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2015 AAAS Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award Goes to Social Psychologist Jean Maria Arrigo

Jean Maria Arrigo, who confronted systematic efforts by the American Psychological Association (APA) to allow and conceal the involvement of psychologists in the torture and abuse of detainees following the September 11 attacks, has been awarded the 2015 Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Arrigo, an independent social psychologist and oral historian focusing on ethics and national security issues, was honored by AAAS “for her courage and persistence in advocating for ethical behavior among her fellow psychologists, the importance of international human rights standards, and against torture.”

In 2005, APA convened the Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS) in response to press accounts disclosing the role psychologists played in coercive interrogations at U.S.-run detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay and in Iraq. Arrigo was named to the task force, which was to provide ethical guidelines for psychologists’ participation in national security detention and interrogation operations. Unlike Arrigo, most of her fellow task force members were representatives of the military and intelligence community.

Arrigo raised a range of concerns before and during the meeting. She called unsuccessfully for the task force’s mission to be broadened to encompass questions of whether APA should declare psychologist involvement in coercive interrogations incompatible with the profession’s ethical obligations. Arrigo also endorsed the minority view that the Geneva Convention’s human rights standards should govern APA’s position rather than the standards adopted by the Bush administration. Additionally, Arrigo voted against the majority’s decision that the task force deliberations should remain secret.

The PENS task force report, written by the chief ethics officer at APA, asserted that psychologists’ participation in national security interrogations served to keep these operations “safe, legal, ethical, and effective,” a claim drawn directly from Department of Defense instructions.

Jean Maria Arrigo
Jean Maria Arrigo, winner of the 2015 AAAS Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award | Photo Courtesy of Jean Maria Arrigo

Arrigo acquiesced to adoption of the task force’s pre-determined conclusions based on a promise that this was only a “first step” and that further ethical concerns would be addressed at subsequent meetings. When it became clear to her that this promise would not kept, Arrigo made public the entire PENS listserv correspondence, all drafts of the PENS report, and her personal notes. She joined the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology, which spearheaded an effort to repudiate and annul the flawed PENS report.

“Arrigo raised concerns and objections both during panel meetings and repeatedly thereafter, sounding the alarm over the panel’s close ties to the military and its failure to ensure psychologists wouldn’t be facilitating torture,” said Darshan Karwat, a AAAS Science and Technology Fellow at the U.S. Department of Energy, who nominated Arrigo for the award.

Through articles, interviews, and talks, Arrigo advocated against the APA’s policy and the legitimacy of the PENS task force. Arrigo and the coalition “have for the past decade overcome systematic silencing of their voices” by APA, Karwat said, despite personal attacks against her by some APA staff members and elected leaders.

In 2014, New York Times reporter James Risen’s Pay Any Price charged that the APA approved the role its members were playing in interrogation techniques that were widely believed to be torture. In response, APA initiated an independent review by law firm Sidley Austin that ultimately confirmed Arrigo’s longstanding suspicions. The subsequent report, known as the Hoffman Report after its lead investigator, found extensive collusion between APA and Department of Defense officials over several years, with some text of the PENS report copied directly from emails between APA’s ethics officer and DOD members of the task force. Relying in part on documents provided by Arrigo, the Hoffman Report concluded that the PENS report was tainted by significant conflicts of interest and was primarily a public relations effort to quiet the growing outrage among psychologists and the public over the profession’s reported involvement in abusive interrogations.

Under pressure from Arrigo and fellow dissidents, the APA rescinded the PENS report in 2013 and last year revised its ethics policy to prohibit the participation of psychologists in national security interrogations.

Arrigo’s actions “attest to her courage in continuing to stand up and speak out for the ethical behavior of members of her profession, the integrity of internal task force efforts, the importance of rigorous international standards in U.S. national security policy, and the immorality of torture, even in times of crisis,” the selection panel said.

Established in 1980 and approved by the AAAS Board of Directors, the AAAS Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award honors scientists, engineers, or their organizations for exemplary actions that foster scientific freedom and responsibility. Previous award winners have been recognized for outstanding efforts to protect the public’s health, safety, or welfare; to focus public attention on potential impacts of science and technology; to establish new precedents in carrying out social responsibilities; or to defend the professional freedom of scientists and engineers.

The AAAS Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award will be awarded during the 182nd AAAS Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., 11-15 February 2016. The AAAS Awards Ceremony and Reception will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, February 12, in Palladian Ballroom of the Omni Shoreham Hotel.