A coalition of DePaul University students, faculty and alumni held a press conference on Thursday, October 1st, 2015 with academics Dr. Frank Summers and M. Cherif Bassiouni to demand removal of Gerald P. Koocher from his position of Dean of the College of Science and Health. Dr. Frank Summers and M. Cherif Bassiouni, spoke on the collusion between the American Psychological Association (APA) and the Department of Defense (DoD), and torture as an international crime.

M. Cherif Bassiouni explained why he was participating.

“Torture is an international crime and anyone who aids and abets the commission of torture is criminally responsible. More importantly, it violates the fundamental values of humanity. And it is incumbent on all of us that believe in these values to make sure that those who violate them do not escape accountability.”

The coalition, Vincentians Against Torture, spoke in front of about 25 supporters outside the DePaul University Student Center. Student groups including the Students for Justice in Palestine and MeChA de DePaul plus human rights groups such as World Can’t Wait, Voices for Creative Non-Violence, and the Uptown People’s Law Office were there in support.

Photo from DePaul Students Against Torture
Photo from DePaul Students Against Torture

The press conference was part of the Vincentians Against Torture campaign to have Dr. Koocher removed from his position as dean. Since the release of the Hoffman report detailing the APA and DoD collusion over “enhanced” interrogation tactics, over 600 DePaul students, alumni, and other supporters have signed a petition calling for the removal of Dr. Koocher as Dean of DePaul’s prestigious College of Science & Health.  Dr. Koocher’s name is mentioned over 200 times in the report. Dr. Koocher was President Elect of the APA and served as an enforcer for the joint PENS task force that created the “Report of the APA Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security” in 2008. It is reported he often used intimidation and belittlement to attack anyone who opposed said “guidelines” being put into place.

Speakers at the press conference included DePaul Emeritus Professor M. Cherif Bassiouni, who helped found the College of Law’s International Human Rights Law Institute; Northwestern Professor Frank Summers, past president of the Division of Psychoanalysis in the APA; and Candace Borman, a civil rights attorney who represents some of the detainees at Guantanamo.

Dr. Frank Summers was the first to speak and emphasized that the group was not asking for Dr. Koocher to be removed as dean because of  “a simple disagreement,” it is

“Because the man is guilty of egregious ethical violations….he was complicit in the collusion DePaul-Dean-Torture-Inline02between the APA and the DoD to make sure the ethical code of the APA fit with what the military wanted…Make no mistake about it, the purpose of all of it was so psychologists could continue in Guantanamo where they were participating and consulting on the torture of people who were brought there without charges and the protection of the rights we have in America.”

Dr. Summers went on to quote from an editorial by Dr. Summers while he was President of the APA denying there was any participation of psychologists in torture. “He vilified people like me at the time who were telling the truth.”

Senior Jack O’Brien and M. Cherif Bassiouni (Photo from DePaul Students Against Torture)
Senior Jack O’Brien and M. Cherif Bassiouni
(Photo from DePaul Students Against Torture)

DePaul Emeritus Professor M. Cherif Bassiouni described the legal issues involved with the case and stressed the responsibility of the university to take some kind of action.

“It is important to realize torture is an international crime and anyone who participates in torture aids and abets the commission of an international crime…The administration, military, and the CIA covered up these crimes [of torture in Guantanamo and elsewhere]. An academic institution like DePaul based on its Vincentian values cannot allow a member of its staff to be involved in such a situation. Therefore it is the responsibility of the university to hold a fact-finding commission, an inquiry…Obviously anyone brought up on charges is entitled to due process and a presumption of innocence. But the university has an obligation to inquire and can’t put it aside based only on his denials.”

It is not difficult to understand how a DePaul University staff member who has been accused in a report of colluding with the military to allow psychologists to consult on torture would be a violation of the university’s “Vincentian Values.”

“DePaul community is above all characterized by ennobling the God-given dignity of each person. This religious personalism is manifested by the members of the DePaul community in a sensitivity to and care for the needs of each other and of those served, with a special concern for the deprived members of society. DePaul University emphasizes the development of a full range of human capabilities and appreciation of higher education as a means to engage cultural, social, religious, and ethical values in service to others.”

Rather than responding to the possibility of a dean of the university to be involved in unethical and possibly criminal activity that in no way could be considered “showing a special concern for the deprived members of society,” the administration has thus far defended Dean Kirchner and refused to take any action. The DePaulia has reported that “the university has yet to comment on the formation of the coalition, it has in the past has supported Koocher’s version of events.” At a recent Student Government Association meeting, Vice President for Public Relations and Communications Cynthia Lawson likened it to a game of basketball or football arguing that Dean Koocher based his decisions on the information he had at the time and would have reacted differently with added information. Both Dr. Summers and the details of the Hoffman Report suggest that Dean Koocher was aware of the collusion with the military in supporting torture during his time as APA President.

During that same Student Government Association meeting, Cynthia Lawson also challenged the attendees whether they had read the report and its conclusions. One of the main conclusions of the Report was that

“The evidence establishes that the composition of the PENS Task Force, the key ethical statements in the task force report, and many related APA public statements and policy positions were the result of close and confidential collaboration with certain Defense Department officials before, during and after the task force met…Their joint objective was to, at a minimum, create APA ethics guidelines that went no farther than – and were in fact virtually identical to – the internal guidelines that were already in place at DoD or that the key DoD officials wanted to put in place. Thus their joint objective was to create APA ethics guidelines that placed no significant additional constraints on DoD interrogation practices (Hoffman Report, p. 10).”

The report continually discusses the “collusion” of APA executives like Dean Koocher with DoD officials to support  DoD guidelines on “interrogation techniques” that we now know permitted torture.

On page 12 of the Hoffman Report under “Key Players,” APA President Elect Gerald Koocher is clearly listed as a leading APA official “intimately involved in the coordinated effort to align APA actions with DoD preferences at the time.” In reviewing the APA executives’ response to the PENS Task Force, the Report states that

“What is also clear from the evidence that the decisions from the key APA officials about how to proceed regarding the PENS Task Force…were not based in any meaningful way on ethics analysis…To advance its PR strategy, the APA issued numerous misleading statements that hid its true motives, in an attempt to explain and justify its ethics policy and the PENS Task Force Report in positive terms (Hoffman Report, p. 15).”

This would be the type of information that was available “at the time” to then APA President Koocher. It is clear that he and other APA officials were involved in suppressing not only the true nature of the “collaboration” with the DoD contained in the PENS Task Force Report, but also of critics at the time who were questioning this collusion on ethical grounds. In a similar fashion, it would seem that the DePaul administration is also trying to ignore or downplay Dean Koocher being implicated in colluding with the DoD to support APA psychologist involvement in torture at Guantanamo and other locations.

Candace Borman, representing some of the detainees at Guantanamo, brought the press conference down to a personal level, i.e. how the actions of Dean Koocher and others like him have contributed to the torture of men at Guantanamo.

“Maybe we can start with an apology for my clients who have been tortured by the war criminals and by the psychologists and others who worked with the military….Men are still being tortured by being held in Guantanamo, but in a different way. Not by psychologists, but by being held for 13 years without any charges…Dr. Koocher apologize for your role in my clients’ plight.”

Sister Dorothy Pagosa from the 8th Day Center for Justice pointed behind her to the statue of Monsignor John Egan

“Who spoke to justice in the church and in the world. At the bottom of the statue it says, ‘What have you done for justice?’ DePaul University I would ask you the same…Psychiatry and Psychology is a noble profession. We need these professionals to help with people who have been traumatized by torture. What a horror that one of these professionals used his power to promote torture.”

Senior Jack O’Brien, president of DePaul’s honors society for psychology students, who originally started the online petition calling for Koocher’s removal, finished the press conference by discussing the next steps for the coalition. The group is planning on continued demonstrations, will be discussing writing a letter to the Board of Trustees, and continuing to add other student organizations to their supporters.