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Leading U.S. Psychologists Secretly Aided CIA Torture Program


The U.S. largest professional organization of psychologists enabled abusive interrogation techniques after 9/11 according to an independent review released Friday. The American Psychological Association acknowledged that its representatives colluded with the Bush administration on ethics policies that allowed for torture. NPR's Jon Hamilton reports.

JON HAMILTON, BYLINE: For years, critics of the APA have alleged that, after 9/11, the group collaborated with the Bush administration to justify interrogation techniques including waterboarding, sexual humiliation and sleep deprivation. And for years, the APA denied those allegations. But yesterday an independent report, commissioned by the APA itself, found that some of the group's top officials had acted unethically. Nadine Kaslow is a former president of the APA and a member of the committee that reviewed the independent report.

DR. NADINE KASLOW: I was stunned. I was really, really sad and sort of overwhelmed.

HAMILTON: The 542-page report was the work of David Hoffman, a former federal prosecutor. Kaslow says it was convincing and devastating.

KASLOW: The most disturbing finding, to me, was that there was collusion between a small group of APA representatives and government officials, specifically people in the Bush administration and the Department of Defense.

HAMILTON: The report also found that APA officials had very substantial interactions with the CIA between 2001 and 2004 - a time when the agency's interrogation program was under fire. In 2005, the APA changed its ethics guidelines, making them consistent with Bush administration policies on interrogation. Kaslow says that was wrong.

KASLOW: I personally feel that we have to apologize for the actions and policies and lack of independence from government influence.

HAMILTON: The APA has since revised many of the changes to its guidelines. Kaslow says that's a start, but not nearly enough to restore public confidence in the group.

KASLOW: When there's this kind of integrity problem, it will take time and it will take actions.

HAMILTON: After the report came out, the group dismissed its ethics director Stephen Behnke, and Kaslow says it's likely that more people will be fired. But Steven Miles, a professor of medicine and bioethics at the University of Minnesota, says the problem goes well beyond a few high-level officials. Miles is especially concerned about standards the APA adopted for psychologists involved in interrogations.

STEVEN MILES: Those standards stated that the psychologists were responsible to the Defense Department, not to the well-being of the prisoners.

HAMILTON: Miles says the standards also allowed psychologists to participate in abusive interrogations.

MILES: Psychologists directly supervised waterboarding and then communicated to the interrogators, telling the interrogators whether the prisoner was sufficiently broken down by the waterboarding to proceed with the interrogation.

HAMILTON: Miles says these psychologists should be held accountable for professional misconduct, but the APA hasn't backed that idea.

MILES: The APA has not censured any psychologists for participating in torture to this date.

HAMILTON: Miles says after 9/11, the APA should've followed the lead of psychiatry groups. They said no psychiatrist could take part in the sort of interrogations the Bush administration had in mind. Jon Hamilton, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jon Hamilton is a correspondent for NPR's Science Desk. Currently he focuses on neuroscience and health risks.