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July 31, 2015

Ethics Expert Reflects on the Hoffman Report

Posted by Deborah Popowski

Renowned psychologist Ken Pope has written an excellent essay on the Hoffman Report and its conclusions that the American Psychological Association enabled torture. Pope is a former APA Ethics Chair who resigned from the APA in 2008, out of disagreement with the organization’s post-9/11 ethics stances.

The essay asks us to reflect on what the Hoffman Report has to do with each of us – what we chose to see (and not see) then, and what we choose to do now. Here is an excerpt in which he focuses scrutiny on the various other institutions charged with safeguarding ethics, including state licensing boards:

…the Hoffman Report documents a wide range of improper behaviors involving conflicts of interest, improper handling of ethics complaints to protect psychologists, issuing misleading statements that hid true motives, to name but a few, as well as activities related to torture and violations of human rights. Now that the Hoffman Report has awakened our profession, if none of the diverse improper behaviors violates any ethical standard in the APA Ethics Code, that may tell us something. If any of the diverse improper behaviors violates any standard in APA’s code, and neither the APA Ethics Committee, nor any state psychological association or state psychology licensing board that has adopted APA’s ethics code as enforceable, takes action sua sponte (on its own initiative) or in response to a formal complaint, that may tell us something. These and other measurable signs of meaningful change (e.g., whether APA and its elected officers representing the membership publish formal corrections or retractions of factually incorrect statements appearing in journals or press releases that denied, discounted, or dismissed reports of improper behavior, just as researchers fulfill their ethical responsibility to correct the formal record) can hold a mirror up to both our own individual and our psychological community’s ability and willingness to meet the challenge of change.

The full essay is available here.

Note: Psychologists for Social Responsibility will host a Town Hall on the Hoffman report this coming Thursday, August 3, in Toronto. Full schedule here.

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July 30, 2015

Second Circuit Decision in Apartheid Appeal Denies Plaintiffs the Opportunity to Proceed with Their Claims

Posted by Susan Farbstein and Tyler Giannini

Earlier this week, the Second Circuit handed down its opinion in In re South African Apartheid Litigation, denying Plaintiffs an opportunity to proceed with their claims against the remaining Defendants Ford and IBM. In doing so, the appellate court affirmed the District Court’s prior decision on the grounds that Plaintiffs’ proposed amended complaints had not alleged sufficient plausible new facts to move forward.

While the outcome was disappointing, so too was the opinion of the Court itself, which failed to fully engage with new, specific, and detailed allegations in the proposed amended complaints — in particular, allegations about how both defendants, in the United States, took purposeful and repeated actions to aid and abet the South African state to commit international law violations. With respect to the allegations against Ford, the Court glanced over important facts about the U.S. parent corporation’s direct involvement in the design and approval of the sale of specialized vehicles to South African security forces, in contravention of international sanctions regimes. Instead, the Court concluded broadly that the allegations were insufficient to link Ford in the United States to the violations in South Africa.

With respect to the allegations against IBM, the Court did find sufficient U.S. domestic conduct by the parent — specifically, that it designed particular technologies that facilitated the denationalization of black South Africans. But while this conduct did “touch and concern” the United States, the standard set by the Supreme Court in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, the Court held that the allegations did not plausibly allege that IBM’s conduct was “purposeful.” Because purpose (rather than knowledge) is the required standard for an aiding and abetting claim in the Second Circuit under Presbyterian Church of Sudan v. Talisman, the Court determined that Plaintiffs’ claims could not proceed.

The Plaintiffs will now seek en banc review of the panel’s decision, requesting that all active judges on the Court rehear the case because it presents questions of exceptional importance and conflicts with prior decisions of the Second Circuit as well as the U.S. Supreme Court.

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July 23, 2015

Investigation Concludes APA Colluded with Government to Enable Torture

Posted by Mindy Roseman

In the last few weeks, the public’s attention has been drawn to the relationship between the American Psychological Association’s (APA) leadership and US military and intelligence operations in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The New York Times first revealed the findings of the APA’s commissioned inquiry into its own activities. The Hoffman report, as this investigation is known, found that APA officials colluded with government officials to enable psychologists to participate in torture.

APA Ethics Director Stephen Behnke was fired shortly before the the report was released to the public. He has since retained as counsel former FBI Director Louis Freeh, who issued a statement rejecting the investigation’s findings. Behnke is a lawyer-psychologist and former instructor in Harvard Medical School’s department of psychiatry.

Earlier this week, The Boston Globe reported on the Harvard ties of two former APA presidents implicated in the report: Gerald Koocher, a psychologist at Harvard-affiliated Boston Children’s Hospital, and Ronald Levant, who taught at Harvard and Boston University.

Most recently, Russ Newman, whose actions as chief of the APA’s practice directorate also came under scrutiny in the Hoffman report, resigned as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Alliant International in San Diego.

That there is renewed focus on this issue and finally some recognition of responsibility is testament to the persistent and incisive efforts of a national grassroots movement to hold psychologists accountable for their complicity in torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees, in violation of international and US domestic law and codes of ethics. For years, our colleague, Deborah Popowski, Clinical Instructor, has played a critical role in that movement, alongside her clients, Trudy Bond, Josie Setzler, Michael Reese and Colin Bossen. Read more about their work together here and here.

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