Amid Torture Scandal, APA Officials Step Down

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Amid Torture Scandal, APA Officials Step Down

American Psychological Association leaders, including CEO, follow ethics director out the door

More APA officials resigned after last month's investigative report into the association's role in the CIA torture program. (Photo: Justin Norman/flickr/cc)

Amid ongoing revelations that the American Psychological Association (APA) aided the U.S. government's secret torture program, several APA officials on Tuesday announced their resignation from the organization, including its chief executive officer.

Dr. Norman Anderson, who became CEO of the APA in 2003, said he was leaving in order to "allow the association to take another step in the important process of organizational healing," according to a press release.

Also stepping down from their posts are deputy CEO Dr. Michael Honaker, who will leave on August 15, and communications director Rhea K. Farberman.

Those three officials, along with several other senior APA members, were named in a 542-page report released last month by law firm Sidley Austin examining the APA's role in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)'s torture program.

Honaker supervised the APA's ethics director, lawyer and psychologist Stephen Behnke. Behnke left his post last week.

As David Luban, founding editor of Just Security and Georgetown University Law Center professor, wrote in an op-ed on Monday, the report—known as the Hoffman report for Sidley Austin's lead investigator, David Hoffman—portrayed Behnke as "the impresario of the organization's campaign to depict itself as a human rights champion, while quietly permitting its members to engage in coercive interrogations and shielding them from ethics complaints."

"If the APA is taking steps to right this ship, the departure of the people who were implicated [in the Hoffman report] is essential," Luban told Common Dreams.

In one instance outlined in the report (pdf), Behnke told Honaker that he had done contract work for the Department of Defense (DOD), giving paid ethics lectures to agents participating in interrogation training at a U.S. Army base.

"Honaker did not provide this information to CEO Norman Anderson or the Board," the report states. "Honaker said that it did not occur to him that the Board would need to know or discuss this information, because he saw it as a standard example of Behnke providing ethics training to an important group of psychologists, as he does in a variety of settings."

"If the APA is taking steps to right this ship, the departure of the people who were implicated [in the Hoffman report] is essential."
—David Luban, Just Security

Behnke's communications with Anderson, Honaker, Farberman, and others at that time showed an intention to curry favor with intelligence agencies.

The APA's involvement in the CIA torture program has been known for some time, but the report made clear the extent of the association's role. In another case, Debra Dunivin, then a member of the Guantanamo Bay Behavioral Science Consultation Team (BSCT), pushed for the inclusion of certain military and DOD officials on the APA's Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS) task force.

Dunivin's husband, APA practice directorate chief Russ Newman, acted as an "observer" to the task force, ostensibly to provide input to the creation of interrogation guidelines—but, as the report states, no one at the APA brought up the "obvious" conflict of interest arising from Newman and Dunivin's marriage. Neither Anderson, Honeker, Behnke, Gilfoyle, APA President Ron Levant, or APA President-Elect Gerald Koocher, took any steps to "disclose or resolve the conflict."

But that was far from the only problem found during the Hoffman investigation. During one meeting of the PENS task force, Farberman reportedly "made comments about not implying that torture occurred at Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay."

At another time, Dunivin reportedly "conveyed to Farberman the need to stay the course and place BSCTs in a 'positive light' in APA's communications efforts, Farberman said," according to the report.

And it was business as usual on Tuesday, with the APA quietly announcing Anderson, Honaker, and Farberman's resignations with little to indicate that the torture scandal influenced their decisions.

"Ms. Farberman and the Board are in agreement that going forward APA plans to hire a chief communications officer who can provide a fresh start to the association’s communications needs as it grapples with the problems identified by the Hoffman report," the press release stated.

Earlier this month, psychologists Stephen Soldz and Steven Reizner, who have led the charge for the last decade to remove psychologists from the interrogation business, delivered remarks to the APA board about the Hoffman report which outlined necessary steps to rectify the association's influence on the torture program. That included the firing of Behnke, Anderson, Honaker, and Farberman, among other staff members.

"But," Soldz and Reizner added, "housecleaning is a small piece of what is necessary for full accountability: How do we hold leadership and governance itself accountable? How do we answer the question, how did this happen and what must we do to insure it doesn’t happen again?"

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