COLUMBUS, Ohio – Psychologists in the United States have been warned by their professional group not to take part in torturing detainees in U.S. custody.
Now the American Psychological Association has taken the unprecedented step of supporting an attempt to strip the license of a former Spokane psychologist accused of overseeing the torture of a CIA detainee.
The APA has told a Texas licensing board in a letter mailed July 1 that the allegations against Dr. James Mitchell represent “patently unethical” actions inconsistent with the organization’s ethics guidelines.
If any psychologist who was a member of the APA were found to have committed the acts alleged against Mitchell, “he or she would be expelled from the APA membership,” according to the letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Associated Press.
APA spokeswoman Rhea Farberman confirmed its contents. The letter is the first of its kind in the board’s history, she said.
“The allegations put forward in the complaint and those that are on the public record about Dr. Mitchell are simply so serious, and if true, such a gross violation of his professional ethics, that we felt it necessary to act,” Farberman said.
Mitchell is a retired Air Force psychologist who participated in the 2002 CIA interrogation of detainee Abu Zubaydah, according to a 2008 Senate Armed Services Committee report on the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody. Mitchell is not a member of the American Psychological Association. His former Spokane-based firm, Mitchell Jessen & Associates, had a contract with the CIA to develop interrogation techniques that was ended in April 2009. Mitchell previously was connected with the military training program SERE – for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape – based primarily at Fairchild Air Force Base, according to previously published reports. Mitchell Jessen had closed its Spokane office by spring 2009, and Mitchell had by 2007 reportedly left the area for Florida.
Interrogators in Thailand subjected Zubaydah to severe cold, food and sleep deprivation, confinement in a narrow box and, with Mitchell participating, a simulated form of drowning known as waterboarding, according to the complaint filed with the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists.
“Regardless of what legal categories these techniques fall within, one conclusion is clear: a psychologist who helps inflict such cruel and shocking abuse on a defenseless human being would appear to have violated basic standards of conduct of the profession,” according to the complaint by Northwestern University law professor Joseph Margulies and filed on behalf of a Texas psychologist.
“Obviously, I’m not free to discuss any work I may have done for the CIA,” Mitchell told the AP. He called the complaint libelous and said it is “riddled throughout with fabricated details, lies, distortions and inaccuracies.”
The APA is monitoring similar filings in Ohio and New York made Wednesday against psychologists who oversaw detainee interrogations at Guantanamo Bay, but has no plans to back those efforts.
The accusations against Mitchell are “at a level of seriousness and credibility that we think is different than any other allegations against other psychologists that we know of,” Farberman said.