Coalition for an Ethical Psychology Calls for Investigation of Allegations Concerning Martin Seligman, Denounces APA Inaction

For Immediate Release

Coalition for an Ethical Psychology
Contact: 

StevenReisner
drreisner@gmail.com
(212) 633-8391
Stephen Soldz
ssoldz@bgsp.edu
(617)935-4246

Coalition for an Ethical Psychology Calls for Investigation of Allegations Concerning Martin Seligman, Denounces APA Inaction

WASHINGTON - On Thursday, Mark Benjamin in Salon.com reports
that former American Psychological Association (APA) President Martin Seligman
received a no-bid, $31 million contract from the Department of Defense (DOD)
for “resilience training” of soldiers.

Dr. Seligman is known to have
presented his research on learned helplessness to a group of CIA interrogators
and psychologists, including James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who were
developing the CIA’s torture program at the time of the presentation. Mitchell
and Jessen have acknowledged incorporating Seligman’s ideas, including forcing
at least one detainee into a “dog box” to induce helplessness.

The Coalition for an Ethical Psychology calls for an immediate independent investigation into the awarding
of this contract without a standard and usually required bidding process. We
are especially concerned that a psychologist who apparently instructed CIA
interrogators is alleged to have received special treatment from the Defense Department.

And in a separate article,
also released today, Jason Leopold and Jeffrey Kaye allege that another former
APA President, Patrick DeLeon, was part of a Pentagon briefing on a highly
classified Special Access Program involving detainee interrogations that
centered on “deception detection.” They also report that such a program was
implemented at Guantanamo, experimenting on detainees to improve “deception
detection” methods.

Seligman and DeLeon are only
the latest psychologists alleged to have connections to what became the
government’s “enhanced interrogation” programs. Previously, a third former APA
President, Joseph Matarazzo, was revealed to be a board member of the
contractor firm that designed and implemented the CIA’s torture program, Mitchell
Jessen & Associates (Matarazzo has also been reported by the New
Yorker’s Jane Mayer to have been on
the CIA’s Professional Standards Board.) 
Today’s revelations raise the question of ongoing involvement of the APA
leadership at its highest levels.

The APA, the world’s largest
professional organization of psychologists, has consistently failed to exercise
vigilance regarding possible participation of its members and other
psychologists in torture and other unethical treatment of detainees. While
abstractly denouncing torture, the organization has adopted policies protecting
and systematically deflecting attention from the complicit roles of
psychologists (see accompanying Fact
Sheet
). Concerns were first raised in 2008 about Seligman’s potential
involvement in the interrogation program. The APA immediately issued an
unequivocal denial of Seligman’s role: “Dr. Martin Seligman has confirmed to
the APA that the allegation surfacing on various blogs that he provided
assistance in the process of torture is completely false.” Common sense alone
should preclude the acceptance of unsubstantiated denials by people accused of
abuses as “confirmation.”

For several years the Coalition
for an Ethical Psychology and other psychological and human rights
organizations have called for the APA to confront the role of psychologists and
the Association itself in the torture program, and to reform the Association in
a manner that provides transparency and accountability. But the APA continues
to stonewall such efforts. It has failed to act in good faith when confronted
with credible evidence of abuses by psychologists and of irregularities in
APA’s own actions. 

We call upon all psychologists
to forcefully express their concerns to the American Psychological Association
regarding its accommodation of a state-sanctioned program of abuse, as well as
the role of its leadership in supporting the programs of abuse. We also call
upon the Defense Department Inspector General to investigate allegations that
Martin Seligman was given special treatment in the no-bid award of $31 million
for resilience training.

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The Coalition for an Ethical Psychology works to assure the independence of psychological ethics from government and other vested interests. To this end we combine intensive research with activism. The hallmark of the Coalition is the unmasking of policies that legitimate or provide cover for unethical psychologist involvement in the U.S. security system.

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