The Psychology Profession Has Disowned the CIA's Two Torture Psychologists
But the association has been criticized for the role it may have played in the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques.
The largest group representing US psychologists calls the torture performed by the Central Intelligence Agency on terrorist suspects "sickening and morally reprehensible," formally distancing itself from the two members of the profession who consulted on the program.
In an official statement, the American Psychological Association condemned the enhanced interrogation techniques outlined in the Senate Intelligence Committee's 500-page executive summary released this week on the CIA's controversial tactics for questioning prisoners after 9/11.
The organization called for the two psychologists who are reported to have crafted these techniques—identified by the psuedonyms Grayson Swigert and Hammond Dunbar in the report—to be held accountable for their roles.
"The new information about the brutality of the torture techniques is startling and upsetting. They're clear violations of human rights and international law," Rhea Farberman, the director of communications for the APA, told me over the phone.
The reported role of the psychologists is particularly distressing for the association, Farberman said. "If these allegations are true, they are clear violations of all of our professional ethics and all of what the discipline stands for."
The response wasn't altogether unexpected. The so-called 'torture report' raises a sensitive issue for the APA, which has been accused of enabling psychologists to aid in the development and implementation of these interrogative techniques. (By contrast, the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association told members that participation would violate their ethical guidelines.)
The association spent years denying and evading these accusations, but finally agreed last month to hire an external attorney—Chicago lawyer David Hoffman—to conduct an investigation into the APA's actions and determine whether or not it enabled the government to torture its war prisoners.
The Senate committee's summary indicates that "Swigert" and "Dunbar" were deeply involved in designing the system of interrogation techniques. Though the CIA has not named the psychologists, they have widely been identified as James A. Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, with Mitchell in particular singled out as the architect of the program. The APA points out that neither is a member of its association, though Mitchell was until 2006.
He has a non-disclosure agreement with the CIA and could not go into details about his role, but Mitchell spoke to Vice News in his first-ever on-camera video to discuss the report and the shocking interrogation techniques he is reported to have designed. His testimony is just another piece of the puzzle as we try to make sense of how these shocking torture techniques came to be: