Wednesday, July 30, 2008

On Eve of the Convention: Is APA Leadership Splintering?

Dr. Bryant Welch's recent article, Why Did They Do It? - Torture, Political Manipulation and the American Psychological Association, published online at Counterpunch, Psyche, Science and Society, and many other sites, is a powerful indictment of the moral and political bankruptcy of the American Psychological Association, written by a key insider.

Dr. Bryant is a Harvard law school graduate and a licensed psychologist. For over twenty years he's been a key member of the APA bureaucratic apparatus. Bryant's article is best when it details some of the organizational and personnel links inside APA that helped fashion that organization's pro-military policies, including its seeming indifference to the issue of psychologist involvement in torture.

From Dr. Bryant's article (see links above):
When the torture issue broke last year, the answer to the first question about APA’s military connection seemed obvious to me. Since the early 1980’s APA has had a unique relationship with Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye’s office. Inouye, for much of that time, has served as Chair of the Subcommittee on Defense for the Senate Appropriations Committee. The Subcommittee has responsibility for all U.S. defense spending. One of Inouye’s administrative assistants, psychologist Patrick DeLeon, has long been active in the APA and served a term as APA president. For over twenty-five years relationships between APA and the Department of Defense (DOD) have been strongly encouraged and closely coordinated by DeLeon. It was DeLeon acting on behalf of Inouye who initiated the DOD psychologist prescription demonstration project in the late 1980’s that began psychology’s efforts to secure prescriptive privileges....

... there is no question that APA had formed a strong relationship with military psychologists and the DOD through its connections with Inouye’s office.
I strongly recommended reading Bryant's full article. But where it is weakest is in its delineation of the decay of APA governance and moral stature, so that APA's "terrible regression" is traced to the 1990s.
What is clear to me, instead, is that the pluralistic and multi-faceted governing process that I witnessed when I first entered the APA in the early 1980’s was sharply curtailed during the 1990’s. Differences of opinion stopped and the APA suffered a terrible regression. Increasingly inbred, under the administration of Raymond Fowler, the association agenda was primarily and at times exclusively financial, focusing on making money both through real estate ventures and through what many of us felt was a an unwarranted, financially harsh treatment of APA employees.

More peculiarly, Fowler’s “agenda”.... served as a means of social control, a subtle injunction against raising any of the conflictual issues, challenges, or ideas that need to be addressed in any vital and accountable organization. The APA became placid and increasingly detached....

As a result of the lengthy era of regression, the governance of APA was ill prepared for thoughtful deliberation on a matter as important as the torture issue. As I have written in State of Confusion when people are confused they are eager to be told what is real. The governance was simply over its head in trying to effectively deliberate on such an issue when there was organized support on the other side coming from the military interests supported by [APA former presidents, Gerald] Koocher and [Ronald] Levant and possibly DeLeon.
Dr. Bryant ignores the longer history of professional psychology in the United States. This history reveals a decades-long pattern of subservience to the needs of the military, police, prison, and national security interests. I hope he will incorporate this history into his further writings, as his sincerity in regards to his disgust with with APA as an organization -- "a regressed and chronically manipulated organization" -- cannot be doubted. His statement reminds me of the article released by distinguished APA member and former Ethics Chair, Ken Pope, earlier this year, when he resigned from APA over their scandalous torture-collaborationist policy.

Dr. Byrant's fusillade against APA comes on the eve of the annual convention of the American Psychological Association. Anti-torture dissidents within APA are rallying around the presidential candidacy of Steven Reisner, and political heat generated by, among other things, a mail-in referendum on APA policy around psychologists and detainees at Guantanamo and other U.S. "war on terror" prisons, which currently supports psychologist involvement at these prisons, which do not allow for international protections against inhumane treatment, and have been implicated over and over again in torture.

Psychologists for an Ethical APA is planning a protest at the APA convention in Boston on Saturday, August 16, from 12pm - 2pm, at the plaza at the front entrance of the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center at 415 Summer St. The demonstration is co-sponsored by PEAPA, Coalition for an Ethical Psychology, Psychologists for Social Responsibility, and others. Bryant and a number of others are planned speakers.

Bryant was a key insider in APA's internal structure. How many other major APA figures are willing to stand up and speak against the self-destructive, Faustian bargain APA has made with the military and the intelligence agencies? I suspect the vast majority of such insiders are corrupt, bought off, or are true believers in the military's grandiose plans of conquest and technological-psychological-military Valhalla. But Bryant's article has given me hope that there are more principled figures wormed away inside the bloated carcass of APA governance.

Come on out, folks. The air is far better out here. And your souls will certainly thank you for it.

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