Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

One of the enduring questions surrounding the torture and black-sites program run by the CIA between early 2002 and the early fall of 2006 relates to the role played by psychologists and the bizarre conduct of their professional association, the American Psychological Association (APA). Drawing on a cache of secret email communications between key players in the torture program and senior officers of the APA, Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter James Risen suggests in Pay Any Price, his new book, that the APA rushed to change its ethics rules to allow its members to participate in the torture program. A key role in these disclosures is played by Nathaniel Raymond, a war-crimes investigator who analyzed these furtive communications for the FBI and who now heads Harvard’s Signal Program on Human Security and Technology. I put six questions to Raymond about the new disclosures, what they tell us about the APA, and the adoption of torture techniques by the CIA.

1. One of the most far-reaching disclosures contained in James Risen’s new book has to do with a CIA contractor named Scott Gerwehr. Risen says that Gerwehr spoke with a human rights investigator who secured an archive of his emails relating to his work for the CIA on interrogations issues. Are you that person? How did you come to meet Gerwehr, and why did he confide in you?

Yes, I am the unnamed human rights investigator referenced in Risen’s book. In the fall of 2006, Dr. Brad Olson, a Chicago-based professor of psychology, met Scott Gerwehr at a conference, where they discussed the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody.

Brad referred Scott to me at Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), where I worked on the Campaign Against Torture at the time. Scott and I spoke soon thereafter, on November 1, 2006. That phone call was the only substantive conversation we ever had.

To this day I don’t know either why Scott chose to confide in me or what he hoped I would do about what he told me. It knocked the wind out of me when he said he worked as a contractor for the CIA detecting deception by detainees during interrogations.

Scott went on to say that he had been at a secret CIA facility at Guantánamo in the summer of 2006 but left after the agency would not let him install cameras “like at the other facilities.” I assume this is the same facility that was identified in Harper’s as Camp No, and that the Associated Press later reported was called Penny Lane by the CIA. Scott seemed conflicted by his experience at Guantánamo but didn’t say why.

He also made detailed claims to me about the content of the 2004 CIA Office of the Inspector General’s report on the “enhanced” interrogation program. These claims included that the CIA was using unauthorized tactics and that, according to the CIA’s Office of Medical Services, the health effects on the detainees were more severe than had been admitted. Scott’s claims have largely been confirmed by public disclosures since his death in 2008, including by reporting in Harper’s.

2. The Gerwehr emails point to close liaising between the CIA, the White House science officer, the Department of Defense, and senior leadership figures of the APA. Why are these behind-the-scenes discussions with a professional organization important?

American health-professional associations play a crucial regulatory role on the national level through the amendment and interpretation of their ethics codes. The APA ethics code, for example, is the basis of some or all of the state licensure standards for psychologists in more than thirty states. Thus, the APA ethics code and the policies that interpret it have a direct impact on the roles into which the U.S. government, the country’s largest employer of psychologists, can deploy psychologists.

Historically, professional associations vigorously assert their autonomy in setting their own ethics. The fact that the APA secretly allowed the CIA to assist in revising its ethics policies on whether psychologists could participate in interrogation is much more than the fox simply guarding the hen house. It is like the fox being given a white coat and becoming a fully licensed USDA poultry inspector.

I believe the APA’s collaboration with the CIA regarding the Bush-era interrogation program will eventually be recognized as one of the greatest scandals in the history of American medical ethics. Ethics educators will eventually teach about the APA’s co-option by the U.S. intelligence community in a similar way to how students are now taught about the Tuskegee experiments in the mid-twentieth century.

3. Are these dealings consistent with the statements the APA has made on this subject?

No. The revelations in James Risen’s book based on the Gerwehr emails directly contradict years of public statements by the APA. Let me give you two examples.

In 2011, Melba Vasquez, then the APA president, said that it “has been falsely asserted that the APA colluded with the Bush administration in the harmful detention and interrogation practices of the ‘War on Terror.’” We now know for a fact that the APA literally invited the CIA and the White House in the immediate aftermath of the Abu Ghraib scandal to meet about how APA ethics policy related to national security.

According to the emails obtained by Risen, APA ethics director Stephen Behnke wrote the following to the meeting’s attendees, including Dr. Kirk Hubbard, the CIA official who publicly admits introducing James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, the architects of the CIA torture program, to the agency:

I would like to emphasize that we will not advertise the meeting other than this letter to the individual invitees, that we will not publish or otherwise make public the names of attendees or the substance of our discussions, and that in the meeting we will neither assess nor investigate the behavior of any specific individual or group.

Additionally, the APA press office has outright denied ties between the APA and the firm of Mitchell Jessen and Associates, which designed the torture program for the CIA. The Gerwehr emails in Risen’s book show that the APA communicated directly with Hubbard about the 2005 ethics policy after he left the CIA and went to work for [Jim] Mitchell and [Bruce] Jessen.

4. Did the APA take a position that was different from the position taken for medical doctors by the American Medical Association (AMA) and for psychiatrists by the American Psychiatric Association (ApA)?

The APA position was the diametric opposite of the AMA’s and the ApA’s. The AMA’s and ApA’s 2006 policies specifically prohibited their members from having any role in interrogations. The 2005 APA ethics policy specifically endorsed a role in interrogations for psychologists.

Furthermore, the 2002 amended APA ethics code, which was passed by APA’s council within days of the Yoo–Bybee memo being signed off on by the Bush Administration, removed core concepts of international medical ethics from the code. The new code allowed the Nuremberg Defense and eroded the Nuremberg Code.

Unlike the 1992 code that preceded it, the 2002 code allowed psychologists to follow a “lawful” order when there was a conflict with the ethics code. The 2002 amended code also allowed human subjects to research without consent when permitted by law and regulation. Regardless of what their intentions were, these two critical changes made it easier for CIA psychologists to participate in the torture program. The 2005 ethics policy, which we now know the CIA and the White House helped write, simply enfranchised interpretations of the code into official APA policy.

5. What is the relationship between the legal opinions issued by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel and the APA’s position on torture? Was the APA’s shift in policy necessary in order to provide professional support for the Bush administration’s torture programs?

Health-professional design, monitoring, and justification of the CIA torture program was the “get out of jail free card” for the Bush Administration at the heart of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memos. The 2010 PHR report Experiments in Torture demonstrates that the OLC memos hinged on the health-professional involvement in the torture. The OLC memos state that a good-faith defense against torture charges could be made if experts, in this case psychologists, claimed that the application of the torture tactics did not cause “severe, long lasting mental pain and suffering.”

If the APA took the same position as the AMA and ApA later did, the results for the Bush Administration may have been catastrophic. The 2006 ApA policy, for example, directly resulted in psychiatrists being immediately removed from Guantánamo by the Pentagon. It is likely that the legal shield the OLC constructed for the CIA torture program would have evaporated if psychologists were also prohibited from participating. Preserving the role of psychologists was crucial to indemnifying the program’s authorizers at the White House and implementers at the CIA.

6. Are there any aspects of the dealings between the APA and the intelligence community that suggest the possibility of public corruption? As far as you are aware, were they investigated?

My colleague Isaac Baker and I wrote an analysis of the Gerwehr emails in October 2012 at the request of the Public Corruption Unit of the FBI. In it we presented evidence from the emails and other sources that we believe is consistent with violations of public-corruption laws by CIA and APA officials.

Unfortunately, the evidence we had access to was outside the five-year statute of limitations of the RICO law. The FBI nows says that they did not further investigate the allegations in my memo. I still believe, despite the FBI statement, that a full investigation of the relationship between the CIA and the APA regarding ethics policies governing interrogation is urgently required.

I worry about the preservation of remaining evidence in this case, following the revelations this week in Risen’s book. I hope the APA will follow Penn State’s example from when it hired former FBI director Louis Freeh to independently investigate the Sandusky scandal and appointed an independent probe of itself. APA should also immediately preserve all email, phone records, and other physical evidence from its staff and leadership before any data is destroyed.

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