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Report says top US psychologists collaborated with torture program architects

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The report and newly published emails detail the relationship between the APA and Bush administration

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Members of the American Psychological Association, the largest association of psychologists in the United States, "secretly coordinated" with the George W. Bush administration on the CIA's torture program, according to a new report and emails released today. The report, written by a group of health workers and human rights activists, suggests the APA worked with top government officials to establish ethical guidelines that would allow the program to continue while shielding its architects from legal fallout.

The group behind the report analyzed emails from a now dead behavioral science researcher working with the RAND Corporation and involved in national security organizations. According to the report, the emails show how the association collaborated "with officials from the CIA, White House, and the Department of Defense to create an APA ethics policy on national security interrogations that comported with then­ classified legal guidance authorizing the CIA torture program." Despite the close contact, according to the report, "there is no evidence that any APA official expressed concern over mounting reports of psychologist involvement in detainee abuse during four years of direct email communications with senior members of the US intelligence community."

"Your views were well represented by very carefully selected Task Force members."

In 2005, an APA committee called the Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security released guidelines concluding that psychologists could work with national security agencies as part of the torture program, although those guidelines were eventually retracted after criticism mounted. As evidence of how the administration was involved in the creation of those guidelines, the report cites one example of an email sent from the director of science policy at the APA to a CIA psychologist after the release of the guidelines: "I thought you and many of those copied here would be interested to know that APA grabbed the bull by the horns and released this Task Force Report today. I also wanted to semi­-publicly acknowledge your personal contribution... in getting this effort off the ground over a year ago. Your views were well represented by very carefully selected Task Force members."

A report on the CIA's torture program — and psychologists' role in it — was released in December. Afterward, APA president Nadine Kaslow wrote to the Times that she and "fellow members are outraged, saddened, and pained" that two psychologists not with the APA had worked on the program. An independent review of the association's role in the program, requested by the APA's board, is underway.