There has been ample evidence for years that the Bush administration sought the cover of health-care professionals to justify its use of Nazi-like torture techniques, but a new report that the American Psychological Association secretly collaborated with the administration still shocks.
Indeed, the report by a group of so-called dissident health-care professionals, as well as human rights activists, is sodden with unstated comparisons -- analogies that call to mind the machinations of officials in the torture regime of Hitler's Third Reich to create a veneer of respectability for their vile deeds -- in documenting how the Bush administration, in response to shocking photos of the abuse of prisoners by American military personnel at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2004, sough to salvage a hitherto secret torture program initiated under the guise of fighting the so-called War on Terror.
This was done by arranging for the APA to secretly work -- or collaborate, a word with justifiably odious connotations -- with officials from the CIA, White House and the Department of Defense "to create an APA ethics policy on national security interrogations which comported with then-classified legal guidance authorizing the CIA torture program," the report states.
This secret deal in turn enabled the Justice Department to argue in secret legal opinions that the program -- since revealed to be ineffective, constitutionally dubious, in violation of the Geneva Conventions and deeply damaging to America's standing abroad -- was legal and did not constitute torture, since the interrogations were being monitored by health-care professionals to make sure they were safe.
A spokeswoman for the APA, the nation's largest professional organization for psychologists, denied that the group had coordinated its actions with the government, a not surprising response since the group's hierarchy -- if not necessarily its rank and file --has been in denial about its complicity for years.
There "has never been any coordination between APA and the Bush administration on how APA responded to the controversies about the role of psychologists in the interrogations program," Rhea Farberman said.
The report details how the Bush administration relied more heavily on psychologists than psychiatrists or other health-care professionals to monitor interrogations because the APA was supportive of the involvement of psychologists.
In early June 2004, the report said, a senior APA official issued an invitation to a carefully selected group of psychologists and behavioral scientists inside the government to a private meeting to discuss the Bush administration's public relations crisis and the role of psychologists in the torture program. Following a meeting, the association issued guidelines that reaffirmed that it was acceptable for its members to be involved in the interrogation program.
That program, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee report released in December, included waterboarding, imprisoning detainees in small boxes, slapping and punching them, depriving them of sleep for as long as a week, and sometimes telling them that they would be killed, their children maimed and their mothers sexually assaulted. Some detainees were subjected to medically unnecessary "rectal feeding" -- a technique that the C.I.A.'s chief of interrogations described as a way to exert "total control over the detainee."
The cynical involvement of the APA and its member psychologists in the program was a clear violation of the associations own ethical standards, and the APA report notes that APA psychologists may have gone so far as to help the government find more efficient ways to obtain information from detainees.
The APA report states that "the APA's complicity in the torture program, by allowing psychologists to calibrate and administer permitted harm, undermines the fundamental ethical standards of the profession. If not carefully understood and rejected by the profession, this may portend a fundamental shift in the profession's relationship with the people it serves."
Other professional associations have spoken out against torture, including the American Medical Association. Meanwhile, the CIA's own Office of Medical Services raised objections over the interrogation techniques, but those objections were covered up by the government.
Why have I and everyone else who has closely followed the torture regime and its fallout correctly assumed that no one of consequence would be held accountable for this darkest of eras? Will psychologists who aided and abetted torturers lose their licenses or otherwise be sanctioned? No way.
Anyone who thought that Barack Obama, having said boo about torture while campaigning for president in 2008, would denounce it after taking office was engaging in fuzzy-wuzzy liberal thinking. For one thing, the new president understood that denouncing, let alone going after Bush and his enablers for their crimes, would scuttle any chance he had of forging a bipartisan consensus for his ambitious first-term agenda. But even this Obama supporter is deeply disappointed at how unwilling the president has been to lay bare the regime's excesses even if stopping short of even suggesting its architects should be prosecuted.
America's moral standing in the world community was squandered during the Bush interregnum, while the CIA's gruesome tactics have provided a ready recruiting tool for terrorists and further exposed American soldiers, journalists and others to the enmity that our refusal to come to terms with these depravities will provoke.
Meanwhile, identifying the APA report's authors as "dissidents," as The New York Times and other outlets are doing, is a bitter reminder of how divided Americans remain -- and how conflicted the mainstream media has been -- over the Bush Torture Regime. Does opposing torture make one a dissident? Have we so little shame over this darkest era in our history? What a sick commentary on the times in which we live.
* * * * *
Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés and I discussed the issue of members of the "healing profession," as she calls it, collaborating in unethical and unlawful government conduct in 2008. Dr. E is a psychoanalyst who has been in clinical practice for over 40 years and specializes in post-trauma recovery, often including veterans, as well as being a poet and bestselling author whose books have been published in 32 languages.
A reprint of our dialogue is here.