DePaul committee aware of Dean Koocher’s ties to torture guidelines

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According to multiple sources, the university was aware of the conclusions of the Hoffman Report before hiring him in 2013. The report was an independent review of American Psychological Association ethics guidelines alleging that Koocher, as APA board member and eventually president, helped create a lax ethical policy on interrogations along with other top APA officials. (Photo courtesy of DEPAUL UNIVERSITY)

[dropcap]M[/dropcap]embers of a DePaul University search committee tasked with finding candidates for dean of the College of Science and Health were aware of and investigated questionable ethical behavior – including ignoring reports of torture committed by the U.S. – from now-College of Science and Health Dean Gerald Koocher before the university hired him in 2013.

According to multiple sources, a document that echoed many of the conclusions of the Hoffman Report was in the possession of at least one member of the university’s search committee in 2013 when Koocher was being considered for his current position.

In July 2015, the 543-page Hoffman Report, an independent review conducted by attorney David Hoffman of APA ethics guidelines, national security interrogations, and torture, concluded after a six-month investigation that the American Psychological Association (APA) colluded with the Department of Defense (DOD)  in creating lax ethical guidelines on interrogation methods used at Guantanamo Bay.

Koocher, as an APA board member and eventually president of the organization, played a role in crafting that policy as a liaison to the task force on Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS). In addition, he in his role as president practiced “deliberate avoidance” in his refusal to investigate claims of torture, Hoffman said.

The five-page document in possession of the university, authored by psychologists affiliated with the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology, reflected such charges and urged the university not to hire Koocher.

It went into detail about Koocher’s participation in the PENS task force, his alleged condemnation of critics within APA and a supposed personal attack against dissenting PENS committee member Jean Maria Arrigo.

The authors closed by saying, “Koocher’s consistent defense of psychologists playing an aggressive role in the war on terror; his abuse of the language of ethics to obscure rather than elucidate the ethical problems that such actions reflect; his working to distort the validity of claims that psychologists have played a nefarious role in the recent history of abuse; and, in particular, his snide and sometimes personal attacks against those who disagree with him all reveal a man who subordinates principle to political opinions and who creates an atmosphere that is antithetical to humanistic values.”

more2A university spokesperson would not confirm the search committee’s possession of and consideration of the document, saying, “The work of search committees is confidential.”

In a response to questions raised by the document, Koocher again denied condoning the use of torture in interrogation.

I have been in practice since 1973 and have never had an ethics complaint lodged against me in any venue,” Koocher said. “I have participated in the development of every revision of the APA ethics code since 1978 and am the author of the best-selling ethics textbook for psychologists. If someone wants to start alleging unethical behavior, they had best come up with something other than their personal opinion or extrapolation from the Hoffman Report.”

Koocher is featured prominently throughout the Hoffman report with his name popping up more than 200 times. As one of the board liaisons to the PENS task force, he played a role of keeping the committee on task, which Hoffman and others have said limited the scope of the task force.

“I had a strong task orientation and understood that the group had been funded and authorized for only a single in-person, three-day meeting,” Koocher said. “Apart from funding, I also understood that APA was not set up to conduct a wide ranging investigation and could not subpoena or likely gain access to classified materials needed to answer questions meaningfully.”

Despite acknowledging that he would have done some things differently if he could go back, Koocher criticized Hoffman for coming to “unfounded conclusions” and laid much of the blame at the feet of APA staff.

“I and other members of the Board felt truly stunned and betrayed by some of the new information we learned 11 years later,” he said.

Hoffman acknowledged that they found no evidence that Koocher or the APA knew directly about the enhanced interrogation practices that were taking place, though the report said they had a strong reason to suspect so. According to the APA, Koocher was not nor will be disciplined by the organization despite his prominence in the report.

Yet several members of the psychological community have criticized Koocher’s response, essentially saying that he was no innocent bystander when these issues were brought up.

“Koocher was the linchpin in the APA operation,” said Steven Miles, chair of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Minnesota.

“He wasn’t involved in the micromanagement,” Miles said. “He didn’t have to be because what he did was he devised a plan that simply said that the interrogational psychologist’s client is the defense department, not the prisoner’s well-being.”

[box]Read: Koocher’s response to the Hoffman Report[/box]

Koocher’s self-admitted role as an enforcer on the committee to keep it on task did not allow for dissenting opinions, Hoffman wrote.

“Koocher went far beyond what a task force liaison would do,” said Jean Maria Arrigo, a member of the PENS task force.

Arrigo was one of the few non-DoD officials on the committee as well as a dissenting voice. The Hoffman Report indicates, “at nearly every turn on the (email) listserv and during the PENS meetings, Koocher retorted many of Arrigo’s claims, requests, and observations.”

Dr. Koocher kind of appointed himself as the assessor of whatever came through on the listserv,” Arrigo said. “So he would say well this is good, this is bad and this is ridiculous.”

While being uncomfortable with the guidelines the task force had come up with, Arrigo said she  a few other colleagues went along with it under the impression that it was just an initial step in the process.

However, it ended up being the only step. Despite being sworn to secrecy, Arrigo finally spoke out about her issues with PENS task force a few years later at the  2007 APA conference and on the national television program Democracy Now!

When Koocher wrote a letter to the show refuting her claims, he attributed Arrigo’s positions to her troubled upbringing and apparent suicide of her father. However, Arrigo’s father was actually alive at the time. Hoffman concluded that the claims were “part of a highly personal attack on” her as well as “unfounded and unsupported.”

While Arrigo acknowledged the remarks, she did not want to dwell on them.

“Concerning Dr. Koocher, I don’t feel that should be the big issue here,” she said. “It needs to be looked at how a person in an institutional position who has used those institutional positions covertly in ways that do not serve that institution and its members.”

The university has come under criticism from some alumni and academics  for hiring Koocher given their awareness of such allegations prior to his hiring as well as the lack of action after the Hoffman Report’s release.

“I was disappointed that (DePaul) ignored that document and hired him,” said Bradley Olson, a psychology professor at National Louis University and a member of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology. “But now they’re going to have to deal with this.”

Last week, the university said, “while DePaul has no firsthand knowledge of the matter, Dr. Koocher’s published statements are thoughtful and worth reading in their entirety.”

This was not enough for some, however.

“The record is ample in the Hoffman Report. And for the school to say we don’t have firsthand information is an intellectually irresponsible position,” Miles said. “The information is available; the question is whether the school is going to avail itself to look at the information,” which “was obtained by a skilled prosecutor, and … compulsively compiled and compulsively footnoted.”

Some have said that Koocher’s status as a dean should be up for debate.

“There’s tenure, there’s all this other stuff, (but) the honor that can be withdrawn is deanship,” Miles said. “That doesn’t affect freedom of speech, that doesn’t require criminal proceedings.”

Olson concurred.

Around professorship, there’s a lot of freedom. But in terms of a dean, that’s up to the discretion of the university, so putting him back down to just professor instead of dean I think would be their best action,” Olson said.

In a statement, a university spokesperson said that “deans are formally reviewed for reappointment by their colleges and supervisor at the conclusion of their contracts, generally every five years.”

The spokesperson also added that “all DePaul employees, including deans, participate in an annual, individual performance appraisal, which, among many other measures, includes how each employee supports DePaul’s mission, vision and values.”