The public exposure in mid-2004 of a government-sanctioned and highly bureaucratized program of torture and cruel treatment caused a political crisis that threatened to derail the Bush administration’s interrogation and detention policies. In the wake of that crisis, some American Psychological Association (APA) senior staff members and leaders colluded, secretly, with officials from the White House, Defense Department and CIA to enable psychologists’ continuing participation in interrogations at CIA black sites, Guantánamo, and other overseas facilities. One result of this collusion was a revision in 2005 of the APA’s code of ethics for interrogations in order to provide cover for psychologists working in these facilities.
The participation of psychologists was essential for the CIA’s torture program to continue during the Bush years. The legal authority for CIA interrogations was based on then-classified Office of Legal Counsel memos. The first set of memos, authored by John Yoo, signed by OLC head Jay Bybee and dated August 1, 2002, were withdrawn in late 2003 by Jack Goldsmith (who replaced Bybee when he became a federal judge). In June 2004, one of the Yoo/Bybee “torture memos” was leaked to the press, and public outcry about the legal reasoning—especially among lawyers—created pressure on the Bush administration to release some additional legal memos and policy directives relevant to prisoner policies. In December 2004, acting OLC head Daniel Levin revised the narrow definition of torture in the Yoo/Bybee memos but reaffirmed their legal opinions. In the spring of 2005, the CIA requested new legal opinions to validate the techniques in use, and OLC head Stephen Bradbury authored three new memos in May. All of these OLC opinions were a “golden shield” against future prosecutions of officials responsible for the CIA program. According to Bradbury’s 2005 memos, the involvement of health professionals in monitoring and assessing the effects of “enhanced” techniques was necessary in order for them to be considered legal.
Why was the APA’s secret collusion so essential for continuance of the program? A key reason was because other physicians and psychiatrists were increasingly reluctant to participate in national security interrogations. In June 2005, doctors in the CIA’s Office of Medical Services refused a new role required by the Bradbury memos to engage in monitoring and research to determine whether the treatment and conditions to which a detainee was subjected were cruel, inhumane, and degrading. In 2006 the American Psychiatric Association and the American Medical Association passed directives barring their members from participating in such interrogations on professional ethical grounds. The APA, in collaboration with the Bush administration, was willing to allow psychologists to fill the role balked at by other health professionals.
Details of this collusion—which APA officials have concealed and denied for a decade—are the subject of a new report, All the President’s Psychologists, authored by Drs. Stephen Soldz and Steven Reisner, and Nathaniel Raymond. The information comes from 638 e-mails from the accounts of a RAND Corporation researcher and CIA contractor, Scott Gerwehr, who died in 2008. James Risen, a New York Times journalist and author, most recently, of Pay Any Price, obtained the e-mails through Freedom of Information Act litigation and shared them with the report’s authors.