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April 14, 2011

Accountability for Torture Begins at Home

Posted by Dr. Trudy Bond, Michael Reese, Rev. Colin Bossen, Dr. Josie Setzler

Last July, we four residents of Ohio—a psychologist, a veteran, a reverend, and a mental health advocate—filed a complaint with our state psychology board.  We were, and still are, deeply concerned about the behavior of a man named Larry James, an Army colonel who served as a senior interrogation psychologist at the military base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.  Dr. James has since retired and is currently Dean of Wright State University’s School of Professional Psychology in Dayton, right here in our home state of Ohio.

At Guantánamo, Dr. James supervised a group of mental health professionals whose job it was to calibrate the harm inflicted on people interrogated at the base.  It is our strong belief—based on his own statements, government reports, and the testimony of survivors and witnesses—that Dr. James advised on interrogations that included torture.  During his tenure, a Senate committee and other authorities reported that boys and men were threatened with rape and death; forced to strip naked; short-shackled into stress positions for hours; and physically assaulted.

Our complaint to the Ohio Psychology Board, which we filed with the help of Toledo attorney Terry Lodge and the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, was well-documented, to say the least.  It alleged that Dr. James violated 18 provisions in Ohio law and Board regulations.  It was 50 pages long and supported by over 1000 pages of documents.  We repeatedly offered to answer any questions the Board might have, or provide additional witnesses.  All such offers were refused or ignored.

More than six months later, the Board sent a cursory response, in which it said, simply:

It has been determined that we are unable to proceed to formal action in this matter.

Who made this determination?  Why is the Board “unable” to proceed?  Was there even an investigation, and if so, how does the Board justify refusing additional information?

The Board’s vague response suggests a belief that it can pick and choose which complaints to take seriously, and which it would rather not examine, without justifying its decisions.  As residents of Ohio who care deeply about the health and safety of our communities, we find this unacceptable.

The Board is charged with protecting the public from unethical behavior by mental health professionals.  According to state law, and its own rules, it has a duty to investigate credible allegations of professional misconduct. When the evidence indicates, as it does here, that a serious violation likely occurred, the Board has a duty to take formal disciplinary action.

Fairness, accountability, responsiveness and transparency are among the Board’s Core Values, as listed in its Mission Statement.  To remind the Board of these principles, we filed for a writ of mandamus in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, asking the Court to compel the Board to take action against Dr. James based on the overwhelming evidence we presented.  We feel a responsibility to our fellow Ohio residents to ensure that the unethical practice of psychology is, at the very least, investigated.  The Court should as well.

April 14, 2011

Ohio Residents Challenge Board’s Failure to Discipline Guantánamo Psychologist

Yesterday, Ohio residents asked a state court to compel the State Psychology Board of Ohio to take action against Dr. Larry James, a local psychology dean who oversaw abusive interrogations at the prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Working with Toledo civil rights attorney Terry Lodge, the International Human Rights Clinic filed a petition for a writ of mandamus in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, representing Dr. Trudy Bond, Michael Reese, Rev. Colin Bossen, and Dr. Josie Setzler.  Clinical Fellow Deborah Popowski and students Sara Zampierin, JD ’11, Deonna Gaskin, JD ’12, and Ben Hoffman, JD ’11, went to Columbus this week to file the petition, meet with clients and supporters, and talk to the press.

For more information:

April 13, 2011

Banning Cluster Munitions: Challenges to Implementing a New Disarmament Treaty

Check it out: a video of our recent panel on cluster munitions!

Here’s what we previously posted about the event:

In August 2010, the Convention on Cluster Munitions became the most significant disarmament treaty to enter into force in a decade.  The question now is: will the Convention achieve its goal of eliminating cluster munitions and the harm they cause to civilians?  This panel examined the major challenges the Convention faces, including attracting new states parties, promoting strong implementation and interpretation, and dealing with opposition from the United States and other key military powers.  The panel included four experts who have been actively engaged in the process to ban cluster munitions: Bonnie Docherty of the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School; Mark Hiznay of Human Rights Watch; Zach Hudson of the U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines; and Earl Turcotte, former Canadian diplomat and treaty negotiator.

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April 12, 2011

This Thursday: The Rights of Lawyers in China

Posted by Cara Solomon

Our friends over at the Harvard Human Rights Journal are holding their 10th annual symposium on Thursday.  It’s free!  And it looks super interesting…

“China: The Rights of Lawyers”

 April 14, 2011
11:30 am- 5:00 pm
Ropes Gray, Pound Hall

Over the course of the past few months, many prominent Chinese human rights lawyers have been imprisoned or simply disappeared.  This year’s Symposium examines their work, its impact on the human rights situation within China, and possible international responses to the crackdown.

In the first panel, academics, NGO directors, activists and practitioners will discuss the changing role of rights lawyers in the Chinese legal system, focusing on the work of some high-profile recently disappeared attorneys.  In the second panel, the discussion will turn to means of engagement by other governments, civil society, and overseas rights groups.

Continue Reading…

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April 8, 2011

Coming on Monday: Weapons Experts Discuss Cluster Munitions Ban

Event Notice

“Banning Cluster Munitions: Challenges to Implementing a New Disarmament Treaty”

 April 11, 2011
12:00- 1:15 pm
Pound Hall 201

Lunch will be served

In August 2010, the Convention on Cluster Munitions became the most significant disarmament treaty to enter into force in a decade.  The question now is: will the Convention achieve its goal of eliminating cluster munitions and the harm they cause to civilians?

This panel will examine the major challenges the Convention faces, including attracting new states parties, promoting strong implementation and interpretation, and dealing with opposition from the United States and other key
military powers.  The panel will include four experts who have been actively engaged in the process to ban cluster munitions: Bonnie Docherty of the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School; Mark Hiznay of Human Rights Watch; Zach Hudson of the U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines; and Earl Turcotte, former Canadian diplomat and treaty negotiator.

This event is being co-sponsored by the Harvard Immigrant and Refugee Clinic, the Harvard Law School Forum, the Harvard Human Rights Journal, Harvard International Affairs Council, Harvard National Security and Law Association and HLS Advocates for Human Rights.

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April 8, 2011

Pressure Mounts for Stronger Incendiary Weapons Treaty

Posted by Bonnie Docherty

The International Human Rights Clinic and Human Rights Watch (HRW) lobbied at a UN disarmament conference in Geneva last week for stronger international law on incendiary weapons.  The Clinic has previously presented the legal arguments for more robust protections; this time, we focused on the suffering these weapons cause to civilians.

Behind the scenes, diplomats at the meeting of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) responded positively to our paper and our presentation, and they were visibly moved by the photographs and testimony we provided.  The next step is to get their public support for the critical protections.

Continue Reading…

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April 7, 2011

Remembering Joelito Filártiga

Posted by Susan Farbstein

Joelito Filártiga

Last week marked the 35th anniversary of the murder of Joelito Filártiga.  In 1976, when he was 17 years old, Joelito was abducted and tortured to death by Americo Norberto Peña-Irala, an inspector-general in the Paraguayan police.  Joelito’s sister and father filed suit against Peña-Irala in New York under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS).

The Second Circuit’s 1980 decision in Filártiga v. Peña-Irala is often considered the Brown v. Board of international human rights litigation in U.S. courts—a landmark that laid the foundation for a line of cases allowing individuals to seek justice for international law violations including torture, extrajudicial killing, and crimes against humanity.  Peter Weiss, who served as co-counsel for the plaintiffs, recently wrote a nice article about the significance of decision.

More than three decades later, human rights attorneys continue to litigate cases using the principles and precedent of Filártiga.  As someone lucky enough to work on these sorts of suits, I’m constantly inspired and motivated by the strength and thoughtfulness of our clients.  It’s worth pausing to remember Joelito and to recognize the courage and persistence of his family, as well as the many other survivors who continue to seek justice and accountability.

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April 4, 2011

Oral Argument in Mamani Appeal Set for May 17

Posted by Susan Farbstein

On May 17, the Eleventh Circuit will hear arguments in Mamani v. Sanchez de Lozada and Sanchez Berzain.  The International Human Rights Clinic represents 10 Bolivian plaintiffs in this case against the former Bolivian president and defense minister for their roles in a 2003 massacre that included targeted killings of unarmed civilians.  Back in November 2009, the district court ruled in the plaintiffs’ favor on the motion to dismiss, allowing claims for extrajudicial killing and crimes against humanity to proceed against both defendants.

Three legal issues are presented by the appeal: (1) whether the defendants are entitled to immunity, despite an explicit waiver of immunity from the Bolivian government, which the U.S. government accepted, (2) whether the case presents a non-justiciable political question, and (3) whether the complaint, alleging intentional killings of peaceful civilians, states cognizable claims for extrajudicial killing and crimes against humanity under the Alien Tort Statute.

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April 1, 2011

April 8 Talk: On Gender and Religion in the Uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa

Event Notice

“Repression, Religion, Revolution, and Rights: Uprisings in the Middle East, North Africa, and Beyond”

 April 8, 2011
12:15 pm- 1:30 pm
Lewis 202

Please join us for a talk by Karima Bennoune, widely published author and Professor of Law at Rutgers University.  Prof. Bennoune recently returned from research trips to Egypt and Tunisia, as well as Algeria, where she served as an observer at pro-democracy protests, writing a series of articles about these events for the Guardian.

On Friday, she will discuss current human rights struggles in North Africa, especially as they affect regional women’s movements.  She will also explore the dynamics of local protest movements, the role of law reform in current transitions, and the difficulties involved in confronting the challenges to human rights posed by dictatorship and by fundamentalism.

Prof. Bennoune has served as a member of the executive council of the American Society of International Law and on the board of directors of Amnesty International USA.  Currently, she sits on the Council of the Network of Women Living Under Muslim Laws.

This event is being co-sponsored by HLS Advocates for Human Rights, the Women’s Law Association, the Middle Eastern Law Students Association and the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University.

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