Lord Acton stated:
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”
Now a new study, as reported in USA Today, confirms that power is a powerful corrupter:
Psychologists: Those in power more apt to ‘moral hypocrisy’
By Sharon Jayson
The moral compass of some public figures clearly went awry in 2009. Now new research better explains why some in the public eye don’t think like the rest of us.
Power increases “moral hypocrisy,” says Adam Galinsky, a behavioral psychologist at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and co-author of a study published today in the journal Psychological Science.
Power does indeed go to your head, making those in the limelight such as celebrities, politicians, CEOs and athletes more prone to a double standard: They’re stricter in their moral judgment of others but are more lenient about their own behavior, the study suggests.
“We gave people the opportunity to cheat, and those in a position of power were more likely to cheat,” says Galinsky, who conducted the study with researchers from Tilburg University in the Netherlands.
A rogues’ gallery
Among the once-powerful who fell from grace this year amid what Galinsky calls moral hypocrisy are former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and U.S. Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, with assorted violations of extramarital affairs or suspected misuse of public funds. Last year, those figures included the auto executives who flew in private jets while their companies cut employee benefits, and politicians, including John Edwards and Eliot Spitzer, who didn’t follow the values they espoused.
“It’s interesting to think about people in power and why they end up in scandals,” says Joe Magee of New York University’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. “In their minds, they’re not being brazen. They forget there are rules governing what they do. They’re just pursuing their own desires.”
Magee and Galinsky are among a group of researchers across the country who, in the past decade, have focused attention on moral behavior, power and status.
“Power makes you kind of impulsive and self-serving and occasionally greedy,” says psychologist Dacher Keltner of the University of California-Berkeley. “We hold up people in positions of power to exacting standards. They should be more moral agents, when in fact, they are the opposite.”
Jennifer Overbeck of the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California-Los Angeles says her studies have found that ordinary people change when put in powerful position: “Just putting them in a position of power leads them to pursue their self-interest and things that they perceive are useful to them.”
In the new study, researchers conducted five experiments with about 350 subjects. They found that giving people power makes them feel entitled and causes a disconnect in their judgment. Those in high-power positions tend to judge morality of others while not practicing what they preach, Galinsky says. “If they want to impose strict standards on others while violating those standards themselves, that’s when they become a hypocrite,” he says.
David DeSteno, a psychologist at Northeastern University in Boston, says his research has shown that “the potential for hypocrisy is in all of us.”
“What you see is the same action: ‘It’s OK if I do it. but not if you do it,’ ” he says
December 31st, 2009
Several public accounts of abusive interrogations at Guantanamo have praised psychologist Dr. Michael Gelles for his opposition to these abuses. Similarly, the American Psychological Association (APA) has repeatedly pointed to actions of Dr. Gelles to instantiate their claim that psychologists played a crucial role in opposing abuses and protecting detainees. Gelles also has been a regular public presence, discussing the errors at Guantanamo while advocating for the APA’s “policy of participation” in interrogations. The APA policy encourages psychologists to aid interrogations to keep them “safe, legal, ethical, and effective.” But a recently released Defense Department document challenges Dr. Gelles’s role as an exemplar of psychological ethics in interrogations.
As reported by Bill Dedman, Phillipe Sands, and Jane Mayer, Gelles objected to the “harsh” interrogation tactics being used at Guantanamo. In particular, he strenuously objected to the plans to “reverse engineer” the tactics used by the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) program to inculcate strategies for resistance to torture in US service members at high risk for capture.
In November 2002, the military planned to use these SERE-based techniques on prisoner 063, Mohammed al Qahtani, one of several US captives dubbed the “20th hijacker.” Gelles and colleagues from the Criminal Investigative Task Force (CITF), the FBI, and other agencies proposed an alternative interrogation plan for al Qahtani, one that did not involve use of SERE techniques. This plan was rejected. Instead, al-Qahtani was subjected to an interrogation that met the legal definition of “torture,” according to Bush Administration appointee Susan Crawford, convener of the Guantanamo Military Commissions. [Phillipe Sands detailed the development of the al-Qahtani torture plan in his book, The Torture Team, an extract from which was published in Vanity Fair. Sands also describes the alternate CITF/FBI plan as written by "Gelles' team" (p. 130).] Gelles reported his concerns regarding use of SERE techniques and the al-Qahtani interrogation up the chain of command, leading Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora to protest and force at least temporary change in official interrogation policy in early 2003.
A few weeks ago, in response to an ACLU’s years-long Freedom of Information Act Request, the alternative interrogation plan for al-Qahtani was quietly released, apparently unnoticed between other documents on FBI and CITF concerns about Guantanamo practices. According to the alternative plan document, it was drafted:
“by representatives of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU), and behavioral specialists, psychiatrists and psychologists with the Criminal Investigation Task Force (ClTF).”
Given the prominent roles of mental health professionals in its drafting, the alternative “rapport-based” plan should be examined for consistency with Gelles’ and the other authors’ ethical responsibilities as psychologists and psychiatrists.
At the time the plan was written, on November 22, 2002, al-Qahtani had been in isolation for three months and was exhibiting signs of severe mental deterioration to the extent of psychosis. An FBI agent described this deterioration in a report to headquarters:
“In September or October of 2002 FBI agents observed that a canine was used in an aggressive manner to intimidate detainee __ after he had been subjected to intense isolation for over three months. During that time period, __ was totally isolated (with the exception of occasional interrogations) in a cell that was always flooded with light. By late November, the detainee was evidencing behavior consistent with extreme psychological trauma (talking to non-existent people, reporting hearing voices, crouching in the corner of a cell covered with a sheet for hours on end).”
Gelles and the other authors on the CITF/FBI interrogation plan also noticed his psychological distress:
“#63′s behavior has changed significantly during his three months of isolation. He spends much of his day covered by a sheet, either crouched in the corner of his cell or hunched on his knees on top of his bed. These behaviors appear to be unrelated to his praying activities. His cell has no exterior windows, and because it is continuously lit, he is prevented from orientating himself as to time of day. Recently, he was observed by a hidden video camera having conversations with non-existent people. During his last interview on 11/17/02, he reported hearing unusual sounds which he believes are evil spirits, including Satan.”
After discussing whether al-Qahtani was faking his symptoms, without coming to a conclusion, the interrogation plan proposed exploiting al-Qahtani’s distress from his prolonged isolation:
“Although we are uncertain as to his mental status and recommend a mental evaluation be conducted, there is little doubt that #63 is hungry for human interaction. Our plan is designed to exploit this need and to create an environment in which it [is] easier for #63 to please the interviewer with whom he has come to have complete trust and dependence thus developing a motivation to be forthright and cooperative in providing reliable information.”
In order to exploit this hunger for human contact, the CITF/FBI plan recommended that he be kept in continued isolation for up to an additional year:
“The long-term strategy would be to create an environment in which total dependence and trust between #63 and the interviewer is established at its own pace. Such a plan should be given up to a year to complete although the actual time may be considerably shorter depending on how events unfold.”
Al-Qahtani’s hunger for human contact would be exploited by making his interrogator the only person he saw over this year:
“To help foster an environment conducive to the establishment of dependence and trust, we propose that the interviewer initially meet with #63 every other day. This should be his only contact with other people, and we believe he will anxiously look forward to these meetings.”
It was recommended that al-Qahtani be periodically subjected to additional stresses so that his interrogator could become his savior:
“Built into this plan will be periodic stressors such as the stripping of certain items of comfort from him by guards, such as the removal of his mirror or the issuance of a sheet, half the size of the one he likes to drape around himself. These and other stressors will be carefully and subtly introduced not by the interrogator, but by guards. We believe that #63 will likely look to his only human contact, his interviewer, in an attempt to gain help. The interviewer status as a caregiver and problem-solver will thus be increased…. [D]emands by #63 for restoration of things taken from him should be honored slowly so as to create the impression that the interviewer can ultimately help him although not necessarily quickly or with ease.”
This plan for prolonged manipulation to develop al-Qahtani’s complete dependency might or might not be ethical as an interrogation strategy. However, former police investigator and veteran Army counterintelligence operative David DeBatto, who has supervised many hundreds of interrogations, disparaged the use of isolation in the CITF/FBI interrogation plan for al Qahtani (personal communication, November 28, 2009):
“That [the initial three-months isolation] is an excessively long time and on the face of it, violates the UCMJ [Uniform Code of Military Justice] and international law. Two major problems I have with this is first, solitary is a punishment reserved for the worst kind of behavior by inmates in a prison, not for refusing to answer questions. Second, it is the worst possible way to interrogate anyone and will almost always produce negative results.”
At a minimum, there is no question that the participation of psychologists and psychiatrists in the development of this interrogation plan led to the recommendation of strategies that would be likely to cause severe psychological distress and clearly violated psychological and psychiatric ethics.
Prolonged isolation frequently causes severe emotional distress, including psychotic symptoms identical to those appearing in al-Qahtani, such as hearing non-existent voices and talking to non-existent people. Physicians for Human Rights summed up the psychological and psychiatric evidence regarding the harmful effects of isolation or “solitary confinement” in their Leave No Marks report on the US use of psychological torture:
“Findings from clinical research performed by prominent psychologists such as Dr. Stuart Grassian and Dr. Craig Haney, highlight the destructive impact of solitary confinement. Effects include depression, anxiety, difficulties with concentration and memory, hypersensitivity to external stimuli, hallucinations and perceptual distortions, paranoia, suicidal thoughts and behavior, and problems with impulse control.
“According to Dr. Haney many of the negative effects of solitary confinement are analogous to the acute reactions suffered by torture and trauma victims, including posttraumatic stress disorder and the kind of psychiatric consequences that plague victims of what are called ‘deprivation and constraint’ torture techniques” (pp. 32-33).
The American Psychiatric Association, concerned about the conflicts inherent in such interrogation assistance, in 2006 explicitly condemned any direct involvement of their members in interrogations of specific detainees or prisoners, in domestic or national security settings. The Association stated in May 2006:
“No psychiatrist should participate directly in the interrogation of persons held in custody by military or civilian investigative or law enforcement authorities, whether in the United States or elsewhere. Direct participation includes being present in the interrogation room, asking or suggesting questions, or advising authorities on the use of specific techniques of interrogation with particular detainees.”
Until the membership forced a change in APA policy in September 2008, psychologists were allowed to aid interrogations as long as they did not participate in torture or “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment” and followed the APA’s ethics code. Psychologists like Michael Gelles are subject to the APA ethics code, if they are members of the Association, as is Dr. Gelles. In addition, the military requires psychologists consulting to interrogations to be licensed by a state as health providers and most states require adherence to the APA ethics code as a requirement of licensure.
According to the APA, the prolonged use of isolation to aid interrogations, as was clearly the case with al-Qahtani, constitutes “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.” In August 2007, the APA, under member pressure, banned psychologist participation in a number of interrogation techniques as constituting either “torture” or “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” including
“the following used for the purposes of eliciting information in an interrogation process… isolation… used in a manner that represents significant pain or suffering or in a manner that a reasonable person would judge to cause lasting harm.”
After this resolution was passed, it came under withering criticism from dissident psychologists and the press. As a consequence, the APA’s Ethics Director was forced to issue a clarifying statement in response to reports of four weeks mandatory isolation for new detainees at Guantanamo:
“[T]he 2007 Resolution should never be interpreted as allowing isolation, sensory deprivation and over-stimulation, or sleep deprivation either alone or in combination to be used as interrogation techniques to break down a detainee in order to elicit information.”
In February 2008, in response to criticism, the APA amended its 2007 Resolution to unambiguously condemn psychologist involvement in the use of isolation. The revised resolution proclaimed:
“An absolute prohibition against the following techniques…: … isolation…. Psychologists are absolutely prohibited from knowingly planning, designing, participating in or assisting in the use of all condemned techniques at any time and may not enlist others to employ these techniques in order to circumvent this resolution’s prohibition.”
The CITF/FBI interrogation plan for al-Qahtani indicates that Gelles clearly engaged in a prohibited activity: “knowingly planning, designing… the use of … condemned techniques… and may not enlist others to employ these techniques….” Interestingly, when I raised concerns about the loophole regarding isolation in the 2007 Resolution at the APA convention the day after its passage, Gelles said to me “Steve, you have to understand that isolation is often used only very temporarily, only for a few hours” [quote from memory]. He did not mention its use for months at Guantanamo nor his team’s recommendation that it be used for up to a year on al-Qahtani.
Another ethical concern arises from the reported psychological distress that al-Qahtani was experiencing prior to the CITF/FBI interrogation plan being developed. The interrogation plan notes al-Qahtani’s psychotic symptoms, but, other than suggesting a mental evaluation, they simply view his vulnerability as an opportunity for exploitation. This ignoring of al-Qahtani’s mental distress violates the fundamental Principle A undergirding the entire APA ethics code:
“Psychologists strive to benefit those with whom they work and take care to do no harm. In their professional actions, psychologists seek to safeguard the welfare and rights of those with whom they interact professionally and other affected persons…. When conflicts occur among psychologists’ obligations or concerns, they attempt to resolve these conflicts in a responsible fashion that avoids or minimizes harm.”
There is simply no evidence that Gelles and the other authors of this plan sought to “avoid or minimize harm.” Rather, as the plan makes clear, their intention was to systematically increase and exploit distress and disorientation experienced by al-Qahtani, in violation of the ethics code.
The entire plan, with its emphasis on “exploit[ing]” al-Qahtani’s need for human contact violates the ethic’s code’s ban on exploitation:
“Psychologists do not exploit persons over whom they have supervisory, evaluative, or other authority such as clients/patients, students, supervisees, research participants, and employees.” [Ethics Standard 3.08]
Clearly Gelles and the other mental health professionals had, at a minimum, “evaluative authority” over al-Qahtani as they developed their plans to exploit his weaknesses.
Counterintelligence operative DeBatto also expressed concerns regarding the plan’s proposal to impose additional stressors on al-Qahtani in order to render him more dependent upon the interrogator. As expressed by DeBatto:
“Depriving him of sheets, a mirror and adding other `stressors’ is utter nonsense and counterproductive. He has already endured months of stressors. Forcing him to endure more as a form of a ‘stick and carrot’ approach will produce nothing of value. It also violates the interrogators’ ethical training and is blatantly in violation of U.S. and international law.”
Gelles’ proposals in the al-Qahtani case must be deemed unethical and, if executed, would have constituted gross violations of the APA Ethics code, as the APA itself asserted in detailing unethical conduct in detainee treatment in its resolutions of 2007 and 2008. The APA’s parading Gelles as a “heroic” upholder of ethical standards for military interrogations must be revisited. Gelles now joins the ranks of other APA psychologists, including Morgan Banks, Larry James, and Bryce Lefever, whom the organization upheld as models for ethical military interrogation processes, but who subsequently appeared sympathetic to or may have aided abusive practices.
As psychologist Jeffrey Kaye pointed out last summer in two articles [see my commentary here] ethical concerns about Gelles’ pre-Guantanamo interrogation actions had already been raised with the APA long prior to APA’s lauding him as the standard-bearer for psychological ethics in interrogations. Attorney Jonathan Turley reported filing an APA ethics complaint against Gelles for abuses in the prolonged isolation and interrogation of Navy Chief Petty Officer Daniel King, following an ambiguous polygraph result. As described by Turley in testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, King requested a mental health consultation because he felt he was losing his grip on reality. Dr. Gelles met with King for a consultation and, according to Turley, ignored King’s reports of suicidal thoughts. Instead, Gelles made help for King contingent upon King’s confession to espionage charges he had denied. Turley, who represented King, reports that the APA did not respond to his ethics complaint against Gelles. To our knowledge, the APA has never commented publicly on Turley’s charges, or on the ethics of Gelles’ treatment of King.
In any case, it turns out that Gelles was well aware of the potential ethical conflicts involved in his work with the CITF. In a 2003 paper in the Journal of Threat Assessment, apparently written at about the same time, Gelles and colleague Patrick Ewing argued that psychiatrists and psychologists involved in national security work should not be subject to professional ethics codes:
“Given the grave dangers faced by the United States and its allies post September 11, the government can ill afford to lose the input of psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals in cases involving national safety and security. Such input has been and will continue to be vital to protecting the lives of many Americans, civilian and military, at home and abroad. In order to maintain the ability and willingness of these dedicated professionals to continue in these roles, we cannot continue to place them in situations where the ethics of their conduct will be judged, post hoc, either by rules that have little if any relevance to their vital governmental functions or by professional organizations or licensing authorities based upon the weight the members of these bodies chose to afford competing interests…” (p. 106).
In 2005, two years after this article appeared, Gelles, along with James, Banks, and Lefever, was appointed by the APA, to the seminal APA Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS). This military- and intelligence-dominated group gave the ethical go-ahead for psychologists to aid detainee interrogations at Guantanamo and elsewhere.
In an open letter in 2007, psychologist Uwe Jacobs posed a series of questions to Dr. Gelles including:
“[W]hat were the techniques used that you did not find objectionable? To cite a few examples, did you believe it was ethical to transport prisoners to Guantanamo under conditions of sensory deprivation, i.e. wearing hoods, goggles, earmuffs, and other devices designed to create sensory deprivation and isolation, along with very restrictive shackling? Did you believe it was ethical to keep prisoners in solitary confinement for very long periods of time? Is it ethical to deprive prisoners of sleep? Is it ethical to subject them to severe heat and cold, constant noises or lights, stress positions, short shackling, screaming abuse etc.? You know the list I am referring to. Do you agree that these techniques have long been proven to produce severe nervous system dysregulation and often lasting psychological damage? Do these techniques not by definition constitute torture, just as stated by the UN?”
Gelles refused to answer Jacobs’ questions. We can surmise, from his earlier statements, that Gelles simply did not believe that intelligence psychologists should “be judged, post hoc, either by [ethical] rules that have little if any relevance to their vital governmental functions….” The APA has yet to explain why it appointed to the PENS task force someone who had already expressed disdain for the APA ethics code and why it continues to extol Gelles as a paragon of psychological ethics in interrogations.
Note: I would like to thank Jeffrey Kaye for pointing me to the Ewing and Gelles paper.
December 7th, 2009
In an important development in the American Psychological Association saga, Jeffrey Kaye has reported that psychologist Michael Gelles, a member of the association’s 2005 PENS [Psychological Ethics and National Security] task force, was himself accused of ethics violations during the interrogation of Navy Petty Officer Daniel King. This occurred well before Gelles’ appointment to the PENS Task Force.
Kaye bases his account of Gelles’ involvement largely on the statements to the Senate Intelligence Committee [SIC] of King’s three attorneys, highly respected George Washington University Constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley and Navy Jags Robert Bailey and Matthew Freedus. [See the Federation of American Scientists page on the case for these and other documents.] The attorneys’ accounts are, in turn, based on an actual videotape of Gelles’ interrogation of King.
According to the statement given to SIC, in late September 1999 King was accused of spying after an ambiguous result on his routine polygraph test. As a result, King was interrogated by the Navy Criminal Investigative Service [NCIS], for whom Gelles worked, for 17 to 19 hours at a time for 30 days straight.
As Turley relates:
“King was given at least five polygraphs in a single day during his interrogations by the NCIS. He was not only lied to about his results but lied to about the meaning of these results. NCIS agents told King that these results indicate that something did happen. In this sense, the polygraph examinations were used in combination with the NCIS insistence that King write down his fantasies. NCIS agents convinced King that these results indicated that his fantasies were simply suppressed memories.”
The King interrogation reportedly was rife with abuse. King allegedly was illegally denied an attorney when he requested one. Agents repeatedly lied to him about the results and the meaning of ambiguous or incorrectly administered polygraph tests. He was repeatedly threatened with further abuse if he did not cooperate.. He was encouraged to report his fantasies, after which agents told him that these fantasies meant they must have a basis in fact. During his extended interrogation, accompanied by sleep deprivation, King made a confession, only to recant it the next day and thereafter. After at least 520 days of detention, he was released, and the case was dropped without charges. The case was later the subject of hearings before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Turley describes Gelles’ interview with King:
“At times, King is shouting “I don’t know what I’m supposed to give you” over and over at the agents as they press him for a signed confession. Moreover, it is noteworthy that King seeks the assistance of a psychologist for hypnosis on the videotaped interview with NCIS psychologist Dr. Michael Gelles. After his return to the United States, King was clearly trying to find a way to distinguish fantasy from reality. He told Gelles that he had no memory of the espionage facts but says that the polygraph examinations prove that he must have done something – a clear misconception that neither Gelles nor the agents correct. King asked for hypnosis and truth serum to determine if this is merely a dream. Gelles told him that he might give King hypnosis if King goes back and gives the agents “corroborating” evidence. Gelles told King that he could trust the agents and says that the agents are clearly his friends, he had a “special relationship” with the agents and the agents “will be with you forever.” Gelles virtually ignored the statement of King that he had suicidal thoughts when he left Guam – two days before the interview. Instead, Gelles told King to give corroborating evidence as a precondition for the hypnosis that King sought to clear his doubts as to any espionage. These tapes show a sailor who is struggling with his total inability to remember any act of espionage while clearly accepting the false representation that, if a polygraph examination shows deception, he must have committed such an act. It is difficult to watch and listen to these tapes because they show a total disregard by the NCIS for any effort at determining the truth of these allegations as opposed to making a case at any costs.”
Understandably appalled the attorneys determined to take action against Gelles. Turley says,
“Dr. Gelles has already been notified of our intention to file formal charges against him with the American Psychological Association. Dr. Gelles has refused to give licensing information to the defense or to respond to allegations of violation of basic canons of professional conduct as a licensed psychologist. Dr. Gelles is on the videotape telling an individual with stated suicidal thoughts to return to interrogation and that the agents are not only his close friends but that they would stand with him “forever.” Dr. Gelles specifically tells King that, if he offers `corroborating’ evidence to the NCIS, he might be able to give King the hypnosis that he seeks [to help determine what is real and what is not real].”
American Psychological Association
According to Kaye, Turley confirmed to him that he, indeed, filed an ethics complaint with the APA regarding Gelles’ behavior in this case, but the complaint was never investigated:
“In a private communication, Mr. Turley subsequently indicated the ethics charges were filed, and dismissed without any investigation by APA.” [Emphasis added.]
The Ethics Director of the APA at the time was Dr. Stephen Behnke, who assumed the position in 2000. This is important because, in 2005, Dr. Behnke was involved in the process of appointing the members of the PENS task force to examine the ethics of psychologist participation in national security interrogations of detainees. At the time the task force was convened, and even after the Task Force report was published, the membership of the PENS task force remained secret. The report was unsigned (apparently the only case of an unsigned Presidential Task Force report in APA history, requests for the names of Task force members from the membership and the press were denied. In fact, soon after the report was published, Gelles and Behnke shared a panel on Ethics and National Security at the APA Convention. Gelles reported back to the other task force members on the listserv of the PENS task force, that “I was once again impressed with how Dr. Behnke eloquently represented our work and insured the confidentiality of the panel, despite pressure to reveal the identities of the task force members…” It was later revealed that six of the 10 members were from the military-intelligence establishment.
It is hard to understand any way in which Dr. Behnke could not have been aware of the ethics complaint filed with his office against Gelles in a high-profile case.
Not surprisingly, this stacked task force concluded that psychologist participation in national security interrogations at Guantanamo, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and at CIA black sites was ethical. In fact, they claimed:
“[P]sychologists are in a unique position to assist in ensuring that these [interrogation] processes are safe and ethical for all participants.”
The case of Gelles’ involvement in the King interrogation, of course, makes this assertion quite dubious.Gelles’ involvement in the King interrogation clearly did not “assist in ensuring that” this interrogation was “safe and ethical for all participants.” Furthermore, as Turley reports, Gelles ignored suicidal statements made by King, thus failing during his interview in his obligation to ensure that the process was “safe.”
From the record of the King case, it appears that Gelles may have violated several other of the recommendations of the PENS task force. Among the recommendation that may have been violated were:
PENS: “Psychologists are alert to acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment and have an ethical responsibility to report these acts to the appropriate authorities.”
The detention and interrogation of King would likely meet the legal threshold of “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.” He was subjected to sleep deprivation for a month and isolated from all social supports. According to the Senate testimony of King’s attorney, JAG Robert Bailey, NCIS agents threatened to harm King’s family on at least two different occasions. While it is possible Gelles reported these abuses, there is no indication in the public record that he did so.
PENS: “Psychologists are aware of and clarify their role in situations where the nature of their professional identity and professional function may be ambiguous.”
PENS: “Psychologists are sensitive to the problems inherent in mixing potentially inconsistent roles such as health care provider and consultant to an interrogation, and refrain from engaging in such multiple relationships.”
PENS: “Psychologists make clear the limits of confidentiality.”
In his videotaped interview with King, Gelles reportedly told King that he was a “doc” and not an agent while failing to tell him that he was part of the investigative team and that the interview was part of the interrogation. He thus confused his health provider ["doc"] and investigative roles. He di not, apparently, clarify “the limits of confidentiality.”
It is important to stress that these comments on Gelles’ behavior are provisional and are based solely upon accounts of his interview with King provided by King’s attorneys. There may be other aspects of the case that would change the overall evaluation of Gelles’ behavior. But such exculpatory information is not available in the absence of an investigation.
What is most important is that the APA Ethics Committee, faced with a complaint of very serious ethical lapses from a highly reputable attorney, failed to open the case or investigate these claims. It thus appears that they never even viewed the videotape containing the Gelles interview of King or sought information from King or his complainant attorneys.
This case is not the only ethics complaint filed against a member of the PENS task force. Another Task Force member faced charges for possible involvement in abuses at Guantánamo in 2003. Here, too, the APA Ethics Committee declined to open a case, even though the same APA Ethics Director, Stephen Behnke, publicly admitted that the acts alleged are unethical. In yet a third case, an ethics complaint against a Guantanamo military psychologist was opened but remains open three years later. Government documents show this psychologist participating in the planning and execution of the torture of Guantanamo detainees al Qahtani. A fourth psychologist, Col. Morgan Banks, has acknowledged training Guantánamo interrogators in abusive interrogation techniques. Ethics charges could not be brought against Banks because he was not an APA member at the time of the abuse. Nor was he an APA member when Behnke appointed him to the PENS Task Force, though he has joined the APA since. Evidently ethics complaints against psychologists affiliated with the military [Gelles was a civilian NCIS employee at the time of the King interrogation] have an exceedingly high threshold before the APA will even open a case, much less investigate.
Equally important to the failure of the APA to investigate the complaint against Gelles was that Behnke allowed Gelles to be appointed to the PENS task force on the ethics of interrogations, in spite of the fact that an ethics complaint had been filed against him for interrogation abuse. Ordinary prudence would caution against such a step, at least without full transparency and explanation. The lack of such prudence, however, is not surprising on a task force on detainee abuse which is already known to contain four members from chains of command accused of detainee abuse.
Interestingly, as Kaye notes in his article, Gelles himself made reference to the King case on the listserv of the PENS task force in a manner that suggests that even he assumed members of the task force were well aware of his involvement in the matter:
“As Chuck Ewing has said on many an occasion… the Agency is entitled to consultation just as an individual…. In the Squillicoate [sic] case referenced in the article, and to some extent my experience with the King case, a new demand to re-think how the profession was going to hold psychologists in practice accountable in contexts outside of the clinical and academic arena’s was becoming more evident.” [Emphasis added by Kaye.]
As reported in the PENS task force report, members of the task force were aware that the APA the ethics code included the Nuremberg Defense ["just following orders"] in its ethics standard 1.02, added in 2002.
“If psychologists’ ethical responsibilities conflict with law, regulations, or other governing legal authority, psychologists make known their commitment to the Ethics Code and take steps to resolve the conflict. If the conflict is unresolvable via such means, psychologists may adhere to the requirements of the law, regulations, or other governing legal authority.”
According to this standard, Gelles’ actions, however otherwise in violation of the ethics code, would be “ethical” if carried out in response to an order or “other governing legal authority.” As I write this I cannot help but wonder if the Gelles-King case was on the minds of the Ethics Committee as they pondered adopting 1.02. Given the APA’s pattern of failing to adequately investigate ethics complaints against military-affiliated psychologists, it is not surprising that they have maintained the Nuremberg Defense despite the APA Council requesting a revision twice over the last four years. The APA is apparently about to adopt another six-month delay in revising this standard despite the obvious unethical behavior it may have facilitated and the serious consequences it has had for the whole profession of psychology
The failure of APA to investigate the Gelles case, and his subsequent appointment to the PENS task force will reinforce recent calls by psychologists and human rights advocates in an Open Letter for, among other actions, annulling the PENS report; bringing in independent attorneys to pursue accountability of psychologists accused of torture or detainee abuse; revision of ethics standard 1.02 and other problematic sections of the ethics code; and for an independent investigation of ties and possible collusion between the APA and the military-intelligence establishment.
APA has a very long way to go if it is to regain the trust of its members and of the public. Concerned APA members at this juncture must decide how long they will wait to see these changes implemented by the APA leadership before they leave the association for a less compromised alternative.
July 29th, 2009