November 12th, 2008
UPDATED 11-13-2008. Jean Maria Arrigo and Mike Wessells, two members of the American Psychological Association’s infamous PENS task force (Psychological Ethics and National Security), have written to letter to APA President Kazdin warning of the dangers of repeating PENS flaws in the process of the Implementation Committee for the recently passed APA referendum banning psychologists working in detention centers operating outside of or in violation of international law or the Constitution. [Daily Kos blogger and psychologist Valtin has provided his take on the Implementation Committee in a new post.]:
Dear President Kazdin:
We, Jean Maria Arrigo and Mike Wessells, are writing in response to news of your formation of the Presidential Advisory Group on the Implementation of the Petition Resolution. With this committee, the APA has a new opportunity to unite the organization by effectively implementing the policies widely adopted by vote of the membership.
Yet we also see that setting up the organizational structure, charge, and guidelines for communication and transparency warrants caution. As members of the 2005 Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics in National Security (PENS), we wish to warn of certain procedural irregularities in the PENS process that are potential pitfalls for successful implementation of the referendum. These irregularities led to a fraudulent process that undermined the ostensible purpose of PENS: to develop ethical guidelines for psychologists in national security interrogations.
It appears to us that the fraudulent PENS process was the root cause of many of the APA’s difficulties in the past three years because it prevented true deliberation. As much as anything else, it deprived thoughtful, honest advocates for psychologists’ involvement in interrogations of the opportunity to present a credible case for their position.
Many of the stakeholders to the PENS process are involved in the Implementation process, directly or indirectly. It is therefore crucial that the actual Implementation process — as opposed to the public face of the process — be transparent, fair, and deliberative. To illustrate both the subtlety and the gravity of violations in the PENS procedures, and the potential for violations in the Implementation process, we offer four examples from among a dozen that equally de-legitimized the PENS effort. All of these can be substantiated. Not one has been publicly acknowledged by APA authorities. There were other— in some ways more dramatic and egregious—violations of independent, democratic process, but the following examples particularly signal risks to the work of the new Advisory Committee.
1. As psychologists we are aware that majority influence plays a great role in group decision-making. The undisclosed “observers” to the PENS task force meeting included: the Assistant Director of Social, Behavioral, and Educational Sciences for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; the Executive Director for APA Science Policy; a second APA Science Policy staff member; a former National Security Agency psychologist and former director of the Navy Internship Program; and the Director of the APA Practice Directorate. At least the first four of these five had been closely involved in securing defense-related funding for APA programs. And all received the PENS listserv communications. Their presence and involvement was inconsistent with what anyone would understand by the “public face” of the PENS task force.2. An APA Board liaison to the PENS task force was the first to suggest that the Director of the APA Practice Directorate attend the PENS meeting as an “observer,” because, as he wrote on the pre-meeting PENS listserv, “this TF has direct implications for practice.” In the morning of the first day of the June 26-29, 2005 task force meeting, it was this same Board liaison who proposed confidentiality of the task force proceedings, although no sensitive issues had yet arisen. This subtle intrusion by the APA Board exceeds the official role of Board liaison.3. The Director of the APA Practice Directorate indeed attended, but not as mere observer. This Director articulated the task force mission as “putting out the fires” of controversy at APA, rather than resolving complex questions in psychological ethics. With cooperation from the task force chair (who was simultaneously vice-chair of the APA Ethics Committee), the Director steered the task force toward policy to be made in extreme haste, secrecy, with only an appearance of unanimity, and with no concrete examples to substantiate the policy.Further the Director of the Practice Directorate was married to a BSCT psychologist who had served at Guantánamo, one of the theaters of concern to the task force. His spouse was closely involved with Army Surgeon General Kiley and, along with two other task force members, was part of the almost immediate military review of the PENS report with General Kiley. Other task force members employed by the military and intelligence agencies and APA task force organizers were surely aware of these profound conflicts of interest, although the Director disclosed no such influential relationships at the meeting.4. As is now publicly known, one military member of the task force had been involved in the so-called “reverse engineering” of the Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) training program to produce abusive techniques for terror suspects and prisoners of war. At least one of his colleagues on the task force was certainly aware of his severe conflict of interest. Further, four of the task force members served in the chains of command that had been accused of abuses.
The PENS process generated cadres of fierce critics of APA policy, whose researches eventually exposed many of the specific instances and mechanisms of fraud. These same cadres of APA members, international psychologists, human rights scholars, and journalists have their eyes on the Implementation process.
To fulfill the promise of your Presidential Advisory Group on the Implementation of the Petition Resolution, and because the PENS process so deeply damaged trust in APA institutional process, we think three things are needed: (a) a fair and transparent process, (b) committee participants who are free from overt conflicts of interest (whether disclosed or undisclosed), and (c) a reputable, independent monitor. We do not at all question your sincerity. This is not the point. Nevertheless, however far down the path you feel you are to a fair and transparent process, we urge you to arrange for a reputable, independent monitor. Such a practice will finally help put out the fires of controversy at APA over psychological ethics in interrogations.
Thank you very much for your time in considering our letter.
Jean Maria Arrigo, PhD
Michael Wessells, PhD
APA President Kazdin has replied to the Arrigo-Wessells letter:
Dear Drs. Arrigo and Wessells,
Thank you for your letter regarding the formation of the APA Presidential Advisory Group on the Implementation of the Petition Resolution. I, too, am optimistic that the work of this group will help to unite the organization and enable us to move forward to implement this new policy, which was approved by a vote of our membership.
Over the past few weeks, we have received several recommendations regarding the group process – all that it ought to and ought not to include. In response to your words of caution, I can assure you that the process has been, and will continue to be, open and transparent. While I appreciate your suggestion of an independent monitor, I have invited all three original sponsors of the petition for the very purpose of ensuring that the views and interests of those bringing the petition forward are well represented in the group’s discussions.
I would be grateful if you would forward this response to those you copied on your email.
Alan E. Kazdin, Ph.D., ABPP
President, American Psychological Association
John M. Musser Professor of Psychology and Child Psychiatry
Department of Psychology
PO Box 208205
New Haven, CT 06520-8205