What happened to discussion of interrogations? by Bill MacGillvray

Dropped on:August 16, 2015
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Division Forum: I wrote this summary below for my local chapter. Bill

I would like to update everyone who wasn’t able to attend APA Convention in Toronto and especially the Council of Representatives meetings that week. As many of you now know, I assume, the revelations in the New York Times by James Risen many months ago prompted the APA Board of Directors (BoD) to commission an investigation by a Chicago attorney. David Hoffman. The report was leaked to the Times several weeks ago, just before it was to be discussed by a subset of the APA BoD before its general release. Interestingly, this group also invited Steven Reisner and Stephen Soldz to also review and make recommendations to this group.

The immediate effect of the release of the report was that Stephen Behnke, head of the Ethics Committee, was let go (there is no confirmation that he was fired or resigned). Also early retirement was announced for CEO Norman Anderson and resignations accepted for Mike Honacker, second in command at APA, and Rhea Farberman. In addition, the current president, Barry Anton, was obligated to recuse himself from anything having to do with the report or its consequences. Secondary impact followed with the announcement that former head of the Practice Organization (APAPO), Russ Newman, was asked to step down as Provost at Alliant University.

The reasons for all this are best left to a perusal of the Hoffman report (available at but the short answer is that all of the above were highly involved in what is the major finding of the report that APA leadership (both employees and elected officers) were involved in colluding with the Department of Defense (DoD), especially Morgan Banks, to fashion a policy statement on psychologist involvement in interrogations of detainees (the PENS report) that allowed the fullest possible leeway for military psychologists to operate in Guantanamo and other “black hole” sites. It is important to recognize the crucial distinction between “involvement in interrogations” and and coercive and inhumane treatment of detainees. The essential message of PENS was that psychologists would be able to operate ethically in these situations that were deemed outside the protection of US or international law, guided solely be their ethics code. Indeed the claim was made that psychologists were uniquely capable of both identifying and stopping torture from occurring because they were “immune from mission drift” that other lesser mortals were prone to.

The secondary and more important finding is the lengths APA leadership went to maintain the PENS report conclusions despite increasing opposition from the membership. In several resolutions before APA Council and finally in a membership-initiated referendum on the issue, the clear sense of the membership was that psychologists should not operate under conditions outside of US and international law under any conditions except to treat military personnel or to work independently for the detainees. Each effort was met with lip service from APA leadership but complete failure to implement the resolutions and policy statements that followed. In other words, it was once again, the cover-up that led to the downfall of so many in the leadership and the humiliating reporting that followed release of the Hoffman report.

This takes us up to the events last week. I was not present for the first day of Council, but I am told that Mr. Hoffman fielded some extremely pointed and critical questions about his report that was in many ways a “last gasp” of those opposed to finally addressing the issues. I did attend the second day of council when they took up the new business item (NB23) that was initially submitted by Scott Churchill (of Division 32) and further worked on by Reisner and Soldz and submitted to Council with the full support of the (nonrecused) members of the board. Following several emotionally moving statements from the “dissidents,” especially Jean-Marie Arrigo (one the the members of the PENS report and the “whistleblower” concerning that report for many years) and some scathing overboard comments from Larry James (also prominently mentioned in the Hoffman report) to the effect that passing the resolution will mean that psychologist everywhere will be prevented from doing any work of interrogation (e.g., police, CPS, etc.).

Particularly significant was the insistence finally accepted that there had to be a roll call vote on the resolution (in contrast to electronic voting per usual). For those of us concerned for over ten years to finally wipe out the stain on our profession of the PENS report, it was quite moving as member after member voted “yes” and the resolution passed with only one dissenting vote. As a result APA now has the strongest worded statement on psychologist involvement in interrogations of all the mental health disciplines rather than the weakest.

What now? One prominent force behind PENS and its shenanigans remains ensconced within the halls of APA: Nathalie Gilfoyle, APA’s lead attorney. She has not resigned although she was far more involved in PENS and its consequences than any other person. No one who knows Stephen Behnke believes he acted on his own or even initiated action without the approval of Gilfoyle and other figures within APA. It will remain to be seen who will be chosen to replace Norm Anderson. Anderson was an amazingly “hands-off” CEO and his protest that he “never knew” what had occurred has some credibility (unfortunately). If a strong CEO is chosen, perhaps the legal office can be displaced from its position. Given the horrendous accomplishments of the legal office: the fiasco of the special assessment, the needless and expensive fight with the insurance trust (APAIT), and now the Hoffman revelations, incompetence alone would seem to justify cleaning out the office.

Last week, APA Council acted as a legislative body, certainly more active and engaged than I have witnessed in all my years observing Council. Will this continue? Will APA Council put an end to its self-immolation of the Good Governance Project (GGP) designed to sideline Council completely in APA decisions? Will elected leaders of APA “come clean” and recognize their part in allowing this scandal to drag on for ten years or more? Will those maligned and ridiculed for addressing the willingness of APA to compromise its ethical code, beginning with Neil Altman, continuing through Laurie Wagner, then Dan Aalbers, Steve Reisner, Jean-Marie Arrigo, Stephen Soldz. Scott Churchill and more, be recognized as working to protect our profession not undermine it?

We have has some public mea culpas from Gerry Koocher, Ron Levant, and Barry Anton. Certainly Nadine Kaslow and Susan McDaniel also had to preside over both Council and a Town Hall Meeting that forced them to make a public accounting of their part in the disrepair of our organization. Several others, including Russ Newman, have continued a fullthroated defense of PENS and rejection of the Hoffman report findings. Stephen Behnke is rumored to be lawyered up with child molester defender Louis Freeh.

At the end of one of the many specials over the years on Nixon’s crimes and resignation, John Dean was asked to reflect on the lessons of Watergate. His reply: “There are none.” By this he explained that what had happened has continued to happen, perhaps in more disguised form, but political corruption is inevitable. It is vigilance that comes and goes. How vigilant APA members will be in the coming years remains to be seen. Bill MacGillivray

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