New Yorker: Former APA President Worked with CIA and on Board of Mitchell and Jessen

Perhaps the most interesting revelation in Jane Mayer’s latest New Yorker article on the CIA and US torture policy comes as an aside, towards the end. Ongoing investigations by PHR and others, including investigative journalists, are discovering disturbing connections between American Psychological Association officials involved in developing the ethics standards governing psychologists’ participation in interrogations and those involved in overseeing and facilitating the Bush administration’s CIA and US military programs of torture. Firedoglake blogger Marcy Wheeler has honed in on the passage in her coverage of Mayer’s piece:

In April, Panetta fired all the C.I.A.’s contract interrogators, including the former military psychologists who appear to have designed the most brutal interrogation techniques: James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. The two men, who ran a consulting company, Mitchell, Jessen & Associates, had recommended that interrogators apply to detainees theories of “learned helplessness” that were based on experiments with abused dogs. The firm’s principals reportedly billed the agency a thousand dollars a day for their services. “We saved some money in the deal, too!” Panetta said. (Remarkably, a month after Obama took office the C.I.A. had signed a fresh contract with the firm.)According to ProPublica, the investigative reporting group, Mitchell and Jessen’s firm, which in 2007 had a hundred and twenty people on its staff, recently closed its offices, in Spokane, Washington. One employee was Deuce Martinez, a former C.I.A. interrogator in the black-site program; Joseph Matarazzo, a former president of the American Psychological Association, was on the company’s board. (According to Kirk Hubbard, the former head of the C.I.A.’s research and analysis division, Matarazzo served on an agency professional-standards board during the time the interrogation program was set up, but was not consulted about the interrogations.)

Mayer notes, parenthetically, that she has learned from the CIA’s Kirk Hubbard that former American Psychological Association president Joseph Matarazzo sat on the CIA’s professional-standards board at the time when psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen were developing an interrogation program for the CIA, based on the US military’s SERE training program. Much more remains to be known about the involvement of Mitchell and Jessen, as well as other psychologists, including former senior APA officials, such as Matarazzo. In order to fully understand how psychology and psychologists were used to design, supervise and legitimize a regime of physical and psychological torture, a commission of inquiry, supported by the Administration and authorized by the Congress, is the best way to answer these outstanding questions. In the meantime, investigative reporting by Jane Mayer and others will have to continue asking and answering these questions in lieu of a formal process of accountability for abuses that rise to the level of war crimes.More needs to be known regarding Matarazzo’s role in the CIA, but immediately troubling is that while he was serving on the Agency’s professional-standards board, he was also sitting on the board of Mitchell and Jessen’s firm. According to a 2007 report by the Spokesman Review, public records show that Matarazzo was “one of five ‘governing people'” in the Mitchell Jessen firm.” This is a conflict of interest not unlike the ones we saw for some members of the PENS task force of civilian and military psychologists whom the APA assembled in 2005 to [E]xamine whether our current Ethics Code adequately addresses [the ethical dimensions of psychologists’ involvement in national security-related activities], whether the APA provides adequate ethical guidance to psychologists involved in these endeavors, and whether APA should develop policy to address the role of psychologists and psychology in investigations related to national security. (Report of the Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security [PDF])

PHR has called for the APA to launch an investigation of potential conflicts of interest between the APA and the military and national security community regarding use of psychologists in illegal interrogations. Matarazzo’s service on both the board of Mitchell, Jessen & Associates and on the CIA’s professional-standards board must be part of any such inquiry.

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