An unprecedented amount of media focus and listserv activity has been focused on allegations of American Psychological Association (APA) support for CIA torture in the form of enhanced irrigation such as waterboarding. The APA has hired an outside investigator, attorney David Hoffman of the Sidley Austin law firm. In light of the recent media focus, many individuals understandably have voiced concern about the allegations and have offered perspectives about the matter. Other individuals have understandably asserted that APA members and others who are attending to the controversy wait for the results of the investigation.

A lot of understandable concern has also been voiced about the investigation itself. Mr. Hoffman is described by APA as an individual who has a great deal of relevant experience in such investigations and an extremely high level of integrity. That may all be true – though I don’t know him and expect that most others don’t know him either (a webpage about him can be found by googling David Hoffman Sidley Austin).

There have often been lots of concerns and questions about independent investigations and other matters that have been on a larger media stage. Therefore, I strongly recommend that Mr. Hoffman and APA make public the following information, in detail:

  • Descriptions of Mr. Hoffman’s past investigations, including the organizations investigated, the content/issues that were the focus areas of the investigations, and the findings of the investigations.
  • Who paid Mr. Hoffman for those investigations.
  • What specific communication that Mr. Hoffman had with relevant individuals within those organizations.
  • What are the areas of APA organizational functioning that Mr. Hoffman is investigating or will investigate.
  • What are the specific communications that Mr. Hoffman has had or will have with APA officers or staff.
  • What are the payment arrangements with Mr. Hoffman.

A summary of that information would be useful. However, links to detailed information about those investigations would be more useful.

Here is selected historical background about questions and controversies that have surrounded past independent investigations.

  • In the investigation of Pres. Bill Clinton, Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr stated that he had no prior conflicts of interest. However, numerous others have reported that he previously was vigorously active in the political party opposed to Pres. Clinton and should have been assumed to be biased. In fact, there were similar allegations of political bias about the committee that selected Mr. Starr.
  • Former FBI director Louis Freeh was hired by Penn State University to investigate matters pertaining to the sex abuse scandal associated with the football team. There were controversies about with whom he communicated, and there were allegations in a recent lawsuit against him and his law firm that he delivered a report that was a preconceived outcome. In brief, it is alleged that his firm carried out a business model of investigations that are predetermined to find in favor of the payer.
  • Former FBI director Robert Mueller was hired by the NFL to investigate how that organization handled the Ray Rice domestic violence incident. His investigation found that there was no evidence that the NFL had the full video of the violence that occurred during that incident. There are others who allege that he simply gave the opinion for which he was paid.

Please note that I have no independent information about the allegations or any other aspect of the three prior investigations very briefly noted here – my purpose in bringing them up is to give relevant background about perceptions and controversies that have happened in the past.

While there is no way to entirely eliminate disagreements and controversies after investigatory reports have been issued, it is crucial to have such matters be as transparent as possible to protect the integrity of the investigation, and to promote the integrity of the APA.

As stated by Justice Brandeis, “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”

Other relevant information about the controversy over APA and allegations of support for torture, not focused on the Hoffman investigation, is summarized below:

According to Roy Eidelson, Ph.D., past president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, the APA has had a small section of their website devoted to Science Policy Insider News, which has included, in the web archive, prior information about lobbying for psychology research dollars from Defense Department and related agencies. He reported that, in about the last year, 50 of the archive newsletters have been removed, raising the possibility that APA has not been adequately transparent and might actually be interfering with the investigation being carried out by attorney David Hoffman.

The Psychologists for Social Responsibility have called for a separate investigation by a committee of experts from various relevant backgrounds.

A separate recent report states that there have been hundreds of relevant APA e-mails recently released that show collaboration between the CIA and APA. The report also alleges the CIA, APA, and the RAND Corporation all collaborated in an invitation-only conference on “The Science of Deception” to discuss enhanced interrogation techniques. The attendees reportedly included the two psychologists identified as CIA contractors hired to advise on enhanced interrogation, such as waterboarding, and an individual then employed by the CIA who later worked for those two psychologists.

Also, a recent Forbes article that summarized a number of these problems called for the resignation of a number of APA officers. Included are the chief executive officer and the ethics director.

The allegations of APA support for torture earlier received a great deal of media attention after a report in a book published by James Risen. The APA has made a statement refuting those charges.

More recently, APA published a statement that disputed a recent New York Times article on the topic published on April 30, 2015.

In brief, APA has stated that they would like their investigation headed by attorney David Hoffman to be fully independent and therefore the organization will not make any statements until that investigation has been completed and the report issued.