The role of members of the American Psychological Association (APA) in facilitating, rationalizing and covering up torture committed by CIA and Department of Defense (DoD) personnel at Guantanamo was confirmed in detail three months ago with the release of the Hoffman Report that investigated long-standing allegations against the APA’s leadership. One name came up more than 200 times in that report: Dr. Gerald P. Koocher, Dean of the College of Science and Health at DePaul University, Chicago.
Photo, above, from Chicago Monitor, of Dean Koocher.
Steven H. Miles, Professor of Medicine at the University of Minnesota, author of “Oath Betrayed: America’s Torture Doctors,” and a leader in the fight within APA to prohibit members from participating in torture, described Koocher’s role as President of the APA from 2005-2007 in a comment to the school newspaper: “Dr. Koocher was central to the APA-DoD collusion. He proposed the APA Task Force and played a leadership role to ensure that its composition, thinking, conclusions and processes were dominated by DoD. He took aggressive and hostile positions to marginalize and disempower the non-DoD minority. He tried to prevent notes from being taken by this committee of a non-governmental professional society. He referred to the head of the American Psychiatric Association ‘an idiot full of sound and fury’ for saying psychiatrists should not be involved in interrogations. He repeatedly attacked international laws against torture calling them a ‘distraction’ to ethics guidance. He told the Task Force that he had ‘zero interest in entangling APA with the nebulous, toothless, contradictory, and obfuscatory treaties that comprise “international law.’” The aim of this APA-DoD collaboration was to accommodate and protect psychologists whose primary client became the interrogators–not the prisoners, 80% of whom were innocent or ignorant.”
Now DePaul is coming under increasing pressure, largely from its own students, to remove Koocher from his position. Jack O’Brien, a psychology student at DePaul, has started an online petition to demand Koocher be removed that has gathered almost 400 signatures in five days, and student reporter Brenden Moore has been digging into the story for the DePaulia, the campus newspaper. While the administration has publicly said only that Koocher’s response to the Hoffman Report was “thoughtful,” they have stood by him and even appointed him to an important academic search committee after the scandal broke. This elicited such an outcry from the faculty, however, that Koocher was forced to step down from that role. Dissent within the University has grown to the extent that Koocher was forced to hold a closed Q&A session for faculty only on Monday, Sept. 21.
Rumblings have been heard from other quarters, such as a tepid editorial in the Chicago Sun-Times that merely questioned Koocher’s response to the Hoffman Report. The Sun-Times also ran an opinion piece by the former director of Amnesty International’s Midwest Regional Office, who is also an alumna of DePaul, calling on the University to “hold Koocher accountable.” On Sept. 19, the Chicago Monitor published the first more substantial reporting on Koocher’s role in the APA and the growing opposition to his appointment.
It matters a great deal whether Koocher is allowed to retain his position of authority at a leading Catholic university. Like other leaders of the APA who colluded with the CIA and DoD in torturing innocent men at Guantanamo, he is claiming “not to have known” that torture was going on there, sounding remarkably like the “good Germans” who claimed not to have known what was being done to the Jews as they were rounded up. Americans are being trained to accept crimes such as torture, preemptive detention, and massive civilian deaths in wars and occupations, all in the name of “our safety,” as a letter to Revolution newspaper on the Hoffman Report pointed out. Silence in the face of such torturers in the academy is complicity, and it is extremely heartening and important that some students are refusing to go along. Almost certainly, many more voices and a much more determined outcry will be needed to remove Koocher, but the example set by a few can inspire the action of many.
Get in touch with the Chicago Chapter of World Can’t Wait: chicago at worldcantwait.net.