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Response to Colonel Larry James: Letter to the President of the American Psychological Association

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Colonel Larry James has written to President Sharon Brehm of the American Psychological Association, objecting to our characterization of him in our recent Open Letter to President Brehm regarding psychologists’ participation in interrogations in the wake of the declassification of the DoD Office of the Inspector General report detailing the central role of psychologists in designing the US torture regime. [See pdf: Larry James Letter to APA President Sharon Brehm.]

We have in turn replied to Colonel James [See, in pdf format: Reply to Colonel Larry James.] Here is the text of our reply:

June 21, 2007

Sharon Brehm, Ph.D.
President
American Psychological Association

Dear President Brehm:

We write to you as the principal authors of the June 6, 2007 Open Letter to President Sharon Brehm of the American Psychological Association, now signed by over 350 psychologists. Colonel Larry James has written a letter to you objecting to statements in the Open Letter.

To be clear, the Open Letter simply reproduces information that has long been on the public record. Principally, we drew upon the Pentagon’s Office of Inspector General [OIG] revelations that BSCT psychologists were involved in SERE-based interrogation methods at Guantánamo, and on other government documents, that Colonel James, reporting to Major General Geoffrey Miller, had command responsibility for the BSCTs during the period documented in the OIG’s report (Review of DoD-Directed Investigations of Detainee Abuse).

These facts, which Colonel James did not refute in his letter, raise serious and valid questions about the role of psychology and psychologists in abusive interrogations. (In this case, the application “abusive” to these interrogation tactics comes from the OIG report.) It would indeed be irresponsible for those of us in the APA to leave these and many other questions unanswered. As the open letter acknowledges, we do not know precisely what role(s) Colonel James or other military/intelligence psychologists played in the abusive interrogation regime documented by numerous sources over the past half decade, and which, we cannot emphasize enough, have now been definitively confirmed by the Department of Defense’s own Inspector General based on years of internal Pentagon investigations.

The facts in the public record speak for themselves, highlighting the continued need for an independent inquiry by Congress and the APA itself.

In that letter we stated:

“Colonel Larry James, a second PENS member, “was the Chief Psychologist for the Joint Intelligence Group at GTMO, Cuba” (PENS Task Force member biographies) starting in January 2003. Col. Larry James has often been cited by Gerald Koocher, Stephen Behnke, and others, as the one who ‘cleaned up’ Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib. The OIG report, however, makes it clear that Guantánamo BSCTs played an essential role in transforming SERE techniques into standard operating interrogation procedure; that the Commander of Guantánamo detainee operations requested official approval for the use of these torture techniques in October, 2002; and that permission was granted by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld in December 2002. Additionally, as stated in his PENS biography, in 2003 James “was the Chief Psychologist for the Joint Intelligence Group at GTMO, Cuba.” In 2004, James was Director, Behavioral Science Unit, Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center at Abu Ghraib. It should be noted that that in 2004, according to many sources, Gen. Geoffrey Miller, Guantánamo Commander, too, went from Guantánamo to Iraq, and brought the SERE techniques with him. James was the commander of the BSCTs at the time the FBI and other law enforcement agents were reporting that severe abuses were occurring at Guantánamo. The FBI and other Criminal Investigative Task Force agents reporting these abuses referred to them as “SERE” and “counter-resistance” tactics in documents obtained by the ACLU under the Freedom of Information Act.”

In his reply, Colonel James states that he was always opposed to torture. He asserts:

“I strongly object to, have never used, and will never use torture, cruel, or abusive treatment or punishment of any kind, for any reason, in any setting.”

He further states:

“I do not use nor have I ever used ‘SERE’ techniques in any aspect of my work related to interrogations. Dr. Morgan Banks has emphasized repeatedly that in addition to being unethical, using a ‘SERE’ approach in an interrogation would be counterproductive to obtaining useful information. I strongly suspect that using a ‘SERE’ approach to an interrogation would yield data worthless for investigative and destructive for adjudicatory purposes.”

The OIG report, which should be read by all psychologists, documents in detail the central role of SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) techniques in the development of interrogation doctrine at Guantanamo:

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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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