Posted on Thursday 23 July 2015

The Chronicle of Higher Learning
by Tom Bartlett
July 21, 2015

A former official at the American Psychological Association who was implicated in the controversy over the organization’s support for torture has resigned as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Alliant International University. The resignation of Russ Newman comes in the wake of an independent investigation, commissioned by the APA, that found that officials there coordinated with the Department of Defense to make sure psychologists could participate in often-brutal interrogations without running afoul of the association’s ethical guidelines.

The 542-page report that resulted from that investigation, carried out by David H. Hoffman, a former federal prosecutor, took Mr. Newman to task for altering wording put out by the APA in order to comport with the government’s preferences. The report also pointed out Mr. Newman’s clear conflict of interest: His wife, Lt. Col. Debra Dunivin, was at one time the lead psychologist for interrogations at the military’s base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. According to the report, Mr. Newman, who served as chief of the APA’s practice directorate, pushed to exclude the negative-sounding word “coercive” from a description of techniques used to extract information from detainees. When interviewed by investigators for Mr. Hoffman, Mr. Newman said he didn’t remember arguing to remove that word. But he acknowledged that Colonel Dunivin and Col. Louie Morgan Banks, then the chief psychologist with the Army Special Operations Command, wouldn’t like the word “since it suggested from the outset that interrogations per se were problematic”…

The resignation was welcome news to longtime critics of the APA’s complicity in the government’s torture program. “Alliant’s apparent action related to Russ Newman should be a sign for other academic institutions that are employing in any role other individuals implicated in this scandal that they must also consider similar action immediately,” said Nathaniel Raymond, a former director of the Campaign Against Torture at Physicians for Human Rights. “At its heart, this scandal is about the violation of the core principles of science, research, and what it means to be a scholar”.
So far the APA has announced that three top officials will leave the organization as a result of the Hoffman review, including the association’s chief executive officer, Norman Anderson. Critics have called for more employees to be shown the door, and also for a number of psy chologists who have served in unpaid leadership roles to be banned from governance…
I’m not sure that a Salem Witch Trial mentality is what’s needed in this particular scandal. That a number of people at the top rung of the American Psychological Association were either actively involved or complicit in keeping the Bush/Cheney torture program going with the aid of psychologists is unquestioned. People who pay attention to such matters have known that for a very long time. That the psychologists on the ground, Jim Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, were misguided entrepreneurs on the take seems fairly obvious. And that Col. Louie Morgan Banks, then the chief psychologist with the Army Special Operations Command, had lost the meaning of his professional degree is equally clear. What is less apparent is why the upper echelon of the  American Psychological Association itself was involved in this tawdry tale – and stayed involved for such a protracted period.

Unlike the Bush/Cheney Torture Lawyers [Jay Bybee, John Yoo, Doug Feith, etc], they were not part of the NeoConservative Complex of the American Enterprise Institute, the Project for the New American Century, the Federalist Society, etc. And there’s nothing about the American Psychological Association that would suggest any particular ideological alliance with that administration’s grand plan. The unstated objective of the torture program had been to extract some excuse for invading Iraq, and by the time the APA became involved [2005 – Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS)] they were certifying what had already happened. And further, the public face of the APA was anti-torture, while privately legitimizing what was actually going on. So it seems likely that the Hoffman Report‘s analysis of motive was on the mark:
The very substantial benefits APA obtained from DoD help explain APA’s motive to please DoD. and show that APA likely had an organizational conflict of interest, which it needed to take steps to guard against. DoD is one of the largest employers of psychologists and provides many millions of dollars in grants or contracts for psychologists around the country. The history of DoD providing critical assistance to the advancement and growth of psychology as a profession is well documented, and includes DoD’s creation of a prescription-privileges "demonstration project" in which psychologists were certified to prescribe psychiatric drugs within DoD after going through a two-year training course…. And by the time of the PENS Task Force, contemporaneous internal discussions show that improving APA’s already strong relationship with DoD was a clear priority for officials working on the PENS Task Force.  In addition, at the time of the task force’s creation, DoD was in the midst of developing policy about how psychologists and psychiatrists could participate in interrogations and other intelligence-collection activities. APA wanted to positively influence DoD regarding this policy so that psychologists would be included to the maximum degree possible, and psychologists would not lose the lead role to psychiatrists…
While I don’t doubt that the overwhelming sentiment of the APA membership was and is opposed to Torture and Human Rights abuse, I’m not sure this comment in the APA’s Press Release is the whole story – a slip-up:
“Our internal checks and balances failed to detect the collusion, or properly acknowledge a significant conflict of interest, nor did they provide meaningful field guidance for psychologists,” said Dr. Nadine Kaslow, chair of the Independent Review’s Special Committee. “The organization’s intent was not to enable abusive interrogation techniques or contribute to violations of human rights, but that may have been the result…
It seems more likely to me that it’s an index of the APA’s zeal in battling for a greater share of the healthcare dollar. The American Psychiatric Association‘s DSM-III and later revisions have been publically villified by professional psychology associations, yet that code book gave psychologists access to medical insurance at a previously unparalleled level. And while the various psychology organizations have carried the anti-psychopharmacology banner, they have continued to fight for prescription privileges for themselves, and are, far and away, the major referral source to the "med check" psychiatrists they also claim to decry – actually fueling the over-medication epidemic as the driving half of the «my·psychiatrist/my·therapist» symbiosis that has become standard fare in clinical office practice.

the pot calling the kettle blackSo rather that approach this scandal as a search for a few "bad apples," the APA would do well to borrow the watchword of Cosgrove’s and Whitaker’s new book, Psychiatry Under the Influence, and take a long look at the "bad barrel" aspect of their own APA. This was a massive ethical infraction, originating in the upper levels of the APA with those in charge of setting the profession’s ethical standards, one that involved two APA Presidents. This hardly qualifies the American Psychological Association for any moral high ground in the guild wars that have plagued the mental health specialties for decades. Institutional Corruption? Sure sounds that way to me…
    July 24, 2015 | 9:30 PM

    Both the American Psychological and American Psychiatric Association hold no moral high ground to anything. They both sold out for the same reason– MONEY. The psychologists needed to remain relevant to have their associations and practice funded– they did a deal with the devil with the DoD with these horrific consequences. All involved should go away. Psychiatry whored around with Big Pharma. Everyone wanted the money to keep their guilds and academic departments alive and prospering.
    I am struck by the fact that it was the psychoanalytic arm of the American Psychological Association that pressed the issue of unethical comingling of the DoD and APA regarding torture. Psychoanalysis may be besmirched these days, but the fact remains that the psychoanalytic world view has as its core the notion of personal responsibility for undoing states of misery.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.