What follows is an account of a Town Hall Meeting held at the 2015 APA Convention. The topic of the Town Hall Meeting was the Report of the Independent Reviewer (also known as “The Hoffman Report”). These notes are provided courtesy of Daniel Bruns (APA Division 38).
For those of you who are interested, the town hall meeting on torture Saturday went well. By that I mean that while differing points of view were expressed and there are still many things to work on, the discussion was civil and productive. A number of the “dissidents” (e.g. Arrigo, Reisner) spoke.
Here is a panoramic shot of the meeting:
Some of the things that were stated in the almost 2 hour long meeting:
- The actions of the council were discussed by Kaslow, and how APA now has taken an official strict stand against torture (I think the vote was 156 to 1). [Note: prior to the vote Hoffman spoke to APA council and addressed questions. Hoffman reportedly was reluctant to come, as he generally does not comment on reports, but APA pressured him to come and speak to Council himself ].
- Kaslow (past APA president) and McDaniel (APA president elect) repeatedly apologized unconditionally for the torture
- One or more in the audience were concerned that the Hoffman report could unfairly damage people’s lives a) “People are more than they are at their worst moments” b) “Who allowed Hoffman to be the judge, jury and executioner?”
- Arrigo thought that a) Gilfoyle and Anton should resign as they have lost the trust of the membership and can no longer lead, b) there need to be ethical checks and balances and further organizational examination, c) dissidents (the preferred term) should be involved in the new CEO selection panel.
- Others noted that the APA Ethical Office, Presidents, Board of Directors, and others subverted the availability of information to APA Council in the past, and that there needs to be more institutional examination.
- One person requested that APA release all emails between APA ethics and State ethics boards (I wondered under what circumstances this might involve a breach of confidentiality).
- Reisner described APA’s new policy as being consistent with the most stringent international definitions of torture, and that APA now needed to go on to become a leading voice against torture
- One ECP thought that the torture problem was part of a larger problem of racial prejudice. Most of those tortured were persons of color, and racism and torture are linked in American history. It was noted that the first several speakers at the town hall meeting were all white males, and questions about effects of racism within APA were raised.
- McDaniel and Kaslow suggested that there would be a town hall meeting about race at APA 2016.
- I think it was Kaslow who said that “We should not demonize people” in these discussions.
- Kaslow said some APA staff who Hoffman did not list as being involved with the torture issue at all have been the subject of verbal abuse, antisemitism, etc. Kaslow (who served on the committee that oversaw the Hoffman report) said she had to set her spam filter to delete emails with phrases including “Nazi doctor” and “Dr. Mengele”.
- It was asked if APA should apologize to those who were tortured. It was stated that Hoffman had said that the evidence suggested APA did NOT know at the time that psychologists were participating in torture. I looked it up, and Hoffman said that “…we think it would be difficult to conclude based on the evidence we have seen that APA officials actually knew in 2005 that CIA or DoD psychologists were participating in “torture”, even as properly defined” (p67). Nevertheless, it was suggested and agreed to by McDaniel and Kaslow that APA should try to do something as a reparative gesture (my phrase). The possibility of APA writing an open letter to those affected by torture was discussed.
- McDaniel said that APAs action plan will have short, moderate and long term components. Both McDaniel and Kaslow repeatedly asked for input from all APA members, esp dissidents and those who have felt disenfranchised, and said that APA is determined that in various panels to be formed that the dissidents and disenfranchised will be included.
- A concern was expressed, how do we talk to our patients about this? Revelations of the Hoffman report have damaged the image of the profession, especially among Muslim and other communities who will now be reluctant to disclose to psychologists. McDaniel and Kaslow said APA needs to do something to “reach out” to the Muslim community.
- One person felt that the torture issue was related to broader problems, including the treatment of prisoners in corrections facilities, the use of psychology in the media (this concern was not clear to me), and APA needed in general to address all conflicts of interest, and completely dissociate itself from the Department of Defense.
- A man who identified himself as a Canadian Muslim expressed concerns about the problems this will create with regard to access to care, and steps will be needed for Muslims to regain trust in psychology. McDaniel and Kaslow explored what could be done about this.
- A spokesman for military psychologists expressed concerns about the impact of all of this upon his constituents, and McDaniel stated that we should not stereotype military psychologists, and that we should support the work of military psychologists who practice ethically.
Again, while the conversation was very direct, the tone of the above was all civil.
Caveat: While I made an attempt to take accurate notes, if I have misquoted anybody I would ask for someone will correct me. There was also much more said during the meeting, but I was unable to keep up with the pace of the conversation. This was videotaped so I hope it will be made available.
I will end by quoting Hoffman’s final observation in his conclusion:
“As members of a different profession who have observed in this investigation the incredible intensity of the anger, personal attacks, and highly aggressive statements that have emanated from both sides of this debate, as well as the amount of energy that has been spent on this important issue for a decade, we hope that this report and APA’s response will over time allow the profession as a whole to feel that APA has properly dealt with its actions in the past, that it has properly defined the ethical obligations of psychologists on this issue for the future, and that vigorous discussions on this topic can occur in a culture of civility and mutual respect. We say this with tremendous respect for a profession we now know fairly well, and whose strength and integrity is of crucial and expanding importance to the well-being of our society. “
I felt that this Town Hall meeting was an important step in accomplishing what Hoffman had hoped.