The Psychologists Who Enabled Torture

Americans last week learned the details of the American Psychological Association’s collusion with our government’s torture conspiracy. The “Hoffman Report,” named for its lead investigator, is a 542-page document that lays out various ways in which senior leadership in the APA collaborated with government officials and independent contractors to enable torture, hide the fact that torture was occurring, and discredit whistleblowers. 

The report is a damning indictment of key APA leaders and staff. It also provides a vivid illustration of how the government’s decision to torture corrupted both individuals and institutions.

The APA’s mission is to use “psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people’s lives.” Its first ethical principle is “beneficence and nonmaleficence” — that is, psychologists should “take care to do no harm.” Yet for years, the organization enabled the use of its professional expertise in service of a systematic program aimed at breaking and psychologically destroying human beings. Hundreds of individuals imprisoned by the CIA and the Department of Defense suffered devastating physical and psychological harm through this perversion of psychological knowledge. And the psychologists who designed and enabled the torture program reaped enormous profits: Torture contractor Mitchell, Jessen and Associates earned more than $80 million from the CIA.

The APA’s role in secretly enabling torture while silencing internal dissent and misleading the public reflects the now-familiar pattern that was followed by government agencies involved in U.S.-sanctioned torture.

The Bush administration’s decision to torture corrupted everything it touched. Government lawyers issued secret legal memos to justify and enable torture. The CIA’s Office of Medical Services secretly monitored torture sessions to keep detainees alive — so they could endure more torture. Top-level government officials secretly ordered, implemented, and signed off on it all. Some within government had the courage to stand against abuse, but they were often ignored or sidelined. And, throughout, government officials lied to the media and the public in order to keep us all in the dark. Shamefully, there has been virtually no legal accountability. 

We now know from the Hoffman Report that very similar patterns played out within the APA. The association’s leadership sought to align the organization’s policies on torture with the priorities of torture facilitators in the Department of Defense. Collusion was rewarded by a close and lucrative relationship with the Pentagon. The report also documents the nature and extent of the collusion, identifies the people involved, and makes clear that the collusion played a key role in enabling the U.S. government’s torture program because psychologists assisted in and provided cover for brutal coercion.  

The Hoffman Report also describes how a former association president launched a “highly personal attack” seeking to discredit a whistleblower when she raised concerns about the APA’s role in the torture program. The report shows that APA leaders shielded from discipline the psychologists who had participated in the torture program. And it explains the ways in which APA leadership used an orchestrated media campaign to mislead the public and portray the organization as protective of the welfare and human rights of prisoners. 

Some of the prominent internal critics of the APA have suggested a starting point for the organization to respond to the revelations in the report. As a country, we also have a long way to go on accountability for the government’s torture program. We still need a full and public investigation of the institutional and leadership failures that enabled our government to torture hundreds of human beings. We still need to hold those responsible to account. And we can’t put this dark chapter behind us until we provide apologies and redress to the victims and survivors.

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Lynn Warner, PhD

In past years I was a member of the American Psychological Association (APA). I was appalled to learn of the role that members of that organization played in the illegal detention and torture of both US citizens and non-citizens following 9/11. All psychologists and all government officials who were involved in these heinous crimes should face criminal prosecution. APA has a lot of work to do to get its house back in order. What was the role, if any, of other nongovernmental organizations (e.g., the American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association, etc.)? If they were not involved, what was different about the APA? There are many that need to be held accountable. I wish our citizenry, politicians, and media were as concerned about these despicable behaviors as they seem to be with what happened in Benghazi or Hillary Clinton's cell phone/email issues.


Anyone who participated in this is as much a sociopath as the criminally insane who are put away for their crimes. Apparently there is no such thing as torture if the good guys do it. We were always taught that the US was above that sort of thing.


I want accountability for what they fuckin' did to my daughter's dad and all those other people, that they've never once showed a single solitary tiniest MOTE of remorse for doing; if you watched how all of them act about what they helped do, you'd get the idea that they thought paying to have our loved one burned out of existence was a thing done on the way to something else, not very important and certainly not worth having any fuckin' emotions about it. It's so disgusting I could vomit just seeing how they act.
Just bc they were tortured doesn't mean we should set free the ones we had evidence against beFORE anybody did that damn stupid thing to them. It's ridiculous and irresponsible behavior - and will create more deaths of people the prisoners don't like.
Everyone else whose loved one is murdered gets a trial. My friend's daughter was killed at Aurora and less than three years later, they have a verdict for the killer.
While OTOH almost 14 years later we're still in the PREtrial part of the trial against the "alleged" killers in Eric's murder.
It's totally insulting to him and his family, and the other victims and their families.

from a family member of a September 11 victim


Is court ordered "counseling" becoming mainstream? Or, it is being applied selectively in a politically motivated manner? It appears that one or the other is true.

Steven Moore

What should the victims do now that this program is stated to be over? If you have information, please contact me at 312-307-5234.

Thank you!

J. Lamar Freed,...

I resigned from the APA in protest in 2008. With the announcement of the departure from the APA of four very senior members of its staff, I believe the APA has returned to a course that will respect the rights of everyone its members serve. I have my membership application in front of me and plan to rejoin as soon as I can. For many psychologists the Hoffman report was a vindication that will allow us to return to a professional organization that must now go through many adjustments to prevent events like this in the future.

Robert Mann

They are criminals who went against everything they should have stood for and should be thrown in jail.


Hear, hear!

Adrienne De Florio

Thank you for starting a much needed dialogue. I hope to schedule a visit to discuss the torture I endured, establish a case to hold those responsible accountable for their actions, and start an endowment for legal assistance to aid survivors.


My daughter and me are both Human Subject's and we are both attacked daily with NSA Direct Energy Weapon's. In fact, all four of my children and myself are attacked with DEWS. My youngest is on two meds. for a illness that is NOT real because of being targeted with Covert Electronic Harassment and Surveillance. A NSA Government Human Right's Program. The voices she hears are Government Informant's and the seizures are direct energy weapon attack's because of wanting her medicated to control her. The torture is every day and the mind-games/brain-washing with high technology was out of line and wrong!

Mz. Donna Joy Plattner
4544 Nicholas St Apt.4
Omaha NE,68132
July 22nd. 2015


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