Mind Matters — The APA and the Hoffman Report

Boy, am I angry and saddened—disgusted too. You see, I am a longstanding member, one of 130,000, of the American Psychological Association (APA). I used to be proud of this fact. Not right now. Not since the Hoffman Report was released. Former Assistant U.S. Attorney David Hoffman was commissioned by the APA last year to perform an independent review regarding whether the APA and certain members colluded with the US Department of Defense and the CIA in the torture of prisoners.

Euphemized by President George W. Bush in 2001 as “enhanced interrogation techniques,” torture was finally named for what it is by President Obama who admitted last year, “in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, we did some things that were wrong. … we tortured some folks.”

Soon after 9/11, organizations such as the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association publicly denounced involvement with “enhanced techniques” as against their code of ethics. The dictum, “Do no harm” remained intact. Meanwhile, the APA institutionally, with the support of several psychologists, chose to re-define ethics and thus condoned and abetted the implementation of despicable tactics that did not adhere to the Geneva Convention.

Yes, there were those “dissidents” within the APA, who, for over ten years, have decried how the APA was actively involved with the US Department of Defense and the CIA. Those vocal psychologists were derided: when truth knocks, shoot the messenger.

The APA, in 2005, responded with a task force to “draw the line between unethical and ethical practices,” says the Hoffman Report. However, “the key APA official who drafted the report [APA Ethics Director, Stephen Behnke] intentionally crafted ethics guidelines that were … non-specific so as not to restrict the flexibility of DOD … .”

In an interview with Amy Goodman, on Democracy Now, Dr. Stephen Soldz, psychologist and co-founder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology, notes how Behnke was the “mastermind at wordsmithing,” nuancing the wording so that military psychologists would have no constraints.

At the same time, APA members, in general, were fed the Kool-Aid: psychologists could be involved with interrogations to maintain ethics and integrity. In fact, if the APA had had integrity, the organization and its leaders would have spoken truth to power. “No, we will not condone what is unethical, immoral, dehumanizing, degrading. We uphold implicitly and explicitly: Do no harm!”

That’s what should have happened. There is hope that with the Hoffman Report, the future will be different.