Three Army psychologists have harshly criticized an independent investigation that found that the American Psychological Association had colluded with the Department of Defense in shaping ethics rules related to torture, accusing its author of “prosecutorial bias” and “grandstanding rhetoric.”
In a statement posted to an APA email list over the weekend, the three psychologists wrote that the 542-page report put together by David H. Hoffman, a former federal prosecutor, “ignores or distorts key facts” and “fails to include contrary analyses.” The statement cites Mr. Hoffman’s “past interest in holding public office” as a reason for his supposed bias and expresses disappointment at the APA’s “rush to judgement.”
The three Army psychologists are L. Morgan Banks, Debra Dunivin, and Larry C. James, all of whom are mentioned multiple times in Mr. Hoffman’s report. The statement was also signed by Russ Newman, a former APA official who is married to Ms. Dunivin. Mr. Newman resigned as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Alliant International University days after the Hoffman report’s release.
They deny that there was collusion between the military and the APA to “write guidelines that purposely left wiggle room for abusive interrogations.” Instead they contend that the APA’s much-maligned ethics guidelines, created by the Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security, or PENS, were “well crafted” and designed to prevent abuses.
In contrast, the Hoffman report found that officials of the APA and the Department of Defense were involved in a “virtual joint venture” to ensure that the ethics guidelines were not more stringent than the Pentagon’s own internal rules. The Hoffman report includes emails that show how APA officials routinely looked to the military for advice on specific wording choices.
For instance, APA officials eliminated the word “coercive” from a description of interrogation techniques, a word deemed unpalatable to the Defense Department. Emails show that the APA’s ethics director at the time, Stephen Behnke, repeatedly sought the approval and input of Mr. Banks, then the chief psychologist with the Army Special Operations Command, on matters large and small. Mr. Behnke was fired by the APA after the Hoffman report was completed.
While the statement accuses Mr. Hoffman of committing a “host of factual errors,” it does not contain a list of specific falsehoods. Instead it objects primarily to the tone of the report, which it calls “prosecutorial” rather than objective. “Mr. Hoffman’s attack upon our motives and goals is an egregious distortion in its conclusions and irresponsible in its methods, and his recurring theme that we tried to enable rather than halt abuse turns the truth on its head,” the statement says.
The three psychologists write that they are considering their legal options.
When asked to respond, Mr. Hoffman wrote via email simply: “We stand by our report.”
One longtime critic of the APA’s interrogation policy, Steven Reisner, dismissed the statement as an attempt to rewrite history. “This idea they are trying to put forward that they were there to protect the detainees is not supported by any evidence, nor do they offer any,” Mr. Reisner said in an interview on Sunday. “What they’re trying to do is reargue the case made by the Bush administration, but the history has turned and that has been completely debunked.”
The back and forth is likely to be a preview of the APA’s annual convention this week in Toronto, where the Hoffman report is expected to dominate discussion.