Psychological Association Accused Of 'Complicity' In Bush-Era Torture

Psychological Association Accused Of 'Complicity' In Bush-Era Torture

9:59pm May 02, 2015

NPR's Arun Rath speaks with James Risen of the New York Times about a new report alleging that the American Psychological Association worked closely with the George W. Bush administration to help justify prisoner torture.

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The American Psychological Association may have worked closely with the George W. Bush administration to provide justification for the use of torture. That's according to a new report compiled by a group of human rights activists and health professionals. The report used newly disclosed emails exchanged between the APA and national security officials, emails exchanged in response to the scandal of the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2004. James Risen of the New York Times has seen those newly released emails, and I asked him what they show.

JAMES RISEN: In 2004, right after Abu Ghraib broke as a scandal, and just as the interrogation program was under great scrutiny, a top APA official sent an email to psychologists and behavioral scientists at the CIA and the Pentagon and other agencies in the national security community, saying please come over here. We want to have a private meeting, and we want you to help shape our response to this scandal.

And the result of that was over the next year, the APA in 2005 finally came up with this task force. And then there were other emails that showed after the task force completed its work where a top APA official is sending an email to top CIA psychologists saying thank you for your help in shaping and influencing the outcome of this report. Your input was very important.

RATH: And can you explain the importance of psychologists in - in enabling the interrogation program - their role - how important they were?

RISEN: Yeah. I mean, the role of behavioral scientists was central to the way in which the Bush administration justified the enhanced interrogation program. If you remember, the Justice Department had to issue legal opinions saying that the interrogation program was legal because we have behavioral scientists and medical and health professionals monitoring these interrogations to make sure they're safe and that they stay within certain boundaries to prove that it doesn't constitute torture.

And so if you did not have psychologists or psychiatrists or other health professionals in those interrogations monitoring the interrogations, it would have been harder for the Justice Department to say they were legal. But what is new is the degree to which these critics claim that there was evidence of collaboration and involvement in coming up with a way to keep psychologists involved through both the people in the national security committee and the APA.

RATH: And what has been the response of the American Psychological Association to this report and that contention that they provided the justifications for torture?

RISEN: Initially, the APA issued a critical statement. But then under growing pressure, the APA board was forced to call for an independent investigation being conducted by an outside attorney, David Hoffman from Chicago. He is, I believe, going to get access to, you know, doing interviews and all materials inside the APA.

RATH: James Risen of the New York Times. James, always good to speak with you. Thank you.

RISEN: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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