Torture and the New ‘Feminists’: APA Collusion with DoD

Note: While this entry focuses on the actions of Olivia Moorehead-Slaughter, PhD, her actions were not the most egregious of those taken. All of the people involved in yet another stain on American involvement in humanity ought to be held responsible for their actions. Each of the people involved in this betrayal of the public trust ought to have any licenses they may have revoked and be removed from their positions of power, with actionable legal and civil consequences for their roles in the transmission of torture.

Second Note: I use this term ‘new feminists’ not at all in a way to belittle feminism or the work of feminism–or to come down on feminism in any way. Rather, I use it as a way to point out how far Ms. Moorehead-Slaughter is in her actions from feminist values (or at least my understanding of feminist values)  as discussed later in this article when Moorehead-Slaughter calls for a reaffirmation of feminist values. (see follow-up post on my use of ‘new feminists’)

My membership dues for Division 35, the Society for Women in Psychology of the American Psychological Association are months behind. (I realize it may surprise you that I was a member of Division 35, but please, understand, they do not require you to be a member of the APA. Now, of course, and at the end of this blog I re-affirm, I have no intentions of paying dues as long as this situation persists.)

Nonetheless, as I was about to settle my bill, I received from the President-elect of Division 35, from Olivia Moorehead-Slaughter this mass-emailed letter, dated August 31, 2015, stating, “I remain committed to leading and do not intend to resign from my position as President-elect” (p. 1)

As I have, admittedly, not been following communications from the organization, I asked myself, what is this about?

What I found is something everyone ought to be paying attention to

Published on July 2, 2015, the “Report to the Special Committee of the Board of Directors of the American Psychological Association: Independent Review Relating to APA Ethics Guidelines, National Security Interrogations, and Torture” or the Hoffman Report[i] is something that everyone ought to read.

While Mad in America made a decision to not run this article, months ago, Art Levine asked MIA readers to consider, “What did the APA officials know about torture and when did they know it?” Psychologists involvement with torture through the CIA, DoD, and other government programs, and the appointment of David Hoffman as the independent reviewer commissioned by the APA to investigate charges of collusion was addressed by Levine [ii].

The Hoffman Report (2015) defines PENS as the “Presidential Task Force on Ethics and National Security” (p. 9). The charge of the PENS Task Force was to answer the question of “where to draw the line for psychologists between unethical and ethical interrogation practices” (p. 12).

Olivia Moorehead-Slaughter, “the Vice-Chair of the APA Ethics Committee” (p. 18), was “made the non-voting chair of the [PENS] task force by the selection committee, and she later went along with the direction that the military/DoD psychologists and Behnke pursued at the meeting” (p. 18).

The PENS Task Force was the major subject of investigation concerning the involvement of psychologists in the practice of torture via “enhanced interrogation techniques” in the Hoffman Report.

In her August 31, 2015 letter, Moorehead-Slaughter argued she felt “remorse” for her role in the PENS task force

The APA’s Ethics Director is who “crafted ethic guidelines that were high-level and non-specific so as to not restrict the flexibility of the DoD in this regard” (p. 12). The Hoffman Report stated:

“The task force finalized a report on June 26, 2005 containing 12 ethical guidelines that were adopted as official APA ethics policy by the APA Board on an emergency basis less than one week later.

“Our investigation determined that key APA officials, principally the APA Ethics Director joined and supported at times by other APA officials, colluded with important DoD officials to have APA issue loose, high-level ethical guidelines that did not constrain DoD in any greater fashion that existing DoD interrogation guidelines. We concluded that APA’s principal motive in doing so was to align APA and curry favor with DoD. There were two other important motives: to create a good public-relations response, and to keep the grown of psychology unrestrained in this area” (p. 9)

While the conclusions include that the reviewers “did not find evidence to support the conclusion that APA officials actually knew about the existence of an interrogation program using ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’” (p. 9), the Hoffman Report indicated that the reviewers:

“did find evidence that during the time that APA officials were colluding with DoD officials to create and maintain loose APA ethics policies that did not significantly constrain DoD, APA officials had strong reasons to suspect that abusive interrogations had occurred. In addition, APA officials intentionally and strategically avoided taking steps to learn information to confirm those suspicions. Thus, we conclude that in colluding with DoD officials, APA officials acted (i) to support the implementation by DoD of the interrogation techniques that DoD wanted to implement without substantial constraints from APA; and (ii) with knowledge that there likely had been abusive interrogation techniques used and that there remained a substantial risk, that without strict constraints, such abusive interrogation techniques would continue; and (iii) with substantial indifference to the actual facts regarding the potential for ongoing abusive interrogations techniques” (p. 9).

The Hoffman Report names the “key players” as the APA Ethics Director, Stephen Behnke and the DoD “official he partnered with was Morgan Banks, the chief of psychological operations for the U.S. Army Special Operations Command and the head of the Army SERE Training program at Ft. Bragg” (p. 12). Moorehead-Slaughter did not in all earnest behavior chair the committee, but instead, let the male military and APA leadership hoist her about in a puppet-show. The Hoffman Report is clear:

“An analysis of her [Mooerhead-Slaughter’s] emails on the listserv shows that virtually all of Moorehead-Slaughter’s postings were written by Behnke, which Moorehead-Slaughter and Behnke conceded to us” (p. 18).

Most egregious, perhaps, of these puppeteered communications that Moorehead-Slaughter allowed to be presented as her own work, was the construction of the “SLEE framework” or, “Safe, Legal, Ethical, and Effective”.

The Hoffman Report stated this was:

“touted by Banks as a safeguard that would somehow ensure the humane treatment of detainees. In reality, however, it was a malleable, high-level formula that easily allowed for subjective judgments to be made, including by people such as Banks who interpreted the formula to permit stress positions and sleep deprivation in some circumstances. The evidence shows that minutes before Behnke sent Moorehead-Slaughter a draft email from his computer laying out the argument for the SLEE framework (which she posted verbatim minutes later), Banks had made the final edits on a document on his computer highlighting some of the same arguments for the SLEE framework ( a document that was the likely shared with Behnke). And the SLEE framework became one key portion of the task force’s report” (p. 18).

The Hoffman Report repeatedly pointed to behavior exhibited by Moorehead-Slaughter that included her conceding to male-military and APA leadership.

The simple appointment of Moorehead-Slaughter as non-voting chair of the PENS Task Force is also disturbing.

The Hoffman report states that “In her interview with Sidley, Moorehead-Slaughter surmised that, despite her lack of national security experience, she was appointed as chair because of her ethics background (she was Vice-Chair and incoming Chair of the Ethics Committee during that time) and her facilitation skills” (p. 247). It was noted that Moorehead-Slaughter was not the only person who was put forward as potential chair, and that she was “well-respected and neutral” (p. 241) but also that “he recalled that her diversity was important to the selection group” (p. 241).

In Moorehead-Slaughter’s own letter of August 31, 2015 to the SWP membership, she acknowledged these realities and did not seem bothered by them and used her lack of knowledge about military matters as evidence for why she behaved the way she did.

One would think that regardless of her national security knowledge, as a person in a leadership role for the ethics committee of the APA, Moorehead-Slaughter would have known that simply sending communications written by someone else in one’s own name, when one does not have a solid understanding of what is being processed, in itself, is a violation of ethics.

Certainly, if it was a school assignment in any psychology program, and it was found that Moorehead-Slaughter had her assignments ghostwritten for her, she would have minimally been charged with plagiarism and removed from the program.

Some argue Moorehead-Slaughter was used. Perhaps that is so, and part of the larger problems of the designs of the unholy alliance amongst the military and psychology.

Nonetheless, Moorehead-Slaughter is a capable woman who knew, or ought to have known, what she was doing was wrong, and she both allowed her name and body to be used. She knowingly and willingly participated in those events. The Hoffman Report (2015) stated:

“In fact, Behnke drafted or outlined nearly every correspondence Moorehead-Slaughter sent over the PENS listserv, offered an outline of comments and analysis ahead of the PENS meetings, and provided her talking points after the report received criticism from inside and outside the task force. He also drafted or reviewed nearly every message Moorehead-Slaughter sent to Koocher, Anton, or Levant about the taks for outside of the listserv. Moorhead-Slaughter, in turn would dutifully send Behnke’s talking points or statements, with little, if any, of her own edits. . . Behnke’s staunch handling of Moorehead-Slaughter’s communications, coupled with Moorehead-Slaughter’s lack of experience in national security issues, signal that Moorehead-Slaughter was used primarily as Behnke’s agent during the PENS process.” (p. 248 – 249)

Meanwhile, on August 31, 2015, Olivia Moorehead-Slaughter does not retract her power. She states to Division 35 members that she will not resign and that instead, “This is the time to reaffirm our feminist values . . . “.

Reaffirm our feminist values? We ought to lay subject to men in power? We ought to be the voice of those who want loose standards for the use of torture? We ought to be a giver-goddess to the military’s desires to torture people in the name of “enhanced interrogation techniques” with hopes it will lead to the fulfillment of the APA’s desires for the favor of the DoD — including as laid out in the Hoffman Report (2015) — prescription-privileges (p. 14, 64, 68, 69) and advertising revenue (p. 524), and of course the use of psychologists rather than psychiatrists?

Moorehead-Slaughter wrote:

“I am now determined to be a stronger leader who has learned from this complicated time and I plan to use the lessons that I have learned for productive growth and healing” (p. 2).

I ask you, Olivia Moorehead-Slaughter, if you are such a fan of SLEE, why don’t you go take care of your growth and development somewhere else and leave the work for the Society for Psychology of Women to women who are willing to stand up to the power structure, not create avenues for it to grab more leverage and power.

The Problem Thickens

A video message [iii] from the current President of the Society for Psychology of Women, Dr. BraVada Garrett-Akinsanya’s describes the concern many members of the SWP have about Dr. Moorehead-Slaughter remaining as President-elect and an apparent poll that was taken during the APA convention, not to remove Moorehead-Slaughter, but to see the level of comfort people had with her pending leadership.  Apparently, I am not alone in my concern for Moorehead-Slaughter remaining President-elect of SWP.

Unfortunately, the only thing more disturbing than Moorehead-Slaughter’s continued reign as President-elect of SWP is the current president’s seemingly more concerned that the bylaws of the organization are being upheld to protect against potential lawsuits than ridding the SWP of leadership that hides behind the sentiment of unwitting involvement in promoting the torture of humans in the name of the SLEE framework which she absolutely knew that she did not write, was written for her to present, and which she did put her name on as its author.

Again, SWP is seeking forgiveness for “ourselves and each other”.

I am so sick of those in positions of power excusing the poor, unethical behavior of psychologists in power, sweeping it under the rug, and covering it up by diverting attention to other (albeit important) issues – – but issues that are not about the complicit involvement of psychologists in acts of torture.

You want to promote feminist practices?

You want to claim you are interested in social justice?

Stop seeking forgiveness and start holding people who gave the Department of Defense cover to inflict state-sanctioned torture upon human beings under the guise of the Safe, Legal, Ethical, and Effective—SLEE—framework.

Dr. Garrett-Akinsanya’, you asked, “What do we think about ourselves?”

Do you mean, what do we think about an organization who upholds and seemingly supports incoming leadership of a woman who was intimately involved in creating the framework that allowed for the torture of human beings? An organization who seemingly presents those dissenting voices calling for the removal of such a woman from leadership, “divergent opinions”

Divergent opinions in an individual is historically, by psychology, considered problematic and something that needs to be drugged, shocked, and locked away.

Forgive and Educate?

Webinars are being promoted by the SWP as the solution?

Come on, now. You move away from the point, and re-direct toward important issues, but not the issue that must be resolved here.

The stated concern for the legal protection of Division 35 of the APA as opposed to concern for our society and the irrevocable damage that Olivia Moorehead-Slaughter and her co-colluders caused is as problematic as any other aspect of this conversation.

Olivia Moorehead-Slaughter stated in her letter that she is “personally devastated that I unwittingly participated in a process that produced a report that from 2006 until its retraction in 2013 likely facilitated harmful treatment and even torture to detainees by the DoD . . .” (pp. 1-2) and quickly tried to diminish the impact she had in this horrifying American story. She suggested that the “report did not conclude that APA supports torture” (p. 2). Yet, collusion between the highest levels of the APA and the Department of Defense was clear.

Olivia Moorehead-Slaughter has zero right to be the President of the Society for Women in Psychology.

Olivia Moorehead-Slaughter has zero right to call herself an ethicist.

Olivia Moorehead-Slaughter’s membership in the larger society as a recognized psychologist ought to be stripped.

Olivia Moorehead-Slaughter ought to be held legally and civilly responsible for the fraud in which she perpetrated against the American public and the world.

I cannot fathom how this is the state of SWP – a division of the APA that once led the crusade, under Phylis Chesler’s 1969 leadership, for reparations to be paid to women for abuse that they were subjected to via psychiatry and for the use of women as “slave labor in mental asylums[iv]” (Chesler, 2004, p. xvi in Geller and Harris, 2004).

Perhaps the ultimate problem in this story is that Moorehead-Slaughter sees psychologists as good and part of the solution for our society. Her claim that she believed that the “presence of military psychologists would help PROTECT detainees” (p. 4), reflects a resounding lack of understanding of how psychologists are viewed by those who are involuntarily subjected to their presence.

It is my position that in the day-to-day administration of psychiatry, psychologists are routinely involved in torture. Certainly since the recent Special Rapporteur Reports (2013, 2008) on the Convention Against Torture, it has been sealed, that some of psychiatry’s practices may constitute torture or ill treatment, so to have had this perspective that psychologists would immediately equate to helping people, in 2015 reflects a lack of understanding about the experience of torture, in the first place.

Obviously, I will not be paying dues as long as Olivia Moorehead-Slaughter remains President-Elect of SWP.






[iv] Chesler, P. (1994). Introduction to Women of the Asylum: Voices from behind the walls, 1840 – 1945. In Geller, J. L. and Harris, M. (ed.), Women of the asylum: Voices from behind the walls, 1840 – 1945. New York, NY: Doubleday.

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