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PHR Calls for Federal Probe into American Psychological Association’s Role in CIA Torture Program

James Risen’s New Book Gives Evidence of Collusion Between Health Professionals and CIA

For Immediate Release

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is calling for a Department of Justice investigation into the American Psychological Association’s (APA) role in supporting the CIA’s torture program. Damaging new evidence of this relationship has emerged in “Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War,” the new book by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter James Risen of The New York Times.

In a chapter titled “War on Decency,” Risen details evidence that the APA worked directly and secretly with U.S. government officials, including from the CIA and the White House, on its ethics policy. According to Risen, this collusion appeared to be aimed at ethically justifying psychologist involvement in interrogations and ensuring psychologist assistance in implementing and legitimizing the Bush-era torture program.

“Risen presents credible evidence that the American Psychological Association colluded with the Bush administration so that health professionals’ skills and knowledge could be used to justify the torture and ill-treatment of detainees,” said Donna McKay, PHR’s executive director. “The Department of Justice must immediately initiate an investigation into whether the APA and CIA engaged in any unlawful conduct related to this brutal torture program.”

The APA, according to Risen, was crucial to safeguarding the Bush administration’s legal rationale for the CIA program, which depended on health professionals’ involvement and monitoring of so-called “enhanced” interrogation methods. Risen reports that the APA was the only health organization willing to provide the government with legal cover: “If the American Psychological Association and its member psychologists had not gone along with the Bush administration, it is unclear that any other health professionals would have taken their place.” (Page 195).

“For nearly a decade, PHR has been demanding accountability for psychologists and other health professionals who designed and implemented the United States’ torture program,” said Steven Reisner, advisor on psychology and ethics for PHR. “Now that Risen has provided evidence that the American Psychological Association secretly colluded with the CIA to change APA policy to keep psychologists at the center of these operations, it is time for a full federal investigation.”

Since 2005, PHR has documented the systematic use of psychological and physical torture on national security detainees in U.S. custody in its groundbreaking reports, including Break Them Down (2005), Leave No Marks (2007), Broken Laws, Broken Lives (2008), Aiding Torture (2009), Experiments in Torture (2010), and Buried Alive (2013). The organization has repeatedly called for an end to the use of the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) tactics by U.S. personnel, the dismantling of the Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCT), and a full Congressional investigation into the role of health professionals in the U.S. program, among other recommendations. Additionally, PHR has worked to mobilize the health professional community, particularly the professional associations, to adopt strong ethical prohibitions against direct participation in interrogations.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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