Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Guantanamo Psychologist Led Rendition and Imprisonment of Afghan Boys, Complaint Charges

Four Ohio residents filed court papers last week seeking to compel the Ohio State Psychology Board to investigate Dr. Larry James, a retired Army colonel and former chief psychologist for the intelligence command at the Guantanamo Bay prison facility, who oversaw the brutal torture of detainees, including children.

The motion was filed by Harvard Law School's International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas on behalf of the four residents, which includes a psychologist, a veteran, a minister and a long-time mental health advocate.

Earlier this year, the psychology board had dismissed a complaint first filed by the same Ohio residents last July, stating, "It has been determined that we are unable to proceed to formal action in this matter."

The original complaint, filed with the Ohio Board of Psychology, was supported by over a thousand pages of documentation, including reports from the US military, the Department of Justice, the Central Intelligence Agency and statements from survivors and witnesses. But the board did not provide a rationale as to why it was unable to probe the allegations leveled against James.

James was head of the Behavioral Science Consultation Team (BSCT), which was made up of psychologists and other mental health professionals who assisted interrogators at the prison facility during the first half of 2003. From 2004 to 2006, he served as chief of psychology at the Abu Ghraib prison facility in Iraq, and in 2007 he returned to Guantanamo. He retired in 2008.

James is currently dean of the School of Professional Psychology at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. He was licensed to practice psychology in Ohio in 2008.

According to the complaint, during James' tenure at Guantanamo, "boys and men were systematically abused" and were subjected to "rape and death threats" and torture techniques such as "forced nudity; sleep deprivation; extreme isolation; short-shackling into stress positions; and physical assault."

Moreover, the complaint states that James supervised the forceful and arbitrary detention of three Afghan boys, "transported thousands of miles away from their families and denied them access to counsel."

James did not return an email request for comment.

In their verified complaint filed with the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, seeking a writ to compel the Ohio Board of Psychology "to proceed to 'formal action' against Dr. Larry C. James," the complainants quote an affidavit by former American Psychological Association (APA) Practice Directorate Chief, Dr. Bryant Welch, that the allegations in the complaint, "if true, represent the most serious ethical breaches I have seen in my thirty-five years as a psychologist. They also have the most far reaching implications for the profession of psychology of any ethical or licensing issue I have yet encountered."

IHRC's earlier complaint (PDF link) was damning.

He was accused of numerous instances of professional misconduct and violations of the law, including failure to protect his clients from harm, exploitation of those with whom he worked, failure to protect detainees' confidentiality and failure "to represent honestly his own conduct, experience and the results of his services."

Indeed, in "Fixing Hell," a book James published in 2008 about his experiences at Guantanamo and at the Abu Ghraib prison facility in Iraq, he claimed that he was "righting the wrongs" at both prisons and that there "have been no incidents of abuse at Guantanamo Bay by either an interrogator or psychologist reported since my arrival in Cuba in January 2003."

Ironically, in his book, James wrote of at least two incidents of such abuse during his 2003 tenure, which as the IHRC complaint explains, he failed to report to proper authorities.

A fair amount of James' narrative about his time at Guantanamo concerns his actions after his commander, Gen. Geoffrey Miller, put him in charge of three young teenage prisoners, all younger than age 16 and one perhaps as young as 12 years old, in February 2003. James was in charge of rendering the boys from Bagram, Afghanistan, where they were then held, arranging their Guantanamo housing and attending and supervising their interrogations. James wrote that the boys were "very traumatized" upon arrival at Guantanamo. While he presents his treatment of these children as a "case study" for his "softer" style of interrogation - "exactly the kind of prisoners I needed to test my philosophy on interrogation" - a closer, more nuanced look presents a very different picture.

"Teenage Terrorists"

The story of these young detainees had previously been documented in news reports and is also retold in the IHRC complaint, which redacts the boys' personal information, something James failed to do in his book.

While James doesn't mention the fact in his book, there were at least a dozen underage, minor children or teenagers held at Guantanamo. US authorities in Iraq and Afghanistan have allegedly held thousands of other juveniles. The IHRC complaint refers to torture and abuse suffered by two of the Guantanamo minors, Omar Khadr and Mohammed Jawad, during the period James was chief psychologist. These teens, as well as all the others but the three held at Camp Iguana, the special camp built to hold them at the Guantanamo base, were kept with the adult prisoners at Camp Delta and other sites at the prison.

According to James, when he arrived at Bagram to pick up his new prisoners, he found them looking "not only terrified but also disheveled and lost." Nevertheless, he believed them to be "far from innocent," "teenage terrorists." "These juveniles were not sweet kids," James wrote.

Yet, he also found that the trauma they endured was very real. James wrote that the boys were "victims of rape, illiterate, one certainly had PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder]"; they were, according to James, "the most fragile - psychologically, medically and academically - children I had ever met."

James glosses over in his book the circumstances of the 20-hour flight from Bagram that brought the children to Guantanamo. But news reports published after the children were released in January 2004 provides more detail about their time held by US forces in Afghanistan and their subsequent transport to Guantanamo.

In his book, James states that all three children "had been captured while fighting in a combatant role against US forces in Afghanistan." But James failed to provide any evidence to support such an assertion, which is contrary to reports the boys made themselves. According to a report published a Guardian UK article, two of the boys were caught while US forces were "looking for a local commander, Mansoor Rahman Saiful, who had fought against the Taliban for years, but joined the radical Islamists when America attacked Afghanistan."

Naqibullah, age 13, "a local imam's son, said he stumbled into the raid while cycling from a friend's house," and was interrogated daily about his knowledge of the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

"I told them, 'I don't know these people and I am too young to give anything to anyone without my father's authority.'" After two weeks, Naqibullah said, he was asked whether he had any objection to being taken to "another place."

"I said, 'What can I do? You will take me wherever you want to.'" That night, bound, blindfolded and fitted into orange overalls, he was loaded on to a cargo plane and flown non-stop to Cuba. Naqibullah's first 10 days in Guantanamo were the worst of his life, he said.

According to a March 2004 story by The New York Times, another child prisoner, Asadullah, age 12 or 13, believed to be the youngest of the prisoners, said he was interrogated daily for several months while held in Afghanistan. The beatings he endured in the first five days of his captivity still bothered him when he arrived in Guantanamo.

As with Naqibullah, the third child prisoner, Mohammed Ismail Agha, age 13, told a foreign journalist, as reported in The Washington Post in February 2004, that he had been arrested because a friend with whom he was looking for work was supposedly identified as a Taliban. He spent a month and a half at Bagram before being "warned that if he did not confess he would be sent to a terrible and distant place called Guantanamo."

Agha was subjected to sleep deprivation and stress positions during his time at Bagram in an effort to get him to make a confession.

"It was a very bad place. Whenever I started to fall asleep, they would kick on my door and yell at me to wake up," he said. "When they were trying to get me to confess, they made me stand partway, with my knees bent, for one or two hours. Sometimes I couldn't bear it any more and I fell down, but they made me stand that way some more."

Agha's story of his rendition is similar to that of Naqibullah. He was "put on a plane with other prisoners, chained by the wrists and ankles, with a hood placed over his head."

"It was hard to breathe," he said.

Supervising the transport back to Guantanamo on the large C-17 transport plane, complete with medical team, military police and Air Force Special Forces shooters, was Col. Larry James. The former chief psychologist never states whether he reported the treatment received by these child prisoners at Bagram to any authority.

"I Prayed to God, I Asked, 'Where Is My Son?'"

While James and the Guantanamo authorities apparently did try to make the boys' treatment much improved over that of prisoners in the rest of the camp, including at least eight or nine other teens held at roughly the same time, the young prisoners were not entirely grateful.

According to the Guardian report, "The boys played football every day and sometimes basketball and volleyball with their guards." But Asadullah told his interviewer, "I was very sad because I missed my family so much.... I was always asking, 'When can I go home? What day? What month?' They said, 'You'll go home soon,' but they never said when."

According to a February 2004 story in the UK Telegraph, Ismail Agha (who is reported as 15 in this article) said, "At first I was unhappy ... For two or three days [after I arrived in Cuba] I was confused but later the Americans were so nice to me. They gave me good food with fruit and water for ablutions and prayer."

No comments:

Search for Info/News on Torture

Google Custom Search
Add to Google ">View blog reactions

This site can contain copyrighted material, the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. I am making such material available in my effort to advance understanding of political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. I believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.