A 542-page report issued this month concluded that APA leaders colluded with the US department of defense and aided the CIA in loosening professional ethics and other guidelines to permit psychologist participation in torture. Photograph: Charles Ommanney/Getty Images
The torture scandal consuming the US’s premiere professional association of psychologists has cost three senior officials their jobs, part of a reckoning that reformers hope will lead to criminal prosecutions.
As the American Psychological Association copes with the damage reaped by an independent investigation that found it complicit in US torture, the group announced on Tuesday that its chief executive officer, its deputy CEO and its communications chief are no longer with the APA.
All three were implicated in the 542-page report issued this month by former federal prosecutor David Hoffman, who concluded that APA leaders “colluded” with the US department of defense and aided the CIA in loosening professional ethics and other guidelines to permit psychologist participation in torture.
Despite rumors of the three oustings circulating for over a week, the APA framed the departures of longtime executive officials Norman Anderson and Michael Honaker as “retirements”. Rhea Farberman, who served as APA’s communications director for 22 years, “resigned”, the APA said in a statement.
While CEO Anderson’s retirement was scheduled before the Hoffman report was released, the APA stated: “Dr Anderson felt that moving up his retirement date to the end of 2015 would allow the association to take another step in the important process of organizational healing, and to facilitate APA’s continuing focus on its broader mission.”
Anderson, Honaker and Farberman join Stephen Behnke, the APA’s former ethics chief also implicated in torture, in the first wave of APA departures as the organization seeks to rebuild its credibility. Behnke has issued a combative statement threatening unspecified legal action.
“This is a major step toward reforming the APA and the profession,” said Stephen Soldz, a longtime APA critic on torture affiliated with Physicians for Human Rights.
“I hope it is only the beginning of change. The selection of the right CEO will be crucial.”
Soldz is part of a group pushing for the APA to refer the Hoffman report to the FBI and justice department for potential criminal inquiries. Thus far, the APA has committed to providing the report to the Senate committees overseeing the military and CIA, and a call to end all psychologist participation in US interrogation and detention operations is slated for APA consideration at a major conference next month.
Thus far, there is no indication from the justice department that it intends to revisit the politically fraught question of legal accountability for torture, which ended in 2012 without prosecutions. The defense department, which still assigns psychologists to Guantanamo Bay, has yet to comment; and the White House has stayed out of the fray.
Hoffman’s report identifies Behnke, a defense department contractor, as a chief culprit in maneuvering the APA toward loosening its opposition to torture while denying doing any such thing; and the departed APA officials as complicit.
Behnke undertook “extensive efforts to manipulate” the APA’s council of representatives “in an effort to undermine attempts to keep psychologists from being involved in national security interrogations”, Hoffman found. Other “APA officials involved with Behnke in these efforts included “Anderson, Honaker [and] Farberman”.
Nevertheless, Farberman insisted to the press that the APA had taken a consistent position against torture.
After the Guardian reported that the APA had declined to take action against a psychologist who participated in a brutal Guantanamo interpretation, Farberman told the Guardian: “A thorough review of these public materials and our standing policies will clearly demonstrate that APA will not tolerate psychologist participation in torture.”
It is unclear if the three officials are the APA’s last to leave. Barry Anton, the APA’s current president, is also listed in the “Key Players” section, as Anton is said to have “participated in the selection” of members of a critical task force on psychologist involvement in torture that was stacked with US defense department officials.
The APA will meet in Toronto beginning on 6 August for its annual convention, which former president Nadine Koslow told the Guardian she expected to be consumed with the issue of what reforms the organization must adopt in the wake of the Hoffman report.