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Refusal to investigate Guantanamo psychogist ethics complaint appealed

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Former Army Col. Larry James, now Dean of the School of Professional Psychology at Wright State University in Ohio, was Chief Psychologist with the Joint Intelligence Group and a member of the Behavioral Science Consultation Team [BSCT] at Guantanamo from January till May, 2003. Official documents and press and detainee accounts raise serious questions as to whether Dr. James aided, participated in, or looked away from the numerous human rights abuses occurring at Guantanamo during that time.

Psychologist Trudy Bond has filed ethics complaints against James with the American Psychological Association and the Louisiana Board of Psychology. Both have decline to investigate, as has every health professional association or state licensing board with whom complaints of Guantanamo or other detainee abuse have been raised or filed. The ethics officials of the health professions appear to be taking a "see no evil, hear no evil, investigate no evil" approach, making a mockery of the concept of professional ethics. While the American Psychological Association and other professional associations have issued pious statements against torture and detainee abuse, the clearly do not see pursuing accountability for those health professionals who aided Bush administration abuses as part of their responsibility.

In addition to these ethics complaints, the Center for Constitutional Rights [CCR] and the Canadian Centre for International Justice (CCIJ) filed a request for an investigation by the Canadian government of potential war crimes possibly committed by James during James' visit to Canada last August during the American Psychological Association convention. Unfortunately, the Canadian government also failed to investigate. Not surprisingly, after this request, Dr. James came out publicly against official investigations of war crimes.

Today the Center for Constitutional Rights announced an appeal of a Louisiana court refusal to order the LA Board to reconsider its peremptory rejection of Dr. Bond's complaints against James. CCR realizes, as James and the psychological "ethics experts" do not, that concerns about James' behavior will not go away until there is a thorough, credible, investigation of James' actions and of the actions of other health professionals potentially involved in torture and other detainee abuse. Psychologists and other health professionals simply cannot indefinitely "stay in their lane" and avert their eyes from potential major abuses committed by members of the professions.

Here is today's CCR press release:

Louisiana Court Battle Over Guantanamo Psychologist Continues Today

State Psychology Board Challenged over Refusal to Investigate Alleged Ethical Violations by Dr. Larry James

Contact: press@ccrjustice.org

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October 15, 2009, Baton Rouge and New York -- Today, attorneys filed an appeal before the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal, in the case Dr. Trudy Bond v. Louisiana State Board of Examiners of Psychologists. Toledo-based psychologist Dr. Trudy Bond is calling on the Louisiana State Board of Examiners to investigate Louisiana psychologist and retired U.S. Army colonel Dr. Larry C. James, a former high-ranking advisor on interrogations for the U.S. military in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.

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 prison camps. Publicly-available information shows that while Dr. James was at Guantanamo, abuse in interrogations was widespread, and cruel and inhuman treatment was official policy.

Allegations of abuse during Dr. James's January to May 2003 deployment include beatings, religious and sexual humiliation, rape threats and painful body positions. Canadian citizen Omar Khadr, who is still imprisoned in Guantanamo, is one of the prisoners who has alleged brutal treatment in the spring of 2003, when he was only 16 years old. James was also stationed in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison in 2004 and returned to Guantanamo in 2007. In 2008, he was named Dean of the School of Professional Psychology at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.

In compliance with her ethical obligation to report abuse by other psychologists, in February 2008 Dr. Bond filed a complaint against Dr. James before the Board, the agency that issued and now regulates his psychology license. Dr. Bond alleged that Dr. James breached professional ethics by violating psychologists' duties to do no harm, to protect confidential information and to obtain informed consent, and she called on the Board to investigate whether action should be taken against Dr. James.

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. According to former Guantanamo interrogators, BSCTs used information from patients' records to help interrogators increase the patients' psychological duress, including by exploiting their fears. The very purpose of these mental health professional teams, the interrogators said, was to help "break" the prisoners. Dr. James denies that claim, but an extensive government paper trail supports the interrogators' accounts.

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The Board summarily refused to investigate Dr. Bond's complaint, claiming that the statute of limitations had run, despite conclusive information to the contrary. Dr. Bond then filed suit against the Board in Louisiana's 19th Judicial District Court, which in July 2009 dismissed her case without looking at the merits. Today's brief before the First Circuit Court in Baton Rouge argues that the District Court should have reviewed the Board's clearly wrong legal decision.

Said Dr. Bond, "The five psychologists on the Louisiana Board were given plenty of credible evidence, but they chose not to investigate the head intelligence psychologist of prison camps notorious for their use of psychological torture. I don't think Louisiana lawmakers intended to give five fellow professionals total, unchecked power to make arbitrary decisions that deeply affect the public welfare."

Said CCR Cooperating Attorney Deborah Popowski, "The Louisiana Board is fighting awfully hard to turn a blind eye to serious allegations of abuse. We wish the Board would devote its resources to investigating unethical conduct instead. Everyone, including the people of Louisiana, would be better served."

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Stephen Soldz is psychoanalyst, psychologist, public health researcher, and faculty member at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. He is co-founder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology and is President of Psychologists for Social Responsibility. He was a psychological consultant on two of (more...)
 

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