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07/15/2015

The American Psychological Association Interrogation Policy and Dr. Gerald Koocher, AAAS Fellow

by Steven Miles, M.D. 

A recent 542-page report describes a damning collaboration between the American Psychological Association (APA) and the Department of Defense (DoD) and other government intelligence agencies. In essence, the APA rewrote the ethics code to allow psychologists to design and monitor interrogational torture.[i] The APA Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS) said that the interrogational psychologists’ client was the interrogational command and not the prisoners’ wellbeing. The aim of this policy was to authorize and shelter psychologists who devised plans that included waterboarding, sleep deprivation, food restriction, use of threatening dogs, solitary confinement, use of restraining stress positions, etc. The coordination of the PENS product with the DoD was so tight that it was sent to the DoD for review before the APA endorsed it. At that point, it was appended to DoD interrogation policies.

The discovered collaboration has been a matter of public debate for several years.[ii] This year, the APA commissioned an investigation and gave a distinguished former prosecutor access to APA archives and personnel.[iii] The APA was humiliated by the findings. It promptly apologized for a “deeply disturbing” “collusion” and fired its ethics officer.[iv] The CEO and deputy CEO and Executive Director for Public and Member Communications have also resigned. Additional internal reforms are underway.[v]

Dr. Gerald Koocher was APA president elect during the work of the PENS Task Force. The centrality of his place in the APA-DoD collusion is described in several hundred citations to his name. He proposed the concept of the Task Force, suggested members and played a major role in ensuring that it was utterly dominated by DoD intelligence officials. Although merely a Board “liaison” to the Task Force, he took aggressive and hostile positions to marginalize and disempower the non-DoD minority. At one point, he called the head of the American Psychiatric Association “an idiot full of sound and fury” for saying psychiatrists should not be involved in interrogations. Koocher repeatedly attacked international laws against torture calling them a “distraction” to ethics guidance. He told the Task Force that he had “zero interest in entangling APA with the nebulous, toothless, contradictory, and obfuscatory treaties that comprise ‘international law.’”(p 326) Dr. Koocher developed the explanation by which the APA could evade acting on complaints of misconduct by psychologists in interrogations.

Dr. Koocher is also a Fellow in the American Academy for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The AAAS has a distinguished history in human rights that is grounded on its mission to promote the integrity of science and to responsibly engage societal issues. Over the years, it has extensively worked against clinical torture. Among its many such activities, it reported on Chilean medical torture and awarded a Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award to a Soviet psychiatrist who exposed the abuse of political prisoners.[vi] [vii] It supported the seminal book, “The Breaking of Bodies and Minds: Torture, Psychiatric Abuse, and the Health Professions.”[viii] The AAAS manages a ‘Science and Human Rights Coalition’ of more than 50 member or affiliates societies and formal networks of science professionals.[ix] That Coalition promotes the International Bill of Human Rights (a compilation of three UN documents, each of which bar torture) and other international human rights treaties and norms, presumably including the World Medical Association’s Declaration of Tokyo barring medical collaboration with torture. The AAAS is committed to the idea of the unity of science and universal human rights.

The AAAS Fellowship is one of the most prestigious honors conferred by the United States scientific community. It is selectively conferred by the AAAS Council for meritorious science in the service of society and for being an exemplar for teaching and emulation. The AAAS conferred Fellow status on Dr. Gerald Koocher in 1995.

The AAAS should now revoke Dr. Koocher’s status as a Fellow.

Dr. Koocher failed the twin foundation of the Academy. Torture fails both scientific ideals and human rights. Research demonstrates that threats, abuse, and coercion fail as interrogation methods. As part of a scientific organization, Dr. Koocher should have insisted that such literature be referenced and permanently attached to the policy, and thus conveyed to the interrogational psychologists.[x] Dr. Koocher also specifically and explicitly worked to traduce both international laws and ethics codes that are affirmed by the AAAS.

The AAAS does not confer Fellowship automatically.

The act of selecting presumes the power to revoke the selection under extraordinary circumstances. Revoking a Fellowship will not affect Dr. Koocher’s ability to practice. It will, however, shun his work as an exemplar of meritorious contributions to science.

This is the time for the AAAS to assert its stewardship of the worthy and inseparable nature of science and human rights.

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Works cited:

[i] Hoffman DH to Special Committee of the APA Board of Directors. Independent Review Report. July 2, 2015 http://www.apa.org/independent-review/APA-FINAL-Report-7.2.15.pdf

[ii] Miles SH. Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity, and the War on Terror. New York, Random House, 2006 (republished with additional data on APA as Oath Betrayed: America’s Torture Doctors. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008.

[iii] Conway AS. American Psychological Association and Allegations of Human Rights Violations 8 January 2015. //www.aaas.org/news/american-psychological-association-and-allegations-human-rights-violations

[iv] American Psychological Association. Press Release and Recommended Actions: Independent Review Cites Collusion Among APA Individuals and Defense Department Officials in Policy on Interrogation Techniques July 10, 2015. http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2015/07/independent-review-release.aspx

[v] American Psychological Association. Press Release: APA Announces Retirements and Resignation of Senior Leaders. July 14, 2015. http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2015/07/retirements-resignation.aspx

[vi] Stover E. The Open Secret: Torture and the Medical Profession in Chile Directorate for Science and Policy Programs – Science and Human Rights Program Washington, DC: AAAS Publication Number 87-21, 1987

[vii] Stover E, Nightingale EO. The Breaking of Bodies and Minds: Torture, Psychiatric Abuse, and the Health Professions. New York: WH Freeman & Co. 1985.

[viii] AAAS Committee on Scientific Freedom and Responsibility. Koryagin Urges Continued Efforts Against Psychiatric Abuse. Report on Science and Human Rights 1987;9(2)1-2. http://www.aaas.org/sites/default/files/migrate/uploads/1987-Vol.-9-Issue-2.pdf

[ix] AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition. http://www.aaas.org/program/science-human-rights-coalition

[x] Intelligence Science Board. Educing Information, Interrogation: Science and Art. National Defense Intelligence College. Washington DC, 2006.

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