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Report: Group let psychologists join CIA grillings

by COMPILED BY DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE STAFF WIRE REPORTS | July 11, 2015 at 3:29 a.m. | Updated July 11, 2015 at 3:29 a.m.

WASHINGTON -- Leaders of the American Psychological Association secretly collaborated with officials at the Pentagon and CIA to weaken the association's ethical guidelines and allow psychologists to take part in coercive interrogation programs after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to a report released Friday.

The CIA and the military both conducted harsh interrogations during the administration of President George W. Bush, although the CIA's program included more brutal tactics. Some of them, like the simulated drowning technique called waterboarding, are now widely regarded as torture.

The agency's interrogations were done at "black site" prisons around the world where prisoners were held secretly for years.

The report contains the findings of an investigation led by a former federal prosecutor. It is the most detailed report to date on the complicity of psychologists in the interrogation programs.

The probe concluded that the American Psychological Association's ethics director and others had "colluded with important [Department of Defense] officials to have APA issue loose, high-level ethical guidelines that did not constrain" the Pentagon in its interrogation of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The association's "principal motive in doing so was to align APA and curry favor with DOD."

The investigation also found that "current and former APA officials had substantial interactions with the CIA in the 2001 to 2004 time period" when the agency was using waterboarding and other brutal measures to extract information from detainees.

In particular, a CIA contract psychologist with close ties to the association played a key role in "clearing the way" for a colleague, Jim Mitchell -- widely considered to be one of the architects of the contentious interrogation program -- to continue his involvement in it even after others in the agency had protested that his work was unethical.

The association's ethics office, the report found, "prioritized the protection of psychologists -- even those who might have engaged in unethical behavior -- above the protection of the public."

Two former presidents of the psychological association were members of a CIA advisory committee, the report found. One of them provided the agency with an opinion that sleep deprivation did not constitute torture, and later held a small ownership stake in a consulting company founded by two men who oversaw the agency's interrogation program, it said.

The association's ethics director, Stephen Behnke, coordinated the group's public policy statements on interrogations with a top military psychologist, the report said, and then received a Pentagon contract to help train interrogators while he was still working at the association without the knowledge of the association's board.

An association official said Behnke was removed from his position as a result of the report and signaled that other firings or sanctions could follow. Behnke did not respond to a request for comment.

The 542-page report was commissioned by the psychological association's board of directors last year based on an investigation led by David Hoffman, who served as an assistant U.S. attorney in Chicago from 1998 to 2005.

In a statement Friday, association officials expressed dismay at the report's findings and indicated that the organization plans to adopt sweeping changes that could include banning psychologists from participating in the interrogation of people held in custody by military and intelligence authorities.

"The Hoffman report contains deeply disturbing findings that reveal previously unknown and troubling instances of collusion," said Susan McDaniel, a member of an association independent review panel evaluating the report.

A second association official, Nadine Kaslow, said that "the actions, policies and the lack of independence from government influence described in the Hoffman report represented a failure to live up to our core values."

The document adds to an expanding list of damning assessments of the interrogation programs, including an exhaustive study issued by the Senate Intelligence Committee last year that accused the CIA of downplaying the brutality of its methods and exaggerating their results.

A Pentagon spokesman said the department was reviewing the report but offered no comment on it.

A CIA spokesman said the agency had not been provided with a copy and therefore could not comment on it. He added that CIA medical personnel are dedicated to "upholding the highest standards of their health profession."

The majority of the report is focused on the association's relationship with the Pentagon and the department's influence on a panel that the association had set up in 2005 to issue guidelines to psychologists after public revelations about the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and psychologists' involvement in interrogations.

Behnke and others engaged in "behind-the-scenes coordination" with U.S. Defense officials including Morgan Banks, the chief of psychological operations for the U.S. Army Special Operations Command and the head of the Army's interrogation resistance training program at Fort Bragg.

The collusion was aimed at making sure the new panel adopted recommendations that "fell squarely in line with DOD's goals" and would not prohibit psychologists from continuing their work at Guantanamo Bay.

The report found no evidence "that APA officials actually knew about the existence" of the CIA program, but noted that a longtime agency contractor and psychologist, Mel Gravitz, was enlisted to work with the association's ethics panel.

Information for this article was contributed by Greg Miller and Missy Ryan of The Washington Post and by James Risen of The New York Times.

A Section on 07/11/2015

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