A Chicago lawyer has been hired to investigate allegations that the leadership of the American Psychological Association (APA) and some of its members were directly or indirectly complicit in torture of terrorist prisoners.
David H. Hoffman of the Sidley law firm is to complete his probe “in the first quarter” of 2015. Hoffman is former inspector general for Chicago, a former federal prosecutor and once clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist.
He will be paid by APA, but the association noted in a Nov. 12 announcement that Hoffman has been given “the sole purpose” of ascertaining the truth “without regard to whether the evidence or conclusions may be deemed favorable or unfavorable to APA.”
The action was taken in response to the release of Pay Any Price, a book by New York Times reporter James Risen in which he criticizes post-9/11 government actions, such as invasions of privacy in the surveillance of telephone and email communications.
As part of that criticism, Risen accuses APA of involvement in devising “enhanced interrogation” methods and working “assiduously to protect the psychologists who did get involved in the torture program.”
APA said its board of directors reviewed Risen’s allegations that APA colluded with the administration of President George W. Bush to support terrorism and develop techniques such as waterboarding and concluded the charges are so serious and highly charged that they demand “a definitive, independent and objective review.”
APA earlier refuted the allegations and said Risen contacted APA and was told officers would answer any questions he had. “Unfortunately,” President Nadine Kaslow, Ph.D., said, “he never provided questions so his later reporting was onesided and inaccurate.”
Steven Reisner, Ph.D., a longtime critic of APA’s refusal to issue a ban against psychologists working at detention facilities, such as those at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, commented after the announcement that Hoffman seems likely to conduct a fair and impartial review. Reisner ran for APA president unsuccessfully in 2008 on the platform of banning APA members from serving at the detention facilities.
Reisner is adviser in psychology and ethics to Physicians for Human Rights, which earlier called for a federal investigation into APA’s involvement at terrorist detention facilities.
He said the APA announcement was initially received with skepticism, suspecting that the probe would be designed as a whitewash backing APA’s position that there was no wrongdoing in decisions to allow psychologists to continuing working at the facilities after the interrogation methods were revealed.
But, Reisner said, after reviewing Hoffman’s credentials and his record of investigations in Chicago, he believes that the investigation may very well produce an unbiased report reflecting input from all viewpoints.
“He appears to be the real thing,” Reisner said.
He said Hoffman is actively seeking information from those critical of the APA stance and is open to expanding the probe to include questions outside the framework APA outlined. For example, he said, APA asked that the investigator look into whether APA supported the development or implementation of the torture techniques. “Nobody suggested that in the first place,” Reisner said.
He said a major fault critics found was that psychologists with vested interests, including military psychologists, were allowed to guide wording of the APA ethics policy in a manner that permitted CIA and Department of Defense (DoD) psychologists to continue to participate in abusive operations.
“We are confident that Hoffman will investigate whether there was collusion between APA staff and government officials to manipulate APA ethics policy to give legal and ethical cover for torture,” Reisner said. He said the American Psychiatric Association and the American Medical Association issued total bans against members taking any role in interrogations after torture tactics were revealed.
Reisner and The National Psychologist communicated via telephone and email the first week of December. Subsequently, The Dissenter, an online journal, revealed that its investigation showed that 20 years ago Hoffman worked in the office of then-Sen. David L. Boren, D-Okla., while Boren was chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
Jeff Kaye, investigative reporter with The Dissenter, wrote that at that time Hoffman worked with George Tenet, who went on to become director of the CIA from 1997 through 2004, and with Kenneth J. Levit, whom Tenet chose as the CIA’s special counsel.
Kaye quoted Hoffman as saying he worked as Boren’s press secretary prior to going to law school and he knew Tenet, who was then on the Senate Intelligence Committee staff, and Levit, who like Hoffman was a member of Boren’s personal staff. Hoffman said he has not worked with either since but has seen them “on a handful of occasions.”
In Pay Any Price, Risen said emails revealed that APA hid involvement of psychologists under contracts with the CIA and the DoD.
The APA release said Hoffman’s review will “include but not be limited to” three areas: whether APA was involved in the development or implementation of enhanced interrogation techniques, whether changes to the association’s ethics code involved collusion with the government to support torture and “whether any APA action related to torture was improperly influenced by government-related financial or policy considerations, including government grants, contracts or adoption of government policy regarding prescription privileges for psychologists serving in the military.”
After the use of enhanced interrogation techniques were revealed in 2007, APA said it could not sanction psychologists involved in developing the techniques because they were not APA members and later supported a move to have the license of one of those psychologists revoked. The APA said anyone with information they believe Hoffman should have may contact him at 312-456-8468 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kaslow, President-elect Susan McDaniel, Ph.D., and CEO Norman Anderson, Ph.D., were appointed to a special committee created by the APA board to cooperate with Hoffman in his review, but Anderson was later replaced by the board treasurer, Bonnie Markham, Ph.D., Psy.D.
Kaye had reported that the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology, which is highly critical of APA’s decision to allow psychologists to serve at detention facilities, objected to Anderson being on the committee because he had operational oversight of APA during the entire post-9/11 period.
APA Communications Director Rhea Farberman told The National Psychologist, “In an effort to avoid any perception of bias or a conflict of interest, Dr. Anderson withdrew from the special committee on Nov. 28. He was replaced by Dr. Markham.”