Dr. Trudy Bond et al v. Larry James (Ohio, 2010)
On July 7, 2010, the International Human Rights Clinic filed a complaint with the Ohio State Board of Psychology, calling for the investigation and sanction of Ohio-licensee Dr. Larry C. James, former senior psychologist of the intelligence command at the U.S. Naval Station in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Despite the prison’s record of torture during his tenure, Dr. James obtained an Ohio psychology license in 2008 and until recently held the influential post of Dean at Wright State University’s School of Professional Psychology in Dayton.
The Clinic, along with Toledo attorney Terry Lodge, filed the 50-page complaint on behalf of four Ohio residents, the Complainants—Michael Reese, a veteran, of Columbus and Cleveland; Trudy Bond, a psychologist, of Toledo; Colin Bossen, a minister, of Cleveland Heights; and Josephine Setzler, a retired professor and mental health advocate, of Fremont.
Dr. Larry James was the top interrogation psychologist in Guantánamo during one of the prison’s worst periods of abuse. The complaint alleges that, for several months in 2003, and from 2007 – 2008, Dr. James commanded the Guantánamo Behavioral Science Consultation Team (BSCT), a small but influential group of mental health professionals whose job it was to advise on and participate in the interrogations, and to help create an environment designed to break down prisoners. The system of interrogation and detention employed at Guantánamo was specifically designed to exploit prisoners’ psychological vulnerabilities, maximize their feelings of disorientation and helplessness, and put them in a position of absolute dependency upon their interrogators.
During Dr. James’s tenure at the prison, boys and men were threatened with rape and death for themselves and their family members; sexually, culturally, and religiously humiliated; forced naked; deprived of sleep; subjected to sensory deprivation, over-stimulation, and extreme isolation; short-shackled into stress positions for hours; and physically assaulted. The evidence indicates that abuse of this kind was systemic, that BSCT health professionals played an integral role in its planning and practice, and that Dr. James, in his position of authority, influenced the interrogations and detention conditions of all detainees held during the period of his tenure.
The complaint to the Ohio State Board of Psychology alleged 18 violations of Ohio statutes and Board licensure rules. It alleged that Dr. James, in his senior command position at Guantánamo and/or since his retirement:
- exploited detainees by participating in, ordering, supervising, ratifying and/or facilitating their abuse
- failed to prevent, stop, report and punish abuse, in violation of his obligation to protect the detainees from harm
- assumed conflicting roles of exploiter and protector in relation to all detainees, particularly three minors aged 12-14 years old
- intentionally and/or recklessly disclosed confidential and highly sensitive information about his clients
- misrepresented to the licensing board and public his conduct, experience, and the results of his psychological services
The complaint was supported by over one thousand pages of documentation, including reports, records, and hearings from the U.S. Military, Senate, Department of Justice, Central Intelligence Agency, as well as Dr. James’s own public admissions and survivors’ statements. Dr. Bryant Welch, attorney, expert in psychological ethics, and former president of the APA Practice Directorate submitted an official report to the Board stating: “If true, the allegations contained in this complaint 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.”
Many Ohio residents and groups also submitted letters to the Board, encouraging it to fully investigate Dr. James’s conduct, including veterans, psychologists, ethicists, and leaders of the faith community.
On January 28, 2011, more than seven months after receiving the complaint, the Ohio State Board of Psychology dismissed it without justification, stating only that it was “unable to proceed to formal action” on the matter. Prior to its dismissal, the Board refused Complainants’ multiple offers to answer questions of law or fact. It also refused Complainants’ offers to assist in finding witnesses to further corroborate the allegations.
On April 13, 2011, the Complainants filed a writ of mandamus in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, arguing that the Board failed in its duty to investigate serious and well-documented allegations of misconduct by a state licensee. The Complainants asked the Court to compel the Board to investigate the complaint or provide reasons for its seemingly arbitrary dismissal. The Board moved to dismiss the case. Complainants waited for a decision by the Court for almost a year and a half.
On June 26, 2013, the Court dismissed the case on procedural grounds, without reaching the merits. The Board’s actions follow the trend of other state licensing boards across the country that, to date, have failed to meaningfully investigate health professionals suspected of complicity in torture.
In July 2013, Dr. James stepped down from his post as Dean of Wright State’s School of Professional Psychology. He is now the university’s Associate Vice President for Military Affairs. He continues to hold a license to care for patients in Ohio.