Torture Psychologists Could Face Criminal Charges

After more than a decade of denials, a new report shows that numerous psychologists, members of the American Psychological Association, were active participants in the Bush/CIA torture program and many of them could face the prospect of criminal charges for doing so. My former colleague Spencer Ackerman reports:

The largest association of psychologists in the United States is on the brink of a crisis, the Guardian has learned, after an independent review revealed that medical professionals lied and covered up their extensive involvement in post-9/11 torture. The revelation, puncturing years of denials, has already led to at least one leadership firing and creates the potential for loss of licenses and even prosecutions.

For more than a decade, the American Psychological Association (APA) has maintained that a strict code of ethics prohibits its more than 130,000 members to aid in the torture of detainees while simultaneously permitting involvement in military and intelligence interrogations. The group has rejected media reporting on psychologists’ complicity in torture; suppressed internal dissent from anti-torture doctors; cleared members of wrongdoing; and portrayed itself as a consistent ally against abuse.

Now, a voluminous independent review conducted by a former assistant US attorney, David Hoffman, undermines the APA’s denials in full – and vindicates the dissenters.

Sources with knowledge of the report and its consequences, who requested anonymity to discuss the findings before public release, expected a wave of firings and resignations across the leadership of an organization that Hoffman finds used its extensive institutional links to the CIA and US military to facilitate abusive interrogations…

Evidence in the Hoffman report, sources believe, may merit referral to the FBI over potential criminal wrongdoing by the APA involvement in torture. The findings could reopen something human rights groups have urged for years: the potential for prosecutions of people involved in torture. The definition of “collusion” adopted by Hoffman is said to be similar to language used in the federal racketeering statute known as Rico.

If so, however, it would not be American military or intelligence interrogators themselves under investigation, nor the senior officials who devised torture policy in the Bush administration, but the psychologists who enabled them.

Additionally, sources believe there will be grounds to initiate ethics charges against responsible individuals both within the APA and in the states in which they operate, which would be the first step toward the loss of a professional license.

That would be a very good result on its own. Any doctor or psychologist who participated in the torture of detainees should be stripped of their license to practice and face criminal charges as well. But it would be tragic if such punishments were visited on those who carried out the torture and not on those who ordered it. But Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld will never face trial for their war crimes. They’ve been protected completely by President Obama and certainly no future president is going to take action at this point.

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  • llewelly

    You are wrong Ed. When G. W. Bush is 85, a popular movement will force a president to support charges against G. W. Bush. His lawyers will delay the trial by 10 years by arguing that Bush is too old to stand trial. Finally he will be tried via teleconference, so as not to be required to leave his Texas ranch. But before guilt is decided, the air conditioning at his ranch house will go out during a heat wave …

  • Marcus Ranum

    It would be ridiculous if the psychiatrists were the only people to face criminal charges, while Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and the CIA heirarchy that actually did it, get away with it.

  • Modusoperandi

    Pulling their badges won’t make any difference. If anything, it will make itworse.


    Peoples Hernandez: “You’re not a psychologist anymore.”

    John Shaft: “Do you think that makes me less dangerous, or more dangerous?”

  • grumpyoldfart

    My prediction: Not one successful prosecution. Not one.

  • Modusoperandi

    grumpyoldfart “My prediction: Not one successful prosecution. Not one.”

    Kind of ironic that we have the perfect people to extract their confessions though…

  • eric

    @4: you are probably right about the torture. OTOH, maybe the APA will consider it a disbarring offense when psychologists lie to the APA and cover up what treatment they performed. I don’t trust the APA’s good intentions, but I do somewat trust their mercenary institutional turf-protection instincts.

  • karmacat

    Marcus Ranum: they are psychologists. I hope there were no psychiatrists involved in this but there probably were. Keith Ablow and Charles Krauthammer are both psychiatrists and I think it is likely those 2 would have no problem with torture. As far as I know the American psychiatric association as an organization is not involved.

  • timberwoof

    It would be highly creepy to consult a clinical psychologist who enabled torture. I think the APA needs to clean its own house of these unethical, socially dangerous people.

  • Donnie


  • marcus

    timberwoof @ 8

    “Doctor, my wife is acting distant, and she won’t talk to me anymore or answer my questions. I’m afraid that she is having an affair. What should I do? ”

    “Have you tried water-boarding?”

  • frankb

    Marcus #10

    +1 Internet

  • Modusoperandi


    “Doc, our son is having trouble sleeping….”

    “You let him sleep?”

  • Gregory in Seattle

    About bloody time.

  • Dr X

    This is why I quit the APA years ago. I’ve known these sleazy, climbing. political types since I got into the field, and I have nothing but the deepest contempt for them. The whole lot of them at the top are an embarrassment. It seems the worst seek out these positions. Those of us who just want to do our work well and ethically have no interest in pursuing position or power in a guild. Who the hell becomes a psychologist only to seek out some sort of trade association job? IMO, it’s probably a person who is in the field for the wrong reasons.

    And the two hacks who made a fortune with their phony interrogation program (they just made it up and it was torture) should be held criminally responsible if there is any way possible to do so. Those in the APA who violated the APA ethics code should be kicked out of the APA and if there is anyway possible, lose their state licenses in their home jurisdictions. (APA and licensing bodies are separate, self-governed entities).

    Psychologists I talk with have for years asked the question: how does any psychologist even become an expert in enhanced interrogation? Ain’t no such training. These clowns just made this shit up, and they were enabled by APA functionaries. There is no clinical training to demolish people’s minds to get something from them. It runs directly against the code of ethics.

  • democommie

    I was at my regularly scheduled appointment with my nice Pakistani muslim lady psychiatrist the other day and–due to my telling her that the Adderall scrip was fine but my quality of life sucks ‘cuz I have “moderate to JUST FUCKING SHOOT ME, NOW!” pain in every part of my body that still has feeling–I expect we’ll be seeing more of each other. I’ll have to ask her how she feels about that, considering that she’s from a country renowned for doing even worse shit than those assholes signed off on.*

    Personally, I think a little stress positioning, “simulated” drowning, sleep deprivation, “cold therapy” and 24/7 nakedness is just the thing for these fellers as long as they’re in our custo–wait, what? They’ve all been offshored to China for “re-education”. Bummer.

    * Is that a double faux pas, ending a sentence with two prepositions?

  • Nemo

    I could maybe see President Sanders doing something…

  • sigurd jorsalfar

    It would be highly creepy to consult a clinical psychologist who enabled torture.

    Clearly you aren’t an insurance company.

  • Modusoperandi

    Dr X “These clowns just made this shit up, and they were enabled by APA functionaries.”

    They did not make it up. They got it straight from North Korean interrogation handbooks from the 1950s. Didn’t translate ’em, neither. Just went by the diagrams.

    Plus, one of them watched The Manchurian Candidate.

    In closing, I don’t care what you say about any of them, Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.

  • laurentweppe

    “Doctor, my wife is acting distant, and she won’t talk to me anymore or answer my questions. I’m afraid that she is having an affair. What should I do? ”

    “Have you tried water-boarding?”

    Fifty shades of Guantanamo

  • A Masked Avenger

    So the going theory here is that the government is going to prosecute the collaborators? Because, you know, there’s nothing the government hates more than collaborators, and they want to discourage that sort of thing?


  • Dr X

    So the going theory here is that the government is going to prosecute the collaborators?

    My impression is that the going theory here is that they could be and should be prosecuted, not that they will necessarily be prosecuted.

    So far, Mitchell and Jessen, the retired military psychologists who actually ran the program as contractors, haven’t even been censured by their state licensing boards (Texas & Idaho), never mind suspension, license revocation or federal criminal charges.

    When complaints were filed with their state boards, the complaints were dismissed because of lack of evidence. The boards wanted a victim to testify, which the federal government would not allow.

  • xuuths

    I’m pretty sure that insurance companies will not pay for treatment by those who have had their licenses revoked, so they are not likely to have that as a steady cash stream — most people pay for their treatment via insurance, and are suspicious of those who don’t take insurance.