The former president of the American Psychological Association is a partner in a Spokane-based firm linked to the CIA’s reported use of harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists at secret detention centers around the world.
Joseph Dominic Matarazzo, an 81-year-old former psychology professor at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, said in a statement Friday that he serves on the board of Mitchell Jessen & Associates and owns 1 percent of the firm.
According to public records, Matarazzo is one of five “governing people” in the Mitchell Jessen firm, which does secret interrogation consulting work for the CIA.
Matarazzo refused repeated interview requests but said in an e-mailed statement that he “is not and never has been involved in the company’s operational decisions,” and that he only “attends brief and infrequent company meetings.”
Matarazzo added in the e-mailed statement: “I have never been involved in the use either of torture or the legal or illegal interrogation of prisoners or anyone else. And I would strongly advise against it. I also have no knowledge of anyone who has been involved in such torture or interrogation.”
The statement was relayed by a spokesman at the Portland medical school where Matarazzo taught behavioral neuroscience for 50 years before his retirement in June.
The nationally renowned psychologist helped establish the University of Oregon’s Department of Medical Psychology before the school evolved and was renamed. The program became Oregon Health & Science University’s Department of Behavioral Neuroscience.
“He is very well respected at OHSU and among his peers in the area of neuro-behavioral science,” said university spokesman Jonathan Modie.
The ethics surrounding the issue of psychologists involved in torture interrogations will be a prime topic of debate next weekend when the 90,000-member American Psychological Association that Matarazzo once headed holds its national conference in San Francisco. Matarazzo isn’t expected to attend, nor are the two psychologist-managers of the Spokane firm, James E. Mitchell and John Bruce Jessen.
“This news of our former APA president being closely tied with the notorious Mitchell and Jessen group is shocking and distressing,” said Brad Olson, chairman of the APA Divisions for Social Justice.
“This leads to, more than anything else, many, many more questions,” said Olson, a Northwestern University psychology research professor who will be at the forefront of the conference debate.
APA President Sharon Brehm and Stephen Behnke, the director of APA’s Ethics Directorate, both declined comment last week when asked about Matarazzo’s ties to the private psychology firm working for the CIA.
“Dr. Matarazzo was president of APA 18 years ago,” Rhea Farberman, the organization’s director of public affairs, said in a prepared statement.
“Since that time, he has had no active role in APA governance but has been actively involved in the American Psychological Foundation (APF), the charitable giving arm of APA. Dr. Matarazzo currently holds no governance positions in either APA or APF,” the statement said.
Matarazzo’s “professional activities are outside and independent of any role he has played within APA and APF,” the statement said. “We have no direct knowledge about the business dealing of Mitchell’s and Jessen’s company; however, APA’s position is clear – torture or other forms of cruel or inhuman treatment are always unethical.”
Matarazzo, in his e-mailed statement, said, “I firmly subscribe to and abide by the APA Code of Ethics that torture or other forms of cruel and inhumane treatment are unethical.”
James Mitchell and John Bruce Jessen, who once claimed APA ties, are both former Department of Defense psychologists who taught and monitored SERE training – survival, evasion, resistance and escape – for military and other government personnel at Fairchild Air Force Base.
According to various published reports, Mitchell Jessen & Associates specializes in “reverse engineering” of SERE techniques such as sleep and sensory deprivation, starvation and simulated drowning. The techniques are reportedly used on detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Iraq, Afghanistan and other “black sites,” or secret prisons.
The Senate Armed Services Committee is expected to hold hearings this fall into whether the techniques violate anti-torture provisions of the Geneva Conventions.
Mitchell Jessen has business offices in Alexandria, Va., and in the American Legion Building in downtown Spokane where work goes on behind key-carded security doors monitored by video cameras. The top floor of the building is off-limits to the public and reportedly is used by Mitchell Jessen and three affiliated businesses.
It’s not known how Mitchell Jessen established its business relationship with Matarazzo.
Mitchell and Jessen have refused interview requests but haven’t denied their company’s contract work for the CIA, which they likely would be prohibited from discussing. Through a spokeswoman, Mitchell, who now lives in Florida, and Jessen, who lives in Spokane, say they are proud of their work for the U.S. government and deny any connection to torture interrogations.
They formed their consulting business in 2005. Although they didn’t register their limited liability corporation as required with the Washington secretary of state’s office, they did file necessary documents with the state Department of Licensing and the Department of Revenue.
Those documents list the “governing people” of the company as Mitchell, Jessen, Matarazzo, David M. Ayres, Randall W. Spivey and Roger L. Aldrich. Spivey, who lives in Spokane, has declined comment on his work with Mitchell Jessen. Ayres, who lives in Alexandria, Va., and Aldrich, who lists a Spokane Valley address, couldn’t be reached for comment.
Matarazzo’s link to Mitchell Jessen will come as a surprise to his fellow APA members, said Olson, of the organization’s Divisions for Social Justice.
The University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Psychology has a scholarship named after Matarazzo, who attended Brown University before getting his master’s and doctoral degrees from Northwestern University.
Matarazzo was an assistant professor of medical psychology at Washington University in St. Louis and was a research associate in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School before moving to Oregon.
Olson said a recent Vanity Fair article portrayed Mitchell Jessen as amateurs lacking APA credentials, who weren’t perceived as scientists possessing data.
But the Vanity Fair report and other published accounts, Olson said, “suggest that SERE connections to interrogations were all about science, or at least some form of it.”
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