[Ppnews] When Gitmo and Abu Ghraib Come Home

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Oct 26 11:57:20 EDT 2009

October 26, 2009

Hell and Dr. James

When Gitmo and Abu Ghraib Come Home


The Louisiana Board that licenses psychologists 
is facing a growing legal fight over torture and 
medical care at the infamous Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib prisons.

In 2003, Louisiana psychologist and retired 
colonel Larry James watched behind a one-way 
mirror in a U.S. prison camp while an 
interrogator and three prison guards wrestled a 
screaming near-naked man on the floor.

The prisoner had been forced into pink women’s 
panties, lipstick and a wig; the men then pinned 
the prisoner to the floor in an effort “to outfit 
him with the matching pink nightgown.”  As he 
recounts in his memoir, 
Hell, Dr. James initially chose not to 
respond.  He “opened [his] thermos, poured a cup 
of coffee, and watched the episode play out, 
hoping it would take a better turn and not 
wanting to interfere without good reason

Although he claims to eventually find “good 
reason” to intervene, the Army colonel never 
reported the incident or even so much as 
reprimanded men who had engaged in activities that constituted war crimes.

Sadly, the story of Dr. James’ complicity in 
prisoner abuse does not end there.  The New 
Orleans native and former LSU psychology 
professor admits to overseeing the detention, 
interrogation and health care of three boys, aged 
twelve to fourteen, who were disappeared to 
Guantanamo and held without charge or access to 
counsel or their families. In Fixing Hell and 
elsewhere, Dr. James proudly proclaims that he 
was in a position of authority at Guantanamo.

Government records indicate that, as the senior 
psychologist consulting on interrogations, his 
decisions affected the policy and operations of 
interrogations and detention on the base.  During 
his time there, reports of beatings, sexual 
abuse, religious humiliation and sleep 
deprivation during interrogations were 
widespread, and draconian isolation was official 
policy.  Prisoners suffered, and some continue to 
suffer, devastating physical and psychological harm.

Dr. Trudy Bond, a psychologist under an ethical 
obligation to report abuse by other 
psychologists, filed a complaint against Dr. 
James before the Louisiana State Board of 
Examiners of Psychologists in February 2008.

Dr. Bond’s complaint says that Dr. James’ conduct 
violated Louisiana laws governing his psychology 
license.  As a psychologist and military colonel, 
he had a duty to avoid harm, to protect 
confidential information, and to obtain informed 
consent, as well as to prevent and punish the 
misconduct of his subordinates.

How did the Louisiana licensing board 
respond?  Rather than investigate, the Board 
dismissed the complaint, and when asked again, 
reaffirmed its decision.  Dr. Bond has now taken 
the case to the Louisiana First Circuit Court of 
Appeal in Baton Rouge.  Dr. James played an 
influential role in both the policy and 
day-to-day operations of interrogations and 
detention in the notorious prison camps built to 
hold men and boys captured during the U.S. “War on Terror.”

According to his own statements, he was a senior 
member of interrogation consulting teams that, as 
documented by government records, were central in 
designing interrogation plans that exploited 
psychological and physical weaknesses of 
individual detainees.  In one example cited by 
the New York Times, a military health 
professional told interrogators that “the 
detainee’s medical files showed he had a severe 
phobia of the dark and suggested ways in which 
that could be manipulated to induce him to cooperate.”

Had Dr. James chosen to cast himself as a brave, 
but ultimately ineffective voice against torture, 
he may have fooled some people into believing 
him. Instead, he’s presented an utterly 
implausible portrait: one of a man “chosen” by 
“the nation” to “fix the hell” of Guantanamo and 
Abu Ghraib, a feat he claims to have accomplished 
so successfully that ever since he was first 
deployed in January 2003, “where ever [sic] we 
have had psychologists no abuses have been reported.”

This is patently untrue.  The real “fact of the 
matter,” as documented by government records, 
reports from the International Committee of the 
Red Cross and eyewitness accounts, is that 
serious abuses were widespread both during Dr. 
James’ tenure as senior psychologist for the 
Joint Intelligence Group at Guantánamo, and after he left.

One would imagine that such disregard for a law 
designed to protect the public welfare would 
greatly concern the body charged with its 
enforcement. But the Louisiana State Board of 
Examiners of Psychologists, which issued James 
his license, has refused to investigate whether 
he violated professional misconduct law.

The Board’s conduct should alarm all Louisiana 
health professionals and their patients.  The 
Board demeans the profession when it fails to 
seriously address the possibility that a 
Louisiana licensee was involved in torture.  It 
also strips the Louisiana psychology license of meaning and value.

How can patients rely on a license issued and 
enforced by a body that arbitrarily refuses to 
look into allegations of grave misconduct?

As the legal battle wears on, the people of 
Louisiana need to ask the Board’s members what 
“good reason” they await in order to act. They 
should demand that the Board of Examiners conduct 
a thorough investigation of Larry James and, if 
what he admits is true, revoke his privilege to practice.

Bill Quigley is a Loyola Law professor working at 
the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Deborah Popowski is a Skirball Fellow at the 
Harvard Law School Human Rights Program. Both 
authors are involved with the campaign When 
Healers Harm: Hold Health Professionals 
Accountable for Torture, see 

Bill can be contacted at <mailto:quigley77 at gmail.com>quigley77 at gmail.com.

Deborah can be contacted at 
<mailto:dpopowski at law.harvard.edu>dpopowski at law.harvard.edu.

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