Our Psychological Crisis: Making Sense of the American Psychological Association’s Collusion with Torture

Last year’s “Hoffman Report,” the independent investigation conducted by former Inspector General of Chicago David Hoffman into the American Psychological Association’s collusion in the torture of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay and other CIA “black sites,” has sent shock waves through the psychology profession, whose members are not at all happy to be the public face of torture in America. Listservs around the country are erupting with consternation and outrage, with demands for accountability, justice, and reform, and with cries of betrayal. Our profession is in a full-blown crisis and psychologists around the country are confused, embarrassed, and unsure of how to respond in a meaningful way.

United States officers use a "water cure" on a Filipino captive in this illustration from a 1902 cover of "Life".

What shocks me is how shocked my professional community suddenly seemed to be, since much of the information in the Hoffman report has been available to the public for many years, thanks to the ceaseless work of activist psychologists like Steven Reisner, Stephen Soldz, and Jean Maria Arrigo, who first blew the whistle on the APA’s cover-up back in 2006. Arrigo had participated in the APA’s bogus “Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security,” known as the PENS Task Force, which pretended to investigate the ethics of “enhanced interrogation” (torture) by delegating the task to an appointed panel made up almost entirely of military personnel who had direct experience with torture at one or more of the various CIA black sites. Reisner, Soldz, Arrigo, and a small handful of other psychologists out on the front lines of this battle have been intimidated, publicly maligned, and marginalized by the APA in an attempt to discredit the APA’s critics and deflect attention from its dirty secrets.

I was a doctoral student in clinical psychology when news first broke about psychologists’ involvement in torture. I had entered my studies with such optimism and hope about my career, feeling that I had finally found my home in the world—a vocation, not just a job—where I might make good use of my deep love and empathy for people and my desire to do some good in the world. It was shocking, then, to hear in my second year of training that people in my new profession were torturing prisoners. I couldn’t fathom how those people could be psychologists. Weren’t we healers? Weren’t we Carl Rogers and Virginia Satir and Sigmund Freud and Carol Gilligan and . . . torturers? I couldn’t wrap my head around it at all, so I decided to write my dissertation about it in order to get to the bottom of this incongruous debacle.

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Deb Kory is a psychologist in private practice in Berkeley, California, and a former managing editor of Tikkun. She is also a writer, and is content manager for psychotherapy.net. She is currently turning her dissertation, Psychologists: Healers or Instruments of War?, into a book.

Source Citation

Kory, Deb. 2016. Our Psychological Crisis: Making Sense of the American Psychological Association’s Collusion with Torture. Tikkun 31(1): 34.

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