Like a modern-day Ministry of Truth, the American Psychological Association (APA) has scrubbed the webpage describing "deception scenarios" workshops that were part of a conference it conducted with the CIA and Rand Corporation on July 17-18, 2003. In addition, the APA erased the link to the page, and even all mention of its existence, from another story at its July 2003 Science Policy Insider News website that briefly described the conference.

In May 2007, in an article at Daily Kos, I noted that the workshops were describing "new ways to utilize drugs and sensory bombardment techniques to break down interrogatees." Quoting from the APA’s description (and note, the link is to an archived version of the webpage; emphasis is added):

  • How do we find out if the informant has knowledge of which s/he is not aware?
  • How important are differential power and status between witness and officer?
  • What pharmacological agents are known to affect apparent truth-telling behavior?….
  • What are sensory overloads on the maintenance of deceptive behaviors? How might we overload the system or overwhelm the senses and see how it affects deceptive behaviors?

In August 2007, in a landmark article at Vanity Fair, journalist Katherine Eban revealed that SERE psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen were participants at the APA/CIA/Rand affair. Mitchell and Jessen have since been linked with the implementation of the CIA’s "enhanced interrogation techniques" in 2001-2002.

Just last November, in an article at Firedoglake, I recalled the issue of the 2003 conference and asked Who Will Investigate CIA/RAND/APA Torture “Workshop”? I wrote at that time:

The APA and CIA have a very long history of working together on interrogation techniques, in particular on sensory deprivation and use of drugs like LSD and mescaline in interrogations, and other methods of breaking down the mind and the body of prisoners.

Use of drugs to influence interrogations, in addition to sensory deprivation, distortion and overload or bombardment were signal techniques in a decades-long interrogation research program that came to be known by its most famous moniker, MKULTRA (although these torture techniques were studied and tested by the CIA even earlier, in its 1950s projects Bluebird and Artichoke). Such techniques were codified by the early 1960s in a CIA Counterinsurgency Interrogation Manual, also known by its codename, KUBARK.

The story on the APA/CIA/Rand workshop received a good deal of dissemination on the Internet, and one can imagine that the description of the abusive techniques explored there were an embarrassment to the honchos of the APA, who strive to maintain an organizational aura of liberalism and scientific respectability, while at the same time selling its wares to the Defense Department and intelligence agencies in promoting the "war on terror" and "homeland security."

The URL for the former webpage — www.apa.org/ppo/issues/deceptscenarios.html — now brings up a message that "the page is not available." A search of the APA site and a Google search does not retrieve a link to the original page, which can now be accessed, thankfully, only through a web archive search engine.

The same is true for the webpage for the APA’s July 2003 "Spin" newsletter, which has a story entitled "APA Works with CIA and RAND to Hold Science of Deception Workshop". Listed at the end of the story is a link telling readers to "View the thematic scenarios from the workshop." (See archived version.) The old URL — www.apa.org/ppo/spin/703.html– brings up another "page not available" message. However, the bulk of the webpage now resides at a new address — www.apa.org/about/gr/science/spin/2003/07/also-issue.aspx — with the former link now missing from the story.

While the scrubbing of the page describing truth drugs and sensory overload could be attributed to some normal archiving decision, or the victim of a web do-over (and APA does appear to have redesigned their site), the excision of the text and link to the site on the referring page cannot be an accident.

What is APA up to?

Recently, APA has made some noises about finally respecting the decision of its membership in a September 2008 referendum that decisively repudiated "the APA leadership’s long-standing policy encouraging psychologist participation in interrogations and other activities in military and CIA detention facilities that have repeatedly been found to violate international law and the Constitution." The referendum voted to prohibit psychologist participation in settings where human rights violations take place. This policy took dead aim against use of psychologists in the Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (or BSCTs) used at Guantanamo and elsewhere.

To date, however, the referendum has had no effect, although the Public Interest Task Force for the APA recently has told APA members involved in passage of the referendum that it is gathering information on offending sites in order to implement the new policy, over a year and a half since the vote on the referendum took place. I will hope, though I have little trust, that APA will take the necessary steps.

But APA has a history of bad faith on such issues. Recently, they rewrote a problematic section of their ethical code, dubbed the Nuremberg loophole by some, which allowed psychologists to violate their ethical rules if done to comply with "law, regulations, or other governing legal authority." As Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) described it, "The new language restores the 1992 version of the code, which prohibits use of the standard ‘to justify or defend violating human rights.’"

But PHR also noted:

Section 1.02 was inserted into the APA ethics code in August 2002, and was used by both the APA and the Bush Administration to allow the participation of psychologists in the "enhanced interrogation" program, in which detainees were systematically abused and tortured under the supervision of health professionals. PHR is calling for the APA to also reform section 8.05 of the 2002 ethics code, which allows research on human subjects without their consent if such research comports with law or regulations.

Section 8.05 allows psychologists to dispense with the use of informed consent in research experiments where "permitted by law or federal or institutional regulations." The use of informed consent guarantees the voluntary participation of human subjects in research done upon them, and is considered a bedrock of ethical research.

The gyrations of the APA remind one of the razzle-dazzle misdirection of the Obama administration, which trumpets "transparency," but recently told the Supreme Court to turn down Maher Arar’s appeal of his rendition-torture lawsuit. In addition, President Obama’s own secret black site prisons have now been revealed, over a year since Obama made a big deal out of closing down the CIA black sites. When it comes to hiding the crime of torture, the U.S. government and its contracting agencies have made a fetish out of secrecy, and the promise of an end to torture after the hideous Bush/Cheney years is revealed to be a chimera.