Amid Torture Scandal, APA Officials Step Down

American Psychological Association leaders, including CEO, follow ethics director out the door

by: Nadia Prupis

Amid ongoing revelations that the American Psychological Association (APA) aided the U.S. government’s secret torture program, several APA officials on Tuesday announced their resignation from the organization, including its chief executive officer.

Dr. Norman Anderson, who became CEO of the APA in 2003, said he was leaving in order to “allow the association to take another step in the important process of organizational healing,” according to a press release.

Also stepping down from their posts are deputy CEO Dr. Michael Honaker, who will leave on August 15, and communications director Rhea K. Farberman.

Those three officials, along with several other senior APA members, were named in a 542-page report released last month by law firm Sidley Austin examining the APA’s role in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)’s torture program.

Honaker supervised the APA’s ethics director, lawyer and psychologist Stephen Behnke. Behnke left his post last week.

As David Luban, founding editor of Just Security and Georgetown University Law Center professor, wrote in an op-ed on Monday, the report—known as the Hoffman report for Sidley Austin’s lead investigator, David Hoffman—portrayed Behnke as “the impresario of the organization’s campaign to depict itself as a human rights champion, while quietly permitting its members to engage in coercive interrogations and shielding them from ethics complaints.”

“If the APA is taking steps to right this ship, the departure of the people who were implicated [in the Hoffman report] is essential,” Luban told Common Dreams.

In one instance outlined in the report (pdf), Behnke told Honaker that he had done contract work for the Department of Defense (DOD), giving paid ethics lectures to agents participating in interrogation training at a U.S. Army base.

“Honaker did not provide this information to CEO Norman Anderson or the Board,” the report states. “Honaker said that it did not occur to him that the Board would need to know or discuss this information, because he saw it as a standard example of Behnke providing ethics training to an important group of psychologists, as he does in a variety of settings.”

“If the APA is taking steps to right this ship, the departure of the people who were implicated [in the Hoffman report] is essential.”
—David Luban, Just Security

Behnke’s communications with Anderson, Honaker, Farberman, and others at that time showed an intention to curry favor with intelligence agencies.

The APA’s involvement in the CIA torture program hasbeen known for some time, but the report made clear the extent of the association’s role. In another case, Debra Dunivin, then a member of the Guantanamo Bay Behavioral Science Consultation Team (BSCT), pushed for the inclusion of certain military and DOD officials on the APA’s Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS) task force.

Dunivin’s husband, APA practice directorate chief Russ Newman, acted as an “observer” to the task force, ostensibly to provide input to the creation of interrogation guidelines—but, as the report states, no one at the APA brought up the “obvious” conflict of interest arising from Newman and Dunivin’s marriage. Neither Anderson, Honeker, Behnke, Gilfoyle, APA President Ron Levant, or APA President-Elect Gerald Koocher, took any steps to “disclose or resolve the conflict.”

But that was far from the only problem found during the Hoffman investigation. During one meeting of the PENS task force, Farberman reportedly “made comments about not implying that torture occurred at Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay.”

At another time, Dunivin reportedly “conveyed to Farberman the need to stay the course and place BSCTs in a ‘positive light’ in APA’s communications efforts, Farberman said,” according to the report.

And it was business as usual on Tuesday, with the APA quietly announcing Anderson, Honaker, and Farberman’s resignations with little to indicate that the torture scandal influenced their decisions.

“Ms. Farberman and the Board are in agreement that going forward APA plans to hire a chief communications officer who can provide a fresh start to the association’s communications needs as it grapples with the problems identified by the Hoffman report,” the press release stated.

Earlier this month, psychologists Stephen Soldz and Steven Reizner, who have led the charge for the last decade to remove psychologists from the interrogation business, delivered remarks to the APA board about the Hoffman report which outlined necessary steps to rectify the association’s influence on the torture program. That included the firing of Behnke, Anderson, Honaker, and Farberman, among other staff members.

“But,” Soldz and Reizner added, “housecleaning is a small piece of what is necessary for full accountability: How do we hold leadership and governance itself accountable? How do we answer the question, how did this happen and what must we do to insure it doesn’t happen again?”

Source: Amid Torture Scandal, APA Officials Step Down | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community

Facing ‘Retirement Crisis,’ Sanders Leads Charge for Social Security Expansion

Concerted campaign includes letter signed by 70 lawmakers and petition signatures from more than 2.5 million Americans

by: Deirdre Fulton

On the eve of a once-in-a-decade White House Conference on Aging (WHCOA)—and in the face of what they describe as the “impending retirement savings crisis facing this nation”—a group of 70 Democratic lawmakers led by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) on Sunday called on President Barack Obama to expand Social Security benefits.

“We write today to request your help in ensuring that Americans continue to have sufficient resources to maintain their standard of living in old age,” said 69 U.S. House members, plus Sens. Sanders, Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), in a letter (pdf) sent to the White House Sunday evening. 

Citing widespread and bipartisan support among the American public, the letter urges Obama to “include proposals to expand Social Security benefits for millions of Americans in your policy brief at the upcoming Conference.”

In fact, the lawmakers continue, “[a]s Social Security is affordable, universal, efficient, secure, portable, distributionally fair, and popular, expanding its modest benefits should be the number one retirement security recommendation of the White House Conference on Aging.”

A coalition of progressive civil society groups echoed that call on Monday, when they delivered more than 2.5 million petition signatures also demanding that the Obama Administration prioritize Social Security expansion when crafting aging policy.

The Hill reports:

Social Security has divided Obama and his liberal allies on Capitol Hill. The president infuriated many Democrats in 2013 when he unveiled a 2014 budget package that would calculate future cost-of-living increases in Social Security using the chained consumer price index (CPI), which would reduce benefits over time.

The move was largely political: Obama had included the provision as an olive branch to Republicans, who have long championed benefit cuts under Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in the name of reducing spending and shrinking government. But the provision did nothing to bring GOP leaders to the budget negotiating table.

Although Obama had emphasized that he would consider the chained-CPI provision only as part of a package deal that included tax hikes, many liberal Democrats were nonetheless outraged that he would open the door to cutting seniors benefits.

As Eric Kingson, co-director of Social Security Works and co-author of the new book Social Security Works! Why Social Security Isn’t Going Broke and How Expanding It Will Help Us All,wrote at the Huffington Post last week: “Most American workers face a personal retirement income crisis. Absent expanding Social Security, they will be unable to maintain their standards of living when they grow old.”

Kingson urged WHCOA delegates to support expansion provisions including:

  • Modest across the board increase in monthly benefits;
  • Larger minimum benefit payments for low wage-workers;
  • Caregiver credits to offset some of the cost of caring for children, ill or family members with disabilities;
  • Use of the more accurate Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E) to calculate [cost of living adjustments].

“If the goal is to strengthen economic security, WHCOA delegates should make clear that the richest nation at the richest time in the world’s history should make a down payment to provide greater retirement income security for today’s and tomorrow’s seniors,” Kingson wrote in a post co-authored with former Social Security Works legislative director Molly Checksfield. “Addressing the retirement income crisis and significant income problems of today’s retirees in a way that supports the expansion of the nation’s most successful and popular domestic policy will resonate most effectively with the American people.”

Last month, Democratic presidential candidate Sanders lashed out in response to Republican rival Jeb Bush’s suggestion that the U.S. raise the retirement age—which economists have said amounts to a benefit cut.

“I have a hard time understanding what world Gov. Bush and his billionaire backers live in,” Sanders, founder of the Senate Defending Social Security Caucus, said in early June. “When the average Social Security benefit is just $1,328 a month, and more than one-third of our senior citizens rely on Social Security for virtually all of their income, our job must be to expand benefits, not cut them.”

Source: Facing ‘Retirement Crisis,’ Sanders Leads Charge for Social Security Expansion | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community

‘Austerity Has Won’: Greece Submits to Divisive Reforms

‘This is not an agreement but an outrageous imposition on the Greek people,’ Jubilee Debt Campaign

by: Deirdre Fulton

After 31 hours of tense weekend talks—and five years of crippling austerity—Greece and its foreign creditors have struck a deal: an €86 billion bailout that will keep Greece in the Eurozone in exchange for controversial economic reforms that include tax hikes, pension overhauls, and severe budget cuts if the nation misses fiscal targets imposed and monitored by the so-called Troika.

European Council president Donald Tusk made the announcement of what he referred to as an “agreekment” early Monday morning following a 17-hour round of negotiations in Brussels.

The deal was immediately blasted as a “humiliating” surrender of national sovereignty.

An editorial on the Iskra website, which reflects the views of anti-austerity Syriza hardliners, charges that the agreement reestablishes and extends the guardianship of the Troika and solidifies “social enslavement.”

“The Greek people must not become disappointed, on the contrary it must remain stubborn, as it did in the referendum and the countrywide protests for a ‘No’ to the very end,” read the editorial. “A ‘No’ to clash with the bailout, neo-liberalism and austerity which are institutionalized in the Eurozone.”

In a statement on Monday, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras admitted the deal “calls for tough measures.”

“However,” he continued, “we prevented the transfer of public property abroad, we prevented the financial asphyxiation and the collapse of the financial system.” And, he added, it calls for debt restructuring, if not relief.

As a result, Tsipras concluded, “I believe that a large majority of the Greek people will support the effort to return to growth; they acknowledge that we fought for a just cause, we fought until the end, we have been negotiating through the night, and no matter what the burdens will be, they will be allocated—we guarantee this—with social justice.”

But selling this agreement to the Greek people, who overwhelmingly voted against further austerity in a popular referendum earlier this month, will be a challenge. On Sunday into Monday, the Twitter hashtag #ThisIsACoup was attached to tens of thousands of angry comments denouncing the Troika’s aggressive demands.

“Clearly the Europe of austerity has won,” Greece’s Reform Minister George Katrougalossaid. “Either we are going to accept these draconian measures or it is the sudden death of our economy through the continuation of the closure of the banks. So it is an agreement that is practically forced upon us.”

Bloomberg reports that Tsipras “will return to face a mutiny within his coalition after he surrendered to European demands.”

With the threat of defections rippling through the Syriza party, Tsipras will “have to change his administration and clear out hardliners and radicals from his party,” as well as rely on opposition support to pass the necessary measures, Eurasia Group analysts Mujtaba Rahman and Federico Santi told Bloomberg. “But it is a tough call to determine how Tsipras will go about doing this.”

The global anti-austerity movement was also quick to criticize the deal’s harsh terms.

“This is not an agreement but an outrageous imposition on the Greek people,” said Tim Jones, economist at the Jubilee Debt Campaign, which advocates for debt cancellation worldwide. “If implemented, it will continue the five-year long crisis in the Greek economy since the first disastrous bailout of European banks in 2010 for another decade or more.”

And Nick Dearden, of Global Justice Now, said the circumstances surrounding the negotiations “rather resemble the imperial politics of the 19th century.”

“Is it so unthinkable to put the rights and livelihoods of ordinary people ahead of threatening the interests of the banks?” Dearden asked. “The European governments and institutions seem to think so. The lives and rights of millions of Greeks, and now the very existence of the EU as a democratic union, come a poor second to the economic fundamentalism of Merkel and the Troika.”

Source: ‘Austerity Has Won’: Greece Submits to Divisive Reforms | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community