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American Psychological Association Leaders Step Down After Torture Scandal

The professional association is undergoing a “process of organizational healing.”

by Kari Paul
Jul 14 2015, 7:53pm

Image: APA

Several members of the American Psychological Association announced their departure from the organization this week after a report exposed its role in enabling the US torture program.

Two members of the largest scientific and professional organization of psychology in the US are retiring early and another is resigning, according to a press release on Tuesday.

The exits come days after a 542-page report, first revealed by the New York Times, showed how top members of the APA tweaked ethics policies to facilitate the CIA torture program.

"APA chose its ethics policy based on its goals of helping DOD, managing its PR, and maximizing the growth of the profession," said the independent review, conducted by former federal prosecutor David Hoffman.

The report follows an executive summary of the CIA's "enhanced interrogation techniques" released by the Senate Intelligence Committee in December, which included waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and rectal feeding. The APA previously called for accountability for the two psychologists who were reportedly paid $180 million for advising and facilitating the CIA's techniques, which human rights activists say constitute torture and were "not effective."

The APA released a statement of apology on Friday after the report exposing just how much its members colluded with the CIA was first made public.

"Our internal checks and balances failed to detect the collusion, or properly acknowledge a significant conflict of interest, nor did they provide meaningful field guidance for psychologists," Nadine Kaslow, chair of the Independent Review's Special Committee, said in the statement. "The organization's intent was not to enable abusive interrogation techniques or contribute to violations of human rights, but that may have been the result."

The chief executive officer of the APA, Norman Anderson, was set to retire at the end of 2016, but is now leaving at the end of 2015 instead. His resignation will allow the organization to "take another step in the important process of organizational healing, and to facilitate APA's continuing focus on its broader mission," according to the release.

In addition to Anderson, deputy CEO Michael Honaker will be retiring August 15, 2015. The APA called him "one of the staff's most beloved officials" in the statement.

The executive director for public and member communications Rhea K. Farberman, has also resigned after 22 years with the association, effective July 31.

The release said the organization was looking for a fresh start for its communications department as it "grapples with the problems identified by the Hoffman report."

On Friday, organization Physicians for Human Rights called on the Department of Justice to open a full investigation into the APA for its role in the torture program, calling the collusion with torture programs "one of the greatest scandals in U.S. medical history."

"The corruption of a health professional organization at this level is an extraordinary betrayal of both ethics and the law, and demands an investigation and appropriate prosecutions," Donna McKay, the organization's executive director said. "Rather than uphold the principle of 'do no harm,' APA leadership subverted its own ethics policies and sabotaged all efforts at enforcement."

As calls for accountability continue, the APA investigation is just one more step in the investigation of who enabled what the Times called "one of the most macabre and shameful chapters of American history."