member, "sought to intervene in the business of the task force"! What arrogance! Why didn't she do what she was told? Instead she became "embittered". Which leads us to Dr. Koocher's thundering, accusatory conclusion:

Until now, I had remained respectfully silent in public regarding Dr. Arrigo’s biases, history of personal trauma, and lack of boundaries, but will no longer do so. Her behavior during the portions of the meeting I attended, and in subsequent public forums, has underscored the sad emotional aftermath of a troubled upbringing...

I have left out a serious false charge made by Dr. Koocher against a relative of Dr. Arrigo's, as I don't wish to further his agenda by retailing it in this forum.

Bluster, False Charges, and "Bad Eggs"

Now, Dr. Koocher's bizarre letter is followed by a more restrained missive from the former chair of the PENS Task Force, Dr. Olivia Moorehead-Slaughter, who also means to answer the Goodman/Arrigo posting. Circulated on the listserv for the APA's Council of Representatives, it has the imprimatur of APA President Sharon Brehm. The letter is long, and since this posting is itself already way too long (have you really read it this far?), I'll only note a few things from it. (I also have no online link for others to assess it fairly themselves. I'll post one should it become available.)

Dr. Moorehead-Slaughter defends her work on the PENS task force. She finds it prudent -- although I don't know why, since I can find no evidence anyone ever made such charges -- to state:

I have never worked in any capacity for the CIA, the FBI, or the Department of Defense....I have never received monies or compensation of any nature from APA for my time.... When I was asked to chair the PENS Task Force, I accepted. At no point was there any mention of compensation, reward, benefit, or other inducement for serving in this role or for coming to a particular position on the substantive issues. Any other suggestion is, quite frankly, an insult to my integrity.

While generally more restrained than Koocher's blustering letter, Moorehead-Slaughter sets up one false premise and charge after another, so she can shoot it down and look both injured and virtuous. But nowhere does she mention Koocher's charges, nor does she or Koocher or anyone in the APA majority on this issue state any moral uncertainties, any misgivings about what has happened in Bush's gulag-like prisons, any regret over the misuse of psychological knowledge and authority. If anything, they are mildly uncomfortable that they even have to admit occasionally, as psychiatrist Charles Morgan did at the APA conference, "there may have been a few bad eggs."

Fight to Stop Collaboration with Torture Practices

The APA leadership can only respond with shrill personal charges and strained fabrications because they have no real answer to the truth. That truth is dark and difficult to accept, especially among those who put their faith in long-lasting American institutions. And, cynically, the Pentagon and CIA types who wish to maintain the monopoly of force in interrogations, and over their prisoners and political opponents in Bush's Asian and Middle East military adventures, count on this otherwise healthy incredulity. As Senate hearings near, we can expect more invective and/or obfuscation from 1333 16th St., NW, as well as from numerous pundits, generals, ex-military psychologists, ivory-tower researchers, and others too numerous to mention... even from some who sincerely believe they are doing the right thing in supporting APA and the Pentagon's position on interrogations.

Now is the time to support those psychologists and anti-torture activists who are fighting to stop abusive practices by the U.S. government. Write your Senators and Congressmen/women, tell them to support Sen. Levin's hearings (with which, to be fair, APA officially promises cooperation), and that we need to get to the bottom of what has really happened with the use of torture and the collaboration of behavioral science right now, and since the beginning of the "war on terror", and even more, since the Cold War itself.


Anonymous said...

It's worth highlighting, as well, that the passage in Koocher's letter on Arrigo's attempt to make a "broad expansion of the task force's mission and scope" actually confirms -- in some detail, under illusion (delusion?) that he is rebutting it -- a key point of hers: the task force deliberations and report were pre-determined and tightly controlled.

Here's Koocher on the "highly specific charge" of the task force, and how he firmly enforced it at the outset:

"I spoke up, expressed sadness and respect for her traumatic life experiences, but noted that the task force had been budgeted for a single 2-day meeting and had a highly specific charge (i.e., to recommend to the Ethics Committee - the only body authorized to interpret our ethics code - what guidance might be offered to our members who found themselves in roles involving such matters)."

Only 2 days budgeted for such a profoundly important issue? For a task force with the name "Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security"?

"Guidance" for those who "found themselves" working in detention facilities incontrovertibly known to use torture and violate numerous international laws and basic principles that protect human rights and the fabric of civil society?

Beyond the scope of such a task force to consider whether psychologists working in such facilities in any capacity, let alone using their psychological knowledge to advise torturers and/or aid in the "softening up" of human beings for further interrogation and torture, is consistent with the ethics code of the APA?

Valtin said...

You make some very good points. Koocher does make some revealing statements, in more than one way. Written obviously in haste, it is amazing to me that he then posts it, leaves it online, and apparently seems proud of it.

I thought originally of reposting it and letting his own words speak for themselves, but in the end felt it needed a fuller treatment.

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