Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Martin Seligman and CIA torture

"No, I actually don't know where the bodies are buried."

Despite the recent hatchet job in the NY Review of Books, I'd say that the APA's Hoffman report generally clears Martin Seligman, with regard to involvement in U.S. government torture programs.
"APA’s critics have hypothesized that Seligman took a far more active role in supporting the CIA’s interrogation program than the relatively tangential interactions described above.They point to the December 2001 meeting at Seligman’s home and an email from Hubbard in March 2004 expressing gratitude for Seligman’s help “over the past four years” as evidence that Seligman was an active participant in supporting the CIA’s interrogation program. Seligman and Hubbard had similar, though not identical, explanations for Hubbard’s comment. Seligman explained that he had previously asked Hubbard about the email and that Hubbard had explained that he was referring to the pro bono lecture Seligman had given to the Navy SERE school in May 2002. Hubbard said that he was “basically” thanking Seligman for hosting the meetings in his home in 2001. Thus, both Hubbard and Seligman explained that Hubbard was thanking Seligman only for his involvement in the meetings that have become public knowledge.  
Critics also allege that the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center, founded by Seligman, received a $31 million sole source contract from DoD in 2010 because of assistance Seligman provided to the government with its counter-terrorism efforts. Seligman said that this contract was awarded because there were no competing entities who had the same experience in training and research on the topic of positive psychology, and there was an urgent need for a program in positive psychology to help returning troops. Seligman clarified that during negotiations on this contract, there was never any mention that the contract related to past work he might have done for DoD or other intelligence  agencies.
Sidley [the independent reviewer responsible for this report] has not uncovered evidence that Seligman had interactions with the CIA beyond the isolated meetings and lectures in the year after 9/11 that are a matter of public record. It is possible that more interactions occurred, particularly given Hubbard’s comment that Seligman had provided assistance over the course of four years, but no evidence suggests that interrogations were ever directly discussed at these meetings, despite the fact that the scientific theories that Mitchell and Jessen later adapted to construct the CIA’s interrogation program clearly were. On balance, it seems difficult to believe that Seligman did not at least suspect that the CIA was interested in his theories, at least in part, to consider how they could be used in interrogations. However, we found no evidence to support the critics’ theory that Seligman was deeply involved in constructing or consulting on the CIA’s interrogation program, and no evidence that such consultation would have involved APA officials even if it had occurred."

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