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Psychology, Torture and the Failure of Institutional Ethics

by William W. Deardorff, Ph.D, ABPP.

6 Credit Hours - $99
Last revised: 09/08/2018

Course content © Copyright 2015 - 2022 by William W. Deardorff, Ph.D, ABPP. All rights reserved.


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Human Rights or Torture


Course Outline

Overview of the Course

   Purpose of the Hoffman Investigation

   Ethical Challenges of The Hoffman Report

   Course Materials (Overview of necessary course materials)

   Included Materials (Not necessary for the course)

      Report Analysis and Discussion by Dr. Ken Pope

      Position Statement from Drs. Koocher and Levant (Past APA Presidents)

      Position Statement from Dr. Matarazzo (Past APA President)

      Position Statement from Colonel Larry James, Ph.D.

      Position Statement from the Society for Military Psychology, Division 19 of APA

Learning Objectives

Course Materials Section 1: Important Concepts and Terms

   Behavioral Drift

   Group Think

   Learned Helplessness

   Nuremberg Defense

   PENS Task Force (Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security)

   SERE (Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape)

Course Materials Section 2: Report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence: Committee Study of the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program

Course Materials Section 3: Report to the Special Committee of the Board of Directors of the American Psychological Association – Independent Review Relating to APA Ethics Guidelines, National Security Interrogations, and Torture.

Course Materials Section 4: The Hoffman Report pages 1-70.


Overview of the Course


If you are a psychologist you are likely aware of the release of The Hoffman Report which contains the results of an external investigation into allegations of a failure of institutional ethics on the part of the American Psychological Association (APA). However, the findings of The Hoffman Report are applicable to all mental health and health care professionals. The purpose and directive of the Hoffman investigation can be found in the following Table which is a direct quote from the Report’s Executive Summary.   



Purpose of the Hoffman Investigation
(From the Executive Summary)



In November 2014, the Board of Directors of the American Psychological Association engaged our Firm to conduct an independent review of allegations that had been made regarding APA’s issuance of ethical guidelines in 2002 and 2005, and related actions. These ethical guidelines determined whether and under what circumstances psychologists who were APA members could ethically participate in national security interrogations.


The gist of the allegations was that APA made these ethics policy decisions as a substantial result of influence from and close relationships with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and other government entities, which purportedly wanted permissive ethical guidelines so that their psychologists could continue to participate in harsh and abusive interrogation techniques being used by these agencies after the September 11 attacks on the United States. Critics pointed to alleged procedural irregularities and suspicious outcomes regarding APA’s ethics policy decisions and said they resulted from this improper coordination, collaboration, or collusion. Some said APA’s decisions were intentionally made to assist the government in engaging in these “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Some said they were intentionally made to help the government commit torture.



This course brings together a number of different materials related to the findings of The Hoffman Report. As so eloquently discussed by Dr. Ken Pope (2015), The Hoffman Report should motivate us all address the following issues (See Table):



Ethical Challenges of The Hoffman Report
(Excerpts from Pope, 2015)



Reading the Hoffman Report prepares us to struggle with one of its fundamental challenges: Answering the questions: What could I have done differently as an APA leader, member, or outsider? How does my answer to that question help me decide what to do from this point forward? 


The Hoffman Report challenges us to decide what kind of ethics each of us believes in and whether we are willing to be held accountable. A fundamental question is: Do we want professional ethics or guild ethics. Professional ethics protect the values that its members affirm as greater than self-interest and protect the public against misuse of professional power, expertise, and practice. Guild ethics place the interests of the guild and its members above the public interest, edge away from actual enforcement and accountability, and draw on skilled public relation to resemble professional ethics.


Reading the Hoffman report provides each of us with an opportunity to take a look at how we personally respond to critical information and criticism. 


The Hoffman Report challenges us to do some critical thinking about:

  • What each of us might have done or what might we have done better
  • What our own ethics are and whether we are willing to hold ourselves accountable through a realistic method of enforcement
  • What we do to deny, discredit, or dismiss what we don't want to see or believe 



Course Materials OVERVIEW


The materials necessary to review for this course include sections of the following documents.  The documents are included in their entirety for those interested but this represents well over 1,000 pages of material. As you read through the materials, be aware that some psychologists were working for the CIA and some were working for the Department of Defense (DoD). There are different issues related to each of these agencies.   


Report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence: Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency's Detention and Interrogation Program


The sections of this report to review for the course have been excerpted and are presented subsequently. For those interested, the entire report can be found here; however, reviewing the entire report is not necessary (Although it is certainly interesting reading).


Sections of The Hoffman Report


Part of the Executive Summary of The Hoffman Report is presented subsequently after the Senate Select Committee findings (See below).  It is not necessary to review the entire Hoffman Report for this course.  Please review the following sections: The Executive Summary (pages 1-70).


Included Materials (Not necessary for the course)


I have included a number of other materials for those that might be interested in additional reading and to present a complete analysis of the issues. As can be seen in the documents below, many accept the findings of Hoffman (Dr. Pope) while other take issue with them as being biased (Drs. Koocher, Levant and James). It is not necessary to review these materials for the course, but they provide different individuals’ perspectives and responses to the report’s findings.


Report Analysis by Dr. Ken Pope.  According to his web site (, Dr. Pope was a member of APA for 29 years, chair of the APA Ethics Committee, and a Fellow of nine APA Divisions.   He resigned from APA in 2008 due to disagreeing with decisive changes that APA made in its ethical stance after 9-11.  He has published an article discussing his thoughts about the findings of The Hoffman Report and it can be found here on his web site.  In the introduction he states that, “I resigned from APA in 2008 over changes APA had been making in its approach to ethics. The Hoffman Report discusses these changes. I wrote that ‘I respectfully disagree with these changes; I am skeptical that they will work as intended; and I believe that they may lead to far-reaching unintended consequences.” He provides his original resignation letter and references supporting his position.


Statement from Drs. Koocher and Levant (Past APA Presidents).  Dr. Levant served as President of APA in 2005 and Dr. Koocher served as Presidentelect in 2005 and President in 2006.  Their alleged involvement is discussed throughout the The Hoffman Report. Their response can be found here.


Statement from Dr. Matarazzo (Past APA President).  Dr. Matarazzo is mentioned in The Hoffman Report as having “consulted” with the CIA about certain issues (e.g. sleep deprivation – See Hoffman Report pages 44; 49 - 50).  Matarazzo denies involvement and clarifies his position in the statement which can be found here.


Statement from Colonel Larry James, Ph.D.  Dr. James is mentioned in the Report in various places.  In his statement, he takes issue with the report’s findings both related to APA institutional policies and to individuals.  His statement can be found here.


Statement from the Society for Military Psychology, Division 19 of APA.  This statement is written by Dr. Williams, President of Division 19. He takes issue with several findings in the Hoffman Report and feels that it misrepresents what actually occurred.  He asserts that the accusations in the Report are unbridled and unsubstantiated. He lists each of his concerns and recommends action in each area. The completed statement can be found here.






Discuss the findings of the Senate Report

Discuss the findings of the Hoffman Report

Discuss why or why not the APA may have committed “Institutional Ethics Violations” – Explain your reasoning



Course Materials Section 1


Important Concepts and Terms


The following are definitions and concepts that are mentioned in the various materials. 


Behavioral Drift:  The phenomenon identified in Philip Zimbardo’s famous Stanford prison experiment and elsewhere that when individuals use their position of authority and absolute control over others to cause them discomfort or pain, the individuals with this power will often tend to drift toward greater and greater uses of that power unless stopped. Part of the role of the watch or safety officer/observer is to prevent “behavioral drift” on the part of the interrogator.  The concept of behavioral drift stems from Zimbardo’s now famous Stanford Prison Experiment. The Stanford Prison Experiment was a landmark psychological study of the human response to captivity, in particular, to the real world circumstances of prison life. It was conducted in 1971 by Philip Zimbardo of Stanford University. Subjects were randomly assigned to play the role of "prisoner" or "guard". Those assigned to play the role of guard were given sticks and sunglasses; those assigned to play the prisoner role were arrested by the Palo Alto police department, deloused, forced to wear chains and prison garments, and transported to the basement of the Stanford psychology department, which had been converted into a makeshift jail. Several of the guards became progressively more sadistic - particularly at night when they thought the cameras were off, despite being picked by chance out of the same pool as the prisoners. The experiment very quickly got out of hand. A riot broke out on day two. One prisoner developed a psychosomatic rash all over his body upon finding out that his "parole" had been turned down. After only 6 days (of a planned two weeks), the experiment was shut down, for fear that one of the prisoners would be seriously hurt.


Group Think:  Groupthink is a term first used in 1972 by social psychologist Irving L. Janis that refers to a psychological phenomenon in which people strive for consensus within a group. In many cases, people will set aside their own personal beliefs or adopt the opinion of the rest of the group. People who are opposed to the decisions or overriding opinion of the group as a whole frequently remain quiet, preferring to keep the peace rather than disrupt the uniformity of the crowd. Janis suggested that groupthink tends to be the most prevalent in conditions where there is a high degree of cohesiveness, situational factors that contribute to deferring to the group (such as external threats, moral problems, difficult decisions), and structural issues (such as impartial leadership and group isolation).


A good way to define this term is to tell you how Irving Janus (the main researcher on this topic) describes it. Janus (1972) said that groupthink is "a deterioration of mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment that results from in-group pressures." Essentially, people within a group become so consumed with the group, maintaining group cohesiveness, and doing what is important for the group that they themselves lose their ability to think independently and make good, sound judgments. There are quite a few symptoms and causes of groupthink, but it is important to know what groupthink is and that it has been used to explain a variety of tragic events throughout history such as, mass suicides (like the Heaven's Gate suicides), poor political decisions (like the Bay of Pigs invasion), riots, and more.


Learned Helplessness.  A psychological theory developed by Martin Seligman, which holds that an organism forced to endure aversive, painful or otherwise unpleasant stimuli, will become unable or unwilling to avoid subsequent encounters with those stimuli, even if they are escapable. The theory of learned helplessness has been applied to a number of conditions including depression, anxiety, phobias and shyness. In addition, theories of interrogation have been developed based on learned helplessness – that detainees might become passive and depressed in response to adverse or uncontrollable events and would thus cooperate and provide information.


Nuremberg Defense:  The Nuremberg Defense commonly refers to one of the arguments employed by defendants charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg trials after World War II. The defense argued that everything that Adolf Hitler had done in Germany was legal, and therefore those who followed his orders could not be accused of criminal acts.


PENS Task Force.  Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security; A 2005 task force charged with identifying whether the then-current ethics code adequately addressed the ethical dimensions of psychologists' involvement in national security related activities.


SERE.  Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape.  A military training program run by the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency designed to prepare personnel to survive the elements, evade capture, resist torture and interrogation, and live up to the U.S. military code of conduct.


Course Materials Section 2


Senate Select Committee on Intelligence - Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency's Detention and Interrogation Program


This entire document is 566 pages and can be found here.  Most of the material contained in this document is not required for the CE course. However, there are many mentions of certain psychologists’ involvement with the CIA in “enhanced interrogation” process. This report provides a backdrop against which the actions taken by APA during that time might be better understood.  These scenarios can also prompt the reader to ask him or herself, “What would I do in a similar situation?”  As discussed in the forward (some of which is excerpted below), this report was declassified in April of 2014. 


I begin by presenting some excerpts from the Forward. After that, I identified additional excerpts from the body of the report by simply searching for the terms “psychologist” and psychologists”.  Aside from the mention of these words in footnotes (which I did not excerpt), the following is what was found. The individual paragraphs are largely separate from one another and are not necessarily contiguous in the document. I simply excerpted every paragraph I could find with the search terms.  Hopefully, the following will provide a quick overview how and when the Senate investigation focused in the psychologists involved.


Excerpts from the Forward:


On April 3, 2014, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence voted to send the Findings and Conclusions and the Executive Summary of its final Study on the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program to the President for declassification and subsequent public release.


This action marked the culmination of a monumental effort that officially began with the Committee's decision to initiate the Study in March 2009, but which had its roots in an investigation into the CIA's destruction of videotapes of CIA detainee interrogations that began in December 2007.


The full Committee Study, which totals more than 6,700 pages, remains classified but is now an official Senate report. The full report has been provided to the White House, the CIA, the Department of Justice, the Department of Defense, the Department of State, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in the hopes that it will prevent future coercive interrogation practices and inform the management of other covert action programs.


This Committee Study documents the abuses and countless mistakes made between late 2001 and early 2009. The Executive Summary of the Study provides a significant amount of new information, based on CIA and other documents, to what has already been made public by the Bush and Obama Administrations, as well as non-governmental organizations and the press.


The Committee's full Study is more than ten times the length of the Executive Summary and includes comprehensive and excruciating detail. The Study describes the history of the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program from its inception to its termination, including a review of each of the 119 known individuals who were held in CIA custody.


The full Committee Study also provides substantially more detail than what is included in the Executive Summary on the CIA's justification and defense of its interrogation program on the basis that it was necessary and critical to the disruption of specific terrorist plots and the capture of specific terrorists. While the Executive Summary provides sufficient detail to demonstrate the inaccuracies of each of these claims, the information in the full Committee Study is far more extensive.


Excerpts From The Report That Address Psychologists’ Involvement (The blanks indicate redaction):


Throughout the program, multiple CIA detainees who were subjected to the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques and extended isolation exhibited psychological and behavioral issues, including hallucinations, paranoia, insomnia, and attempts at self-harm and self-mutilation.


Multiple psychologists identified the lack of human contact experienced by detainees as a cause of psychiatric problems.


In July 2002, on the basis of consultations with contract psychologists, and with very limited internal deliberation, the CIA requested approval from the Department of Justice to use a set of coercive interrogation techniques. The techniques were adapted from the training of U.S. military personnel at the U.S. Air Force Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) school, which was designed to prepare U.S. military personnel for the conditions and treatment to which they might be subjected if taken prisoner by countries that do not adhere to the Geneva Conventions.


Two contract psychologists devised the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques and played a central role in the operation, assessments, and management of the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program. By 2005, the CIA had overwhelmingly outsourced operations related to the program. The CIA contracted with two psychologists to develop, operate, and assess its interrogation operations. The psychologists' prior experience was at the U.S. Air Force Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) school. Neither psychologist had any experience as an interrogator, nor did either have specialized knowledge of al-Qa'ida, a background in counterterrorism, or any relevant cultural or linguistic expertise. On the CIA's behalf, the contract psychologists developed theories of interrogation based on "learned helplessness," and developed the list of enhanced interrogation techniques that was approved for use against Abu Zubaydah and subsequent CIA detainees. The psychologists personally conducted interrogations of some of the CIA's most significant detainees using these techniques. They also evaluated whether detainees' psychological state allowed for the continued use of the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques, including some detainees whom they were themselves interrogating or had interrogated. The psychologists carried out inherently governmental functions, such as acting as liaison between the CIA and foreign intelligence services, assessing the effectiveness of the interrogation program, and participating in the interrogation of detainees held in foreign government custody.


In 2005, the psychologists formed a company specifically for the purpose of conducting their work with the CIA. Shortly thereafter, the CIA outsourced virtually all aspects of the program. In 2006, the value of the CIA's base contract with the company formed by the psychologists with all options exercised was in excess of $180 million; the contractors received $81 million prior to the contract's termination in 2009. In 2007, the CIA provided a multi-year indemnification agreement to protect the company and its employees from legal liability arising out of the program. The CIA has since paid out more than $1 million pursuant to the agreement.


In 2008, the CIA's Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation Group, the lead unit for detention and interrogation operations at the CIA, had a total of __ positions, which were filled with __ CIA staff officers and contractors, meaning that contractors made up 85% of the workforce for detention and interrogation operations.


This report was commissioned by the CIA's Office of Technical Services (OTS) and drafted by two CIA contractors, Dr. Grayson SWIGERT and Dr. Hammond DUNBAR. Both SWIGERT and DUNBAR had been psychologists with the U.S. Air Force Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) school, which exposes select U.S. military personnel to, among other things, coercive interrogation techniques that they might be subjected to if taken prisoner by countries that did not adhere to Geneva protections. Neither psychologist had experience as an interrogator, nor did either have specialized knowledge of al-Qa'ida, a background in terrorism, or any relevant regional, cultural, or linguistic expertise. SWIGERT had reviewed research on "learned helplessness," in which individuals might become passive and depressed in response to adverse or uncontrollable events. He theorized that inducing such a state could encourage a detainee to cooperate and provide information.


As former psychologists for the United States Air Force, SWIGERT and DUNBAR had no direct experience with the waterboard, as it was not used in Air Force SERE training. Nonetheless, they indicated that the waterboard—which they described as an "absolutely convincing technique"—was necessary to overwhelm Abu Zubaydah's ability to resist. They also responded that they were aware that the Navy—which used the waterboard technique in training—had not reported any significant long-term consequences on individuals from its use. Unlike the CIA's subsequent use of the waterboard, however, the Navy's use of the technique was a single training exercise and did not extend to multiple sessions.  SWIGERT and DUNBAR wrote: "any physical pressure applied to extremities can cause severe mental pain or suffering. Hooding, the use of loud music, sleep deprivation, controlling darkness and light, slapping, walling, or the use of stress positions taken to extreme can have the same outcome. The safety of any technique lies primarily in how it is applied and monitored.”


On July 24, 2002, the attorney general verbally approved the use of 10 interrogation techniques, which included: the attention grasp, walling, the facial hold, the facial slap (insult slap), cramped confinement, wall standing, stress positions, sleep deprivation, use of diapers, and use of insects. The interrogation team, however, indicated that they intended to wait for the approval to use the waterboard before proceeding with their interrogation of Abu Zubaydah.


There were also concerns about possible conflicts of interest related to the contractors, SWIGERT and DUNBAR. On January 30, 2003, a cable from CIA Headquarters stated that "the individual at the interrogation site who administers the techniques is not the same person who issues the psychological assessment of record," and that only a staff psychologist, not a contractor, could issue an assessment of record." In June 2003, however, SWIGERT and DUNBAR were deployed to DETENTION SITE BLUE to interrogate KSM, as well as to assess KSM's "psychological stability" and "resistance posture”. As described later in this summary, the contractors had earlier subjected KSM to the waterboard and other CIA enhanced interrogation techniques. The decision to send the contract psychologists to DETENTION SITE BLUE prompted an OMS psychologist to write to OMS leadership that:


"[a]ny data collected by them from detainees with whom they previously interacted as interrogators will always be suspect."___  then informed the management of the Renditions Group that "no professional in the field would credit [SWIGERT and DUNBAR's] later judgments as psychologists assessing the subjects of their enhanced measures." At the end of their deployment, in June 2003, SWIGERT and DUNBAR provided their assessment of KSM and recommended that he should be evaluated on a monthly basis by "an experienced interrogator known to him" who would assess how forthcoming he is and "remind him that there are differing consequences for cooperating or not cooperating." In his response to the draft Inspector General Special Review, ____ OMS noted that "OMS concerns about conflict of interest... were nowhere more graphic than in the setting in which the same individuals applied an EIT which only they were approved to employ, judged both its effectiveness and detainee resilience, and implicitly proposed continued use of the technique – at a daily compensation reported to be $1800/day, or four times that of interrogators who could not use the technique."


The draft cable from ____ also raised “conflict of responsibility” concerns, stating:   "Another area of concern is the use of the psychologist as an interrogator. The role of the ops psychologist is to be a detached observer and serve as a check on the interrogator to prevent the interrogator from any unintentional excess of pressure which might cause permanent psychological harm to the subject. The medical officer is on hand to provide the same protection from physical actions that might harm the subject. Therefore, the medical officer and the psychologist should not serve as an interrogator, which is a conflict of responsibility. We note that [the proposed plan] contains a psychological interrogation assessment by ______ psychologist [DUNBAR] which is to be carried out by interrogator [DUNBAR]. We have a problem with him conducting both roles simultaneously."


CIA Contracting Expenses Related to the Company Formed by SWIGERT and DUNBAR-  CIA contractors SWIGERT and DUNBAR, who played a central role in the development of the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques in the summer of 2002, and then used the techniques as contract interrogators, formed a company in 2005 _____ ["Company Y”]. In addition to providing interrogators for the CIA's interrogation program, Company Y was granted a sole source contract to provide operational psychologists, debriefers, and security personnel at CIA detention sites. Under the contract,  Company Y was tasked with conducting ongoing conversations with CIA detainees to learn about the terrorist mind set (this project was named the "Terrorist Think Tank" or "T"), developing _____ strategies, and writing the history of the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program. Later descriptions of their services note that—on behalf of the CIA—Company Y officers participated in the interrogations of detainees held in foreign government custody and served as intermediaries between entities of those governments and the CIA. By 2006, the value of the base contract for their company, with all options exercised, was in excess of $180 million. As of May 2007, Company Y had hired former CIA staff officers, many of whom had previously been involved with the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program. Company Y's chief operating officer was the former chief of _____, the division of the CIA supervising the Renditions and Detention Group. In addition, Company Y hired at least _____ CIA security protective officers to work on Company Y's CIA contracts. In March 2006, a list of projected staff and contractors within CIA's Renditions and Detention Group included _____ separate positions. Of those _____ positions, ___ [73%] were for contractors, the majority of whom were contractors from Company Y. By 2007, RDG reported having _____ staff officers and _____ contractors. By 2008, RDG had a total of _____ positions, with _____ staff officers and _____ [85%] contractors, according to the CIA.


The CIA's contract with Company Y was terminated in mid-2009. From the time of the company's creation in 2005 through the close-out of its contract in 2010, the CIA paid Company Y more than $75 million for services in conjunction with the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program. The CIA also certified Company Y's office in _____ as a Secure Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF), which required a CIA officer to be detailed to and provided Company Y access to CIA internal computer networks at its facility. In 2008, the CIA authorized an additional payment to Company Y of approximately $570,000, after Company Y indicated that it had incurred costs for conducting countersurveillance of its officers when _____ appeared in the press in conjunction with the program. The CIA agreed to a $5 million indemnification contract for the company that covered, among other expenses, criminal prosecution.  Company Y hired a prominent _____ law firm for representation in 2007, and billed the CIA $1.1 million for legal expenses from 2007 through 2012 per its indemnification agreement. Part of these expenses included legal representation at a Committee staff briefing by SWIGERT and DUNBAR on November ___, 2008. Under the CIA's indemnification contract, the CIA is obligated to pay Company Y's legal expenses through 2021.


The CIA Inspector General Special Review states that CIA "psychologists objected to the use of on-site psychologists as interrogators and raised conflict of interest and ethical concerns." According to the Special Review, this was "based on a concern that the on-site psychologists who were administering the [CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques] participated in the evaluations, assessing the effectiveness and impact of the [CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques] on the detainees. In January 2003,CIA Headquarters required that at least one other psychologist be present who was not physically participating in the administration of the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques. According to _____ OMS, however, the problem still existed because "psychologist/interrogators continue to perform both functions.""


Course MaterialS Section 3


Report to the Special Committee of the Board of Directors of the American Psychological Association – Independent Review Relating to APA Ethics Guidelines, National Security Interrogations, and Torture.


Executive Summary (Excerpted from the report; Pages 1-4)


The following is excerpted directly from the Hoffman Report.  This is the executive summary and provides a nice background and overview of the reason the investigation was initiated by the APA Special Committee.


In November 2014, the Board of Directors of the American Psychological Association engaged our Firm to conduct an independent review of allegations that had been made regarding APA’s issuance of ethical guidelines in 2002 and 2005, and related actions. These ethical guidelines determined whether and under what circumstances psychologists who were APA members could ethically participate in national security interrogations.


The gist of the allegations was that APA made these ethics policy decisions as a substantial result of influence from and close relationships with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and other government entities, which purportedly wanted permissive ethical guidelines so that their psychologists could continue to participate in harsh and abusive interrogation techniques being used by these agencies after the September 11 attacks on the United States. Critics pointed to alleged procedural irregularities and suspicious outcomes regarding APA’s ethics policy decisions and said they resulted from this improper coordination, collaboration, or collusion. Some said APA’s decisions were intentionally made to assist the government in engaging in these “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Some said they were intentionally made to help the government commit torture.


Allegations along these lines had been most recently and most prominently made in a book by New York Times reporter James Risen, published in October 2014, based in part on new evidence he had obtained. Such allegations had also been made for many years—since APA’s issuance of ethical guidelines in 2005—by numerous APA critics both within and without APA.


APA engaged us to look back at these events that occurred years ago, to conduct a “definitive” and “thorough” investigation into the allegations and all relevant evidence, and to report what happened and why. The APA Board instructed us to go “wherever the evidence leads” and to be completely independent, and we have been. A Special Committee of the APA Board of Directors was formed, which stressed to us that our inquiry should be broad, so that the allegations could be addressed in a full and complete manner. We have done our best within the past seven months to fulfill that mandate.


The specific question APA has asked us to consider and answer is whether APA officials colluded with DoD, CIA, or other government officials “to support torture.” The allegations we have been asked to address frame the question more broadly at times. As a result of our investigation, we can report what happened and why. And as part of that description, we answer whether there was collusion between APA and government officials, and if so, what its purpose was.




Fourteen years later, the attacks of 9/11 remain seared in the memories of all Americans old enough to recall them. Beyond the 2,977 killed, many others were personally and permanently affected by the attacks. All of us can remember where we were, and the horrific and shocking images of the attacks’ immediate consequences.


The attacks resulted in the nation going to war in Afghanistan and, later, Iraq, and at home created virtually universal feelings of anger, patriotism, and unity of purpose against those who had committed the attacks. There was a common, shared desire to help our national and local governments respond, either specifically with regard to the attacks or generally with regard to the threat of terrorism.


As we engaged in our task of looking back at important events relating to APA that occurred in the years after 9/11, we have kept firmly in mind the strong and widespread feelings and perceptions from that time regarding the attacks themselves and the threat of future harm. Certainly, those feelings and perceptions were different one week, one year, four years, and ten years after 9/11. Being appropriately sensitive to the mindset of the time would therefore require some precision about which time is at issue. But in general, we remain aware that the passage of time may cause one to forget the sharpness of the feelings immediately after 9/11. And as we have engaged in our historical task, we have done our best to remember with clarity the feeling of these times.


One critical part of the national government’s response to the attacks was an attempt to obtain information about how the attacks occurred, whether future attacks were being planned, and where future threats might come from. An important part of that attempt was the interrogation of individuals who had been captured in Afghanistan and elsewhere and were in U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay and other locations, to determine if they had relevant information. The heart of our inquiry relates to APA’s issuance of ethical guidelines that determined when psychologists could ethically participate in such interrogations.


In June 2005, APA convened a task force on the topic. The task force issued a report, largely drafted during the three-day meeting by the APA Ethics Director in consultation with the task force. The report concluded that psychologists could ethically play a role in such interrogations and articulated some ethical guidelines regarding their participation. Less than one week later, the APA Board of Directors, in an emergency session, adopted the report as APA policy and publicized it.


Almost immediately, and for the next ten years, the report and APA’s actions in convening the task force, selecting its members, conducting the meeting, drafting the report, and reacting to attempts to change the report’s policy have created widespread and intense controversy within APA and the broader psychology community. Among other things, the critics have charged that the policy set few meaningful limits on the participation of psychologists in interrogations, despite widespread concerns about abusive conduct in such interrogations, and must therefore have been closely coordinated with the government (perhaps principally the Defense Department and the CIA) and motivated by a desire to curry favor with the government.


The defenders of the task force report and APA’s actions, inside and outside APA, say that the criticism is baseless, and denounce the actions of the critics as bullying and their words as false and defamatory. They have accused the critics of recklessly damaging reputations and told us that the critics must be acting out of a political and financial motivation unrelated to the merits of their position. Others have accused the critics of being automatically anti-military, such that any involvement by psychologists in national security endeavors would be considered unethical. To these defenders, the APA staff and members who worked most closely on APA’s ethics policies are (as they have told us) American heroes, and the fact that they have been attacked rather than thanked for their service to their profession and the country is a tragedy.




Within about a year after 9/11, information began to emerge publicly about the manner in which individuals taken into U.S. custody abroad in the war on terror were being treated. Fourteen years later, a great deal of information has become publicly available about this treatment, including from reports by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (2014) and the Senate Armed Services Committee (2008), although more information emerges on an ongoing basis.


This information establishes that in the months following 9/11, the President authorized the CIA to engage in “enhanced interrogation techniques.” These techniques were not methods of asking questions of a detainee, but were rather ways of attempting to break the will of uncooperative detainees so that they would answer the interrogators’ questions and provide intelligence information. These “techniques” included waterboarding, harsh physical actions such as “walling,” forced “stress positions,” and the intentional deprivation of necessities, such as sleep and a temperature-controlled environment. The Secretary of Defense authorized the Defense Department to engage in a similar set of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” although waterboarding was excluded.


The Justice Department office in charge of authoritatively interpreting U.S. law, the Office of Legal Counsel, wrote memos to the CIA in 2002 defining “torture” in a very narrow way. Acts intentionally causing pain to individuals in U.S. custody abroad could only rise to the level of torture, they said, if the effect was equivalent to the pain of a “serious physical injury such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function or even death.” Acts intentionally causing psychological harm to such captives would only count as torture if they caused “significant psychological harm” that lasted “for months or even years,” such as the development of an actual mental disorder. The memos emphasized that understanding “the context” of the act was important, and that “it is difficult to take a specific act out of context and conclude that the act in isolation would constitute torture.” The memos added that, regardless of what actions causing psychological harm were taken by interrogators, the actions could not be considered torture if the interrogator could show that he “did not intend to cause severe mental pain.” Interrogators could show that they lacked this intent by “consulting with experts or reviewing evidence gained in past experience.”


In 2003, based in part on these Justice Department memos, Defense Department attorneys wrote a report concluding that a U.S. law barring torture by military personnel was inapplicable to interrogations of detainees, and that causing harm to an individual in U.S. custody abroad could be justified “in order to prevent further attacks” on the United States by terrorists. The report, which essentially repeated the conclusions of the DOJ memos regarding the narrow definition of torture, and became the basis for an authorization to the military command at Guantanamo Bay to use certain interrogation techniques not included in the Army Field Manual. The authorization repeated that the Geneva Conventions were not applicable to the detainees held at Guantanamo.


By June 2005, much of this information had been made public, including the analysis of the Justice Department memos and the Defense Department report. In addition, numerous detailed allegations and accounts of abusive interrogation practices had been made public, including from the International Committee for the Red Cross, which monitored activity at Guantanamo Bay, and from media reports, which quoted military interrogation logs and government officials who described abusive interrogation practices at CIA “black sites.” As we write this report, the CIA’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” is well documented, including in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 2014 report. Among other things, psychologist and CIA contractor Jim Mitchell described in a recent, nationally-broadcast TV interview how he engaged in waterboarding detainees—including how he decided whether to pour water over the strapped-down and blindfolded detainee’s face for 10 seconds, 20 seconds, or 40 seconds. The Defense Department’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques has also been documented to some degree, including in the Senate Armed Services Committee’s 2008 report.


The critics of APA’s actions, decisions, and statements relating to this issue, including the 2005 task force report, say that they are horrified by the involvement of psychologists in these types of abusive interrogation methods, and find APA’s actions that facilitated or allowed such involvement to be atrocious. They are most critical of the 2005 task force report, but also sharply criticize subsequent APA policy actions on this issue, its handling of related disciplinary complaints against certain members, and some of the key ethics code revisions that APA made in 2002.


Based on the evidence available to them of important interactions between APA and parts of the government, they believe that the only logical explanation for APA’s action is collusion or close coordination with the government. They describe APA’s apparent motive and intent in different ways, from a desire to curry favor with the government to an intent to help government officials engage in torture. And some are convinced that a comparison of the timing of APA’s actions and the timing of the Bush Administration’s actions establishes that APA was acting in explicit and close coordination with high-level Administration officials. Some label APA’s actions “criminal,” and have called out by name the APA officials and employees most involved with this issue, with a request that they be prosecuted. They have said that APA’s refusal to strictly limit—if not prohibit—the involvement of psychologists in national security interrogations on ethical grounds created an indelible stain on the entire profession, and a warped and improper definition of what it means to be a psychologist.


Summary of the Investigation’s Conclusions (Excerpted from pages 9-10)


Our principal findings relate to the 2005 task force, which was formally empanelled by the APA President and was called the Presidential Task Force on Ethics and National Security, or “PENS.” The task force finalized a report on June 26, 2005 containing 12 ethical guidelines that were adopted as official APA ethics policy by the APA Board on an emergency basis less than one week later.


Our investigation determined that key APA officials, principally the APA Ethics Director joined and supported at times by other APA officials, colluded with important DoD officials to have APA issue loose, high-level ethical guidelines that did not constrain DoD in any greater fashion than existing DoD interrogation guidelines. We concluded that APA’s principal motive in doing so was to align APA and curry favor with DoD. There were two other important motives: to create a good public-relations response, and to keep the growth of psychology unrestrained in this area.


We also found that in the three years following the adoption of the 2005 PENS Task Force report as APA policy, APA officials engaged in a pattern of secret collaboration with DoD officials to defeat efforts by the APA Council of Representatives to introduce and pass resolutions that would have definitively prohibited psychologists from participating in interrogations at Guantanamo Bay and other U.S. detention centers abroad. The principal APA official involved in these efforts was once again the APA Ethics Director, who effectively formed an undisclosed joint venture with a small number of DoD officials to ensure that APA’s statements and actions fell squarely in line with DoD’s goals and preferences. In numerous confidential email exchanges and conversations, the APA Ethics Director regularly sought and received pre-clearance from an influential, senior psychology leader in the U.S. Army Special Operations Command before determining what APA’s position should be, what its public statements should say, and what strategy to pursue on this issue.


We did not find evidence to support the conclusion that APA officials actually knew about the existence of an interrogation program using “enhanced interrogation techniques.” But we did find evidence that during the time that APA officials were colluding with DoD officials to create and maintain loose APA ethics policies that did not significantly constrain DoD, APA officials had strong reasons to suspect that abusive interrogations had occurred. In addition, APA officials intentionally and strategically avoided taking steps to learn information to confirm those suspicions. Thus, we conclude that in colluding with DoD officials, APA officials acted (i) to support the implementation by DoD of the interrogation techniques that DoD wanted to implement without substantial constraints from APA; and (ii) with knowledge that there likely had been abusive interrogation techniques used and that there remained a substantial risk, that without strict constraints, such abusive interrogation techniques would continue; and (iii) with substantial indifference to the actual facts regarding the potential for ongoing abusive interrogations techniques.


While we found many emails and discussions regarding how best to position APA to maximize its influence with and build its positive relationship with the Defense Department, and many emails and discussions regarding what APA’s messaging should be in a media environment it perceived as hostile, we found little evidence of analyses or discussions about the best or right ethical position to take in light of the nature of the profession and the special skill that psychologists possess regarding how our minds and emotions work—a special skill that presumably allows psychologists to be especially good at both healing and harming.


We found that current and former APA officials had very substantial interactions with the CIA in the 2001 to 2004 time period, including on topics relating to interrogations, and were motivated to curry favor with the CIA in a similar fashion to DoD. But we did not find evidence that the relationship with the CIA contributed to the outcome of the PENS Task Force, apparently because APA’s key CIA contact for the APA retired in 2005 before the PENS Task Force met, and perhaps because the CIA’s enhanced interrogation technique program was on the wane in 2005, as reported by the Senate Intelligence Committee in its 2014 report.


With regard to the revisions of the Ethics Code in 2002—and most notably a revision to Standard 1.02, providing that psychologists who experienced a conflict between an APA ethical obligation and a law or order from a superior could follow the law or the order without committing an ethical violation, if the conflict could not be resolved (labeled a “Nuremberg defense” by critics)—we found that the meaningful changes occurred prior to 9/11 and were not influenced by an effort to help the government’s interrogation efforts. We did find, however, that the “Nuremberg defense” issue was raised to APA officials during the Ethics Code revision process, but that they failed to follow up on it.


Finally, we found that the handling of ethics complaints against prominent national security psychologists was handled in an improper fashion, in an attempt to protect these psychologists from censure.


We set out a summary of the evidence and our findings below. We then turn, in Section IV of this Executive Summary, to answers to the questions presented in the charge, in light of the evidence and our findings. And in Section V of this Executive Summary, we provide some closing comments.


Course MaterialS Section 4


The last part of the course involves reviewing pages 1-70 of the Hoffman Report which can be found here. Some of this material was excerpted in the previous section






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