Skip to Main Content
Printer Friendly Home > Press > Press Releases

For Immediate Release

Physicians for Human Rights Calls for Pentagon Inspector General Inquiry into Alleged "No-Bid" Contract to Dr. Martin Seligman

American Psychological Association Must Finally Investigate Psychologist Involvement in "Enhanced" Interrogations

Cambridge, Mass - 10/14/2010

(Cambridge, MA) Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) called on the Department of Defense Inspector General to investigate revelations in Salon.com that Dr. Martin Seligman may have improperly received an over $30 million "no-bid” contract from the Pentagon.

Dr. Seligman is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a former president of the American Psychological Association (APA). Since 2008, there have been allegations that Dr. Seligman may have played a role in the reverse engineering of the military’s "survival, evasion, resistance, and escape” (SERE) tactics, which were the basis of the Bush-era torture program.

"These allegations demand an immediate investigation by the Pentagon’s Inspector General,” stated Frank Donaghue, the CEO of PHR. "After over five years of revelations, the American people still don’t know the whole story of how health professionals aided the use of torture. It is time for the nation to fully know what role Dr. Seligman and other psychologists may have had in this illegal and unethical program.”

Dr. Seligman is the second past president of the APA to be linked to the psychologists implicated in the abuse of detainees in US custody. In 2007, the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, WA, reported that Dr. Joseph P. Matarazzo, who was APA president in 1989, served on the board of Mitchell Jessen and Associates, the contract psychologists who allegedly tortured detainees for the CIA.

"The APA has failed in its responsibility to hold both its members and its leadership to the highest ethical standards,” said Donaghue. "Its soothing press releases and resolutions are no longer enough to address this scandal. The APA needs to authorize a transparent and independent inquiry to determine what role, if any, APA members and leaders had in the Bush-era ‘enhanced’ interrogation program. The credibility and integrity of the profession of psychology depends on it.”

Since 2005, Physicians for Human Rights and its partners have been campaigning for the APA to amend its 2002 version of its ethics code and to rescind the 2005 APA presidential task force report on Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS), which endorsed an unethical role for psychologists in interrogations. While the APA has made some reforms to its positions, PHR is continuing to call for a full investigation of how and why the APA took the positions it did on psychologists and interrogations.

"The evidence shows that psychologists were more than complicit in CIA and Pentagon abuse of detainees — they were central to the program,” said Nathaniel A. Raymond, director of PHR’s Campaign Against Torture. "Psychologists designed, supervised, researched, and legitimized the use of torture on prisoners in US custody. Without these health professionals, the systematic abuse of detainees could not have happened.”

That abuse allegedly included illegal human research and experimentation on such prisoners, as documented in PHR’s June 2010 report, Experiments in Torture: Human Subject Research and Evidence of Experimentation in the ‘Enhanced’ Interrogation Program, the first peer-reviewed analysis of such evidence. The research was apparently used to insulate interrogators from potential prosecution and to standardize the use of torture.

In response to the systematic infliction of psychological and physical torture by US forces, PHR's Campaign Against Torture seeks to restore the US commitment against torture, to ensure humane treatment of detainees, and to protect US health personnel from complicity in mistreatment and harm.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to stop mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

PHR News