Calls to Oust DePaul Dean Implicated in Torture Report

October 5, 2015

Some Chicago-area faculty members and students continued their efforts to get DePaul University to investigate the past of its dean of the College of Science and Health, based on allegations that he -- as past president of the American Psychological Association -- may have supported torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. More than 600 people have signed a petition calling for the ouster of Gerald Koocher as dean, and late last week, a group of activists held an on-campus news conference expressing their continued concerns.

“They had one goal in mind, and that was to make sure that psychologists could continue in Guantanamo,” Frank Summers, a professor of clinical psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University, said at the conference. M. Cherif Bassiouni, a professor emeritus of law at DePaul, urged the university to independently investigate whether Koocher violated its code of ethics, saying that “an academic institution like DePaul based on its Vincentian values cannot allow for a member of its faculty be involved in such situations.”

The allegations against Koocher come from a recent independent review by the APA, which found that the association seemed to want to please the Pentagon rather than stick up for ethical standards -- and that the activities of key leaders of the association buttressed the argument for using interrogation techniques many consider to be torture. The report mentions Koocher by name numerous times but does not conclude that he personally supported torture of detainees. It does, however, conclude that APA leaders had reason to suspect that it had occurred.

DePaul did not return requests for comment. In July, upon release of the report, Koocher and another past president of the APA wrote a lengthy public response denying participation in or support of torture. “We want to state clearly and unambiguously: we do not now and never have supported the use of cruel, degrading or inhumane treatment of prisoners or detainees,” they said. “We absolutely reject the notion that any ethical justification for torture exists, and confirm that any such behaviors never have been ethically acceptable. … We never colluded with government agencies or the military to craft APA policies in order to justify their goals or the illegal ‘enhanced interrogation’ practices promoted by the administration of President George W. Bush.”

The APA apologized for its actions upon the report’s release, and pledged a series of reforms.

This isn't the first time an academic psychologist’s career has been challenged by past involvement in detainee interrogation policies. Retired U.S. Army Col. Larry James’s 2013 bid to take a new administrative post at the University of Missouri at Columbia died after students protested his work at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and at Guantanamo. James, however, said he helped fix a broken a broken system -- much of which is recounted in his book, Fixing Hell: An Army Psychologist Confronts Abu Ghraib.

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