Thursday, August 6, 2009

When Healers Harm: Rights Groups Call for Canadian Investigation of Guantanamo Psychologist

Given the failure of the U.S. government to pursue legal accountability for acts of torture and abuse committed by military and other government personnel, including contractors, it has fallen to citizens to pursue by civil means a redress of these crimes. Psychologist Trudy Bond has been one of those brave individuals who has matched time and dedication with principles.

In April, 2007, Dr. Bond filed an ethics complaint with the American Psychological Association (APA) against psychologist John Leso, who had been implicated in the torture of Guantanamo prisoner 063, Mohammed al-Qahtani. She recently wrote an article for ACLU Blog of Rights that detailed her experiences with APA's delaying tactics in following up on her complaint, in effect, protecting Leso from examination of the charges.

A recent article on the 2001 referral to APA of ethics charges against former Navy Chief Forensic Psychologist Michael Gelles was recently published at Truthout. Both Gelles and Larry James (see below) were members of the APA's Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS) task force, which in 2005 ignored evidence of psychologist complicity in the torture then taking place at the behest of the Bush administration, and rubber-stamped participation of psychologists with the lie that such participation made things safer for prisoners, when in fact military and intelligence psychologists and contractors were deeply implicated in the torture itself.

On February 29, 2008, Bond filed a complaint against psychologist, Colonel Larry James, with the Louisiana State Board of Examiners of Psychologists for his part in the torture and abuse that occurred at Guantanamo during his tenure there.

Dr. James is a major figure at APA. As the information in the press release below explains, he is President of the APA's Division for Military Psychology. At the APA's 2007 convention, he made an impassioned speech against a resolution that would remove psychologists from Guantanamo and other sites where human rights were being abridged. He has been a major spokesman for the APA and military's position that psychologists should be part of national security interrogations. In that role, at Guantanamo, Dr. James was a senior leader of the Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCT).

James claims that he stopped the abuse at Guantanamo when he arrived in January 2003. But a recent release of documents, obtained by ACLU, show that torture and abuse continued at Guantanamo during and after the period James was there. For his part, James denies any involvement in torture or abuse.

The APA is about to open its yearly convention, held in Toronto, Ontario this year. Fights are certain to emerge over ongoing obstructionist behavior by the APA bureaucracy, which has held up action on implementing a member-passed referendum against psychologist participation in sites like Guantanamo, as well as delaying for the fourth year straight action on changing the language of a controversial section of its ethics code that well-known attorney and Harper's columnist Scott Horton called the Nuremberg Defense, after the Nazis' infamous apologia for their crimes, in that they were simply following orders.

I'll have more to say about the referendum and the ethics code in a future article. Of imminent importance is the call that has just gone out from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the Canadian Centre for International Justice (CCIJ) for the Canadian government to take advantage of the appearance of Col. James at the Toronto APA convention and investigate the military psychologist for his role in torture. Their press release, along with copious links to corroborative and supplementary material, follows:
Rights Groups Call on Canada to Investigate Guantanamo Psychologist for Possible Torture Complicity

Legal Battle Continues Against Louisiana Psychology Board for Refusing to Investigate Professional Misconduct Allegations Against Dr. Larry James


August 6, 2009, Ottawa and New York - Human rights organizations are calling on the Canadian government to investigate retired U.S. Army colonel and psychologist Dr. Larry C. James, a former high-ranking advisor on interrogations for the U.S. military in Guantanamo Bay. According to his own statements, Dr. James played an influential role in both the policy and day-to-day operations of interrogations and detention at the base. Publicly-available information suggests that while Dr. James was at Guantanamo in the spring of 2003, abuse in interrogations was widespread and cruel treatment was official policy.

Responding to reports that he would travel to Toronto this week, the Canadian Centre for International Justice (CCIJ) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) sent a joint letter yesterday to Canada’s Minister of Public Safety requesting an investigation into whether Dr. James had a role in war crimes or torture at Guantanamo Bay in 2003. Dr. James, who currently serves as the President of the American Psychological Association’s Division 19 for Military Psychology is expected to attend the APA’s Convention beginning today in Toronto.

Also today, a motion for appeal was filed in Louisiana, in the case Dr. Trudy Bond v. Louisiana State Board of Examiners of Psychologists (LSBEP). In compliance with her ethical obligation to report abuse by other psychologists, Dr. Bond, a Toledo-based psychologist, filed a complaint against Dr. James before the LSBEP, the agency that issued and now regulates his psychology license. Dr. Bond alleged that Dr. James breached professional ethics by violating psychologists’ duties to obtain informed consent, to protect confidential information and to do no harm. As Chief Psychologist of the Joint Intelligence Group and a senior member of the Behavioral Science Consultation Team (BSCT) at Guantanamo, Dr. James had access to the confidential medical records of people he was charged with exploiting for intelligence. Reports issued after his departure alleged that BSCTs used information from patients’ records to help identify physical and mental vulnerabilities of detainees for the purposes of interrogation. Dr. James denies that claim.

Following the LSBEP’s summary dismissal of the complaint without investigation, Dr. Bond filed suit against the LSBEP in Louisiana’s 19th Judicial District Court, which dismissed her case last month. Today’s motion signals Dr. Bond’s intention to continue her pursuit of accountability at the state appellate level.

Allegations of abuse during Dr. James’ January to May 2003 deployment include beatings, religious and sexual humiliation, rape threats and painful body positions. Canadian citizen Omar Khadr is one of the prisoners who has alleged brutal treatment in the spring of 2003 when he was only 16 years old.

Based on this information, the CCIJ and CCR called on the Canadian government to investigate whether action should be taken against Dr. James or other attendees of the APA Convention who may have been involved in abuse of detainees.

The organizations have appealed to Canadian officials because the United States government, despite the change in administration, has failed to take proper steps to investigate people in positions of military, intelligence and political leadership who may have been involved in crimes related to the torture and abuse of detainees.

Canada’s Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act gives the federal government power to prosecute war crimes regardless of where they were committed if the alleged perpetrator is later present in Canada. A similar provision of the Criminal Code applies to crimes of torture.

Said CCIJ Legal Coordinator Matt Eisenbrandt, “Any time there is credible information that someone on Canadian soil may have been involved in torture or war crimes, the Canadian government should investigate. The fact that a Canadian citizen says he was abused during the time Dr. James was at Guantanamo only makes the case stronger for the government to conduct a full inquiry into the evidence.”

Said CCR Fellow Deborah Popowski, “”The Louisiana Board should investigate Larry James to find out whether he hurt people using the license it issued him to heal. No one can afford to ignore evidence that a psychologist may have been complicit in torture. When politics trump the rule of law, everyone suffers: survivors of torture, the health profession, and all patients.”

James was also stationed in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison in 2004 and returned to Guantanamo in 2007.

For more information on the involvement of health professionals in torture and abuse visit the Center for Constitutional Rights website

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.

The Canadian Centre for International Justice/Centre Canadian pour la justice internationale ( is a charitable organization that works with survivors of genocide, torture and other atrocities to seek redress and bring perpetrators to justice.

Larry James once famously said that when it comes to his belief about how one operates in an intelligence setting, "... if I don't have a specific need to know about something, I don't want to know about it. I don't ask about it." Well, the people have a right to know about the torture and other crimes that have occurred by their government. And we will know, one way or the other, and thanks to individuals like Dr. Trudy Bond, and organizations like CCR, CCIJ, and ACLU, the torturers will be brought to justice.

Resources (courtesy of CCR):

The CCR/CCIJ letter to the Canadian Department of Public Safety

Cover letter of the CCR/CCIJ letter sent to James H. Bray, President of the American Psychological Association

Media backgrounder on Larry James and the Bond vs. Louisiana State Board of Examiners of Psychologists case

List of sources on Larry James, also available as a single PDF document

Court documents on Bond vs. Louisiana State Board of Examiners of Psychologists

Timeline of events: Bond vs. LSBEP

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