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News :: Human Rights
Opposing 'Doctor Torture' - 'A national hero': psychologist who warned of torture collusion gets her due
by Anne G
19 Sep 2015
Jean Maria Arrigo was largely ignored and the subject of a smear campaign for sounding alarms about psychologists’ post-9/11 torture complicity but has emerged from the damning report as the story’s hero – and martyr.
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(photo: Dr. Gerald Koocher)
Jean Maria Arrigo’s inbox is filling up with apologies. For a decade, colleagues of the 71-year-old psychologist ignored, derided and in some cases attacked Arrigo for sounding alarms that the American Psychological Association was implicated in US torture. But now that a devastating report has exposed deep APA complicity with brutal CIA and US military interrogations – and a smear campaign against Arrigo herself – her colleagues are expressing contrition.
“I have been wanting to email you since reading the Hoffman report on Wednesday to let you know how ashamed I am about not believing what you and others had been saying about APA’s actions,” wrote a psychologist Arrigo wished to remain anonymous.
Arrigo estimates she has received perhaps a dozen such emails since David Hoffman, a former federal prosecutor, confirmed what she has crusaded against for a decade: the APA’s institutional involvement with torture led to a concerted effort to quash dissent, lie to the public, and silence people like her. In a story full of villains, Arrigo emerges from Hoffman’s report as a hero – and a martyr. Arrigo herself is fearful that the APA will ride out the wave of bad publicity rather then remove the rot of torture from the root. More personally, she told the Guardian, it has been jarring to see what her colleagues were saying – and doing – about her behind closed doors.
“I think the effect on me, which has intensified, may be more like what happened to people in East Germany when the Stasi records were opened,” she told the Guardian.
Arrigo did not expect to spend her 60s at war with the APA over torture. The daughter of an intelligence operative, Arrigo focuses her work on the intersection of human rights and social psychology, “to give moral voice to intelligence professionals”.
But in 2005, Arrigo found herself with an unexpected appointment. She was a member of an internal panel, known as the Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security (Pens), that greenlit psychologist participation in national-security interrogations. Hoffman found that the taskforce was “intentionally weighted in favor” of the US department of defense, through stacking it with representatives from the military and CIA. It rejected efforts by Arrigo and two like-minded colleagues to include references to the Geneva Convention and specific interrogation techniques that psychologists could not be involved in.
The discussions within the taskforce appear acrimonious. Hoffman writes that a member of the APA board, Gerald Koocher, “challenged each of Arrigo’s points” on a taskforce email group when Arrigo expressed discomfort with the panel’s ties to the military.
But the acrimony intensified after Arrigo took her concerns public at APA conventions. One of those meetings, in 2007 in San Francisco, attracted the attention of journalist Amy Goodman, who used it for a story on her Democracy Now broadcast. In response, Koocher told Goodman in an open letter that Arrigo was improperly influenced by the supposed “suicide” of her father – a former operative for the CIA’s second world war predecessor, who was actually alive when Koocher wrote his letter – and her “troubled upbringing”.
Hoffman called the letter from Koocher, who served as APA president in 2006, “part of a highly personal attack on Arrigo” from prominent APA figures.
“Former president Koocher spread false gossip about her family to try to undermine her credibility,” said Stephen Soldz of Psychologists for Social Responsibility and Physicians for Human Rights. “No one in leadership stood up and protested.”
Arrigo said she was untroubled by Koocher’s “idiotic” broadside, and simply forwarded around a photograph of her with her very-much-alive father. What was more troubling to her, she said, were the well-meaning members of APA who did not challenge the attacks.
“Not only did they do nothing, but they allowed themselves to be used,” she said.
Some of the APA officials named in the Hoffman report have begun a counteroffensive against it. On Sunday, the former FBI director Louis Freeh issued a statement on behalf of ousted ethics chief Stephen Behnke, a critical figure in the “collusion” Hoffman identified, threatening legal action.
Over the weekend, Koocher emailed colleagues to complain that Hoffman had misrepresented him.
“The fact that APA consistently clearly came down against torture and against degrading or inhumane interrogation, is lost as they seem to weave a picture that we all conspired to simply rubber-stamp whatever the DoD and intelligence community wanted. The irony is that I was strongly opposed to the ‘enhanced interrogation’ advocacy of Dick Cheny [sic] and others. We mostly saw it as our job to help those serving our country to behave ethically,” Koocher wrote, according to an email obtained by the Guardian."
Still, the APA, in its moment of turmoil, has struck a tone of embracing the report – and, belatedly, Arrigo. At the APA’s upcoming convention in Toronto next month, former APA president Nadine Koslow said she would “personally apologize to [Arrigo] for the fact that other people mistreated her”, and thank Arrigo for her advocacy.
Now that she doesn’t have the specter of the APA’s obfuscation over her head, Arrigo intends to move forward with a project developing “a moral understanding [of] where the line should be drawn” between operational psychologists and military intelligence – “what the Pens taskforce should have done”, she said.
“Jean Maria Arrigo is a national hero. When many were fooled by the complicity now revealed in the Hoffman report, she penetrated the darkness and stood up and spoke the truth,” said Soldz.
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