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The APA has come under fire over alleged role in torture of prisoners at Guantánamo and other U.S. military bases.

The APA has come under fire over alleged role in torture of prisoners at Guantánamo and other U.S. military bases.

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APA hit with new torture allegations

Did the American Psychological Association (APA) collude with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to enable the torture of detainees in the War on Terror? The answer won't be known until June, when an independent investigation is due to conclude. But at least one thing was made clear today in a report from an independent group of psychologists based on e-mail exchanges between APA and CIA officials from 2003 to 2006: The world's largest professional organization for psychologists has maintained a surprisingly cozy relationship with the defense and intelligence community.

Last year, James Risen, a reporter for The New York Times, alleged in his book Pay Any Price that APA worked closely with CIA and the White House to provide ethical justification for involving psychologists in harsh interrogations of detainees in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. In 2003, those interrogations were revealed to involve degrading treatment and, at times, unambiguous torture. Risen claimed that APA worked closely with officials from CIA, the U.S. Department of Defense, and the White House to craft a 2005 report concluding that psychologists' involvement with CIA interrogations was ethical. And he asserted that APA incorporated language provided by CIA directly into its ethical code, providing professional cover for psychologists involved with interrogations.

Risen's evidence is a cache of 683 e-mails provided to him by several activists and psychologists critical of APA's involvement with the government. Until now, none of those e-mails were released publicly.

Last November, APA refuted the allegations but commissioned an independent investigation. That investigation, led by a former federal prosecutor, David Hoffman, was expected to wrap up in March but has been delayed until June.

In an article published today, Risen uses a selection of 16 of the e-mails to delve deeper into APA’s alleged cooperation with CIA. Those e-mails and the report about them were also provided to ScienceInsider under embargo by Nathaniel Raymond, a human rights researcher at Harvard University. "The APA's complicity in adapting its ethics to countenance psychologist involvement in researching and monitoring torture is the worst bioethics scandal of the 21st Century to date," Raymond asserted in an e-mail.

Some of the e-mails released today appear to contradict APA's public statements about its relationship with CIA and the administration of former U.S. President George W. Bush. For example, in a 2005 e-mail to CIA officials regarding APA’s 2005 report on the ethics of interrogation, Geoff Mumford, then APA director of science policy, wrote:

“I thought you and many of those copied here would be interested to know that APA grabbed the bull by the horns and released this [Psychological Ethics and National Security] Task Force Report today. … I also wanted to semi-publicly acknowledge your personal contribution … in getting this effort off the ground over a year ago. Your views were well represented by very carefully selected Task Force members.”

One recipient of that e-mail was Kirk Hubbard, a former CIA behavioral scientist then was employed by Mitchell Jessen and Associates, the government contracting company created by James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, the architects of CIA's interrogation program.

Jean Maria Arrigo, a practicing psychologist based in Riverside, California, who reviewed the report, believes e-mail exchanges like that one constitute collusion between APA and CIA. "There are people in APA leadership being scripted by CIA, maybe even paid," she alleges.

APA declined to comment on the new allegations, pending the outcome of the Hoffman investigation. In an e-mail exchange with ScienceInsider, the association wrote:

"Mr. Hoffman has extensive experience in conducting such reviews and a strong reputation for independence. … Mr. Hoffman has been asked to follow all leads and pursue all information he deems necessary to complete the review regardless of whether the information reflects positively or negatively on APA."