A former official at the American Psychological Association who was implicated in the controversy over the organization’s support for torture has resigned as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Alliant International University.
The resignation of Russ Newman comes in the wake of an independent investigation, commissioned by the APA, that found that officials there coordinated with the Department of Defense to make sure psychologists could participate in often-brutal interrogations without running afoul of the association’s ethical guidelines.
The 542-page report that resulted from that investigation, carried out by David H. Hoffman, a former federal prosecutor, took Mr. Newman to task for altering wording put out by the APA in order to comport with the government’s preferences. The report also pointed out Mr. Newman’s clear conflict of interest: His wife, Lt. Col. Debra Dunivin, was at one time the lead psychologist for interrogations at the military’s base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
According to the report, Mr. Newman, who served as chief of the APA’s practice directorate, pushed to exclude the negative-sounding word “coercive” from a description of techniques used to extract information from detainees. When interviewed by investigators for Mr. Hoffman, Mr. Newman said he didn’t remember arguing to remove that word. But he acknowledged that Colonel Dunivin and Col. Louie Morgan Banks, then the chief psychologist with the Army Special Operations Command, wouldn’t like the word “since it suggested from the outset that interrogations per se were problematic.”
The report quoted Mr. Newman’s colleagues referring to him as a “bulldog” who tried to influence the APA’s policy in favor of the military.
Mr. Newman did not respond to an email requesting comment. A spokesman for Alliant, which is based in San Diego, confirmed the resignation, but would not comment further on the reason for his departure. The university has already begun to scrub Mr. Newman’s name from its website, though this YouTube video of Mr. Newman promoting Alliant remained up as of Tuesday morning.
The resignation was welcome news to longtime critics of the APA’s complicity in the government’s torture program. “Alliant’s apparent action related to Russ Newman should be a sign for other academic institutions that are employing in any role other individuals implicated in this scandal that they must also consider similar action immediately,” said Nathaniel Raymond, a former director of the Campaign Against Torture at Physicians for Human Rights. “At its heart, this scandal is about the violation of the core principles of science, research, and what it means to be a scholar.”
So far the APA has announced that three top officials will leave the organization as a result of the Hoffman review, including the association’s chief executive officer, Norman Anderson. Critics have called for more employees to be shown the door, and also for a number of psychologists who have served in unpaid leadership roles to be banned from governance.
The fallout from the report has yet to slow. On Sunday an email from leaders at the APA to its council of representatives said that the organization had been receiving more than 1,000 emails a day related to the Hoffman review. The email called the report’s conclusions “extremely troubling, painful, and humbling.”