Friday, July 9, 2010

IHR Clinic's Statement on Complaint Against Former Gitmo Psychologist

Ohio Board Urged to Investigate Former Guantánamo Psychologist Larry James

Ohio residents join others across the country in filing complaints against psychologists complicit in prisoner abuse

Cambridge, MA, July 8, 2010 - The International Human Rights Clinic of Harvard Law School's Human Rights Program filed a complaint with the Ohio Psychology Board yesterday, calling for an investigation into the conduct of Ohio-licensee Dr. Larry C. James, former Chief Psychologist of the intelligence command at the U.S. Naval Station in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Despite the prison's record of torture during his tenure, Dr. James obtained an Ohio psychology license in 2008 and currently holds the influential post of Dean at Wright State University's School of Professional Psychology in Dayton.

The Clinic, along with Toledo attorney Terry Lodge, filed the 50-page complaint on behalf of four Ohio residents-Michael Reese, a veteran, of Columbus and Cleveland; Trudy Bond, a psychologist, of Toledo; Colin Bossen, a minister, of Cleveland Heights; and Josephine Setzler, a retired professor and mental health advocate, of Fremont.

"We rely on psychologists to follow the ethics of their profession, and to do no harm," said Setzler, who became an advocate after her brother was diagnosed with mental illness. "If a psychologist uses his professional training to facilitate suffering, then should he really be licensed to treat patients in Ohio?"

The complaint follows a filing last month by the Roderick MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University School of Law against Texas psychologist James Mitchell, a CIA-contractor accused of torturing prisoners in the agency's secret prisons program. Also yesterday, the Center for Justice and Accountability filed a complaint in New York against psychologist John Leso, Dr. James's predecessor on the Guantánamo Behavioral Science Consultation Team (BSCT) known as "Biscuit."

According to the Ohio complaint, for several months in 2003, and from 2007-2008, Dr. James was the senior psychologist of the Guantánamo BSCT, a small but influential group of mental health professionals whose job it was to advise on and participate in the interrogations, and to help create an environment designed to break down prisoners.

During his tenure at the prison, boys and men were threatened with rape and death for themselves and their family members; sexually, culturally, and religiously humiliated; forced naked; deprived of sleep; subjected to sensory deprivation, over-stimulation, and extreme isolation; short-shackled into stress positions for hours; and physically assaulted. The evidence indicates that abuse of this kind was systemic, that BSCT health professionals played an integral role in its planning and practice, and that Dr. James, in his position of authority, at minimum knew or should have known it was being inflicted.

"We can't afford to have the Board turn a blind eye to these allegations," said Trudy Bond, a practicing psychologist in Ohio for the past 30 years. "The profession relies on the state board to safeguard the public's trust in psychologists."

The complaint details conflicts of interest that marred Dr. James's role as a psychologist, particularly in the case of three minors, aged 12-14 years old, whose treatment he supervised at Guantánamo. Dr. James oversaw their arbitrary detention and forcible transfer to an island thousands of miles away from their families. The complaint also alleges that he failed to fulfill his duty to report abuse, including abuse he personally witnessed.

"It is the day-to-day business of the board to investigate credible allegations against psychologists," said lawyer Deborah Popowski, Skirball Fellow at the International Human Rights Clinic. "We have faith the board will recognize its responsibility and fully investigate the claims in this complaint."

Much of today's complaint addresses information revealed in Dr. James's book, entitled Fixing Hell: An Army Psychologist Confronts Abu Ghraib, which he published a few weeks after applying for an Ohio license. In the book, Dr. James alleges that there have been no reports of abuse in Guantánamo since he first arrived in January 2003. The complaint documents, in detail, evidence to the contrary.
I covered some of this story in a longer article yesterday. You can find coverage of the IHR complaint against James in the Ohio local press, including the Dayton Daily News, and the Springfield News-Sun.

To view the complaint, click here (PDF). To learn more about the complainants, click here.

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