Blog: health professionals

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July 28, 2011

Ohioans Continue to Fight for Torture Accountability Close to Home

Posted by Deborah Popowski

If you remember, in April we asked an Ohio court to order that state’s psychology board to revisit the case against Dr. Larry James, the current dean of Wright State University’s professional psychology school in Dayton.  Before taking the helm at Wright State, Dr. James was a U.S. Army colonel and senior interrogation psychologist in Guantánamo.  During his tenure, government authorities reported that boys and men at the prison were threatened with rape and death; forced to strip naked; short-shackled into stress positions for hours; and physically assaulted.

Drawing largely on Dr. James’s own statements, government reports, and the testimony of survivors and witnesses, the International Human Rights Clinic filed a professional misconduct complaint against Dr. James with the Ohio State Psychology Board, on behalf of four Ohioans: Dr. Trudy Bond, Dr. Josie Setzler, Rev. Colin Bossen, and Michael Reese.  The ethics complaint included allegations that he had advised on interrogations that included torture.

This past January, after seven months of refusing all offers to provide additional information or address possible evidentiary or legal concerns, the Board dismissed the 50-page complaint with nary a reason given.

In April, the Clinic and Toledo attorney Terry Lodge filed a mandamus petition with the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas.  We specifically asked that the court compel the Board to conduct a meaningful investigation of the allegations in the complaint, and hold a hearing on the evidence.  At a minimum, we asked that the court demand from the Board a good faith explanation for the dismissal of the complaint.

In May, the Board moved to dismiss our mandamus petition, arguing that Dr. Bond, Dr. Setzler, Rev. Bossen and Mr. Reese had not suffered enough harm to bring this matter before the court.  They also argued that the Board has no legal obligation to take any action in response to the allegations against Dr. James, or even to give a reason for its dismissal.

Last Friday, we filed our opposition to that motion.  In our brief, we explained the many ways in which the original complainants—a psychologist, a veteran, a minister and a mental health advocate, all working in Ohio—had in fact been injured by the Board’s failure to treat their serious complaint seriously.  We also laid out how and why the Board did have a legal duty to respond.  To our delight, Dr. Bond promptly wrote back with a selection of her favorite passages from the brief.  For those of us who became human rights lawyers out of commitment to the issues (rather than an unconditional love of writing legal briefs), it is moments like these that make us love our job.  Thanks, Trudy!

Below is one of the paragraphs she found most important, along with one of ours:

“This case is ultimately about: whether the Board, an agency tasked with protecting the public from the unsafe practice of psychology can essentially ignore documented, credible allegations that one of its psychologists used his professional skills to torture and exploit people; whether it can refuse to bring charges against that psychologist, even when he has written a book in which he breaches confidentiality obligations to young patients and then admits to exploiting them; and whether it can do nothing while the psychologist, who has misrepresented his experience in Guantánamo, oversees the education of dozens of future psychologists in this state.”

***

“That the conduct at issue took place in Guantánamo surely makes its adjudication politically sensitive, but that in no way lessens the need for the Board to perform its duties.  Psychologists employed by the military are not exempt from the laws and rules governing psychologists in this state; on the contrary, the military expressly relies on state licensing boards to control the quality of their licensees’ services.  The Board has a clear legal duty to enforce its norms fairly, whether the psychologist is working in Guantánamo or an Ohio prison or an Ohio school.  Failure to do so in this case is an abdication of its duty to protect the public, and demeans the value of an Ohio psychology license and undermines professional standards in this state.”

For the full brief, click here.

For more on why the complainants care, click here.

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March 30, 2011

Today, March 31: A Talk on Professional Ethics and Human Rights

Event Notice

“Toward a Unified Theory of Professional Ethics and Human Rights”

 March 31, 2011
12:00 pm- 1:00 pm
Lewis 202

Please join us tomorrow for a talk by Jonathan Marks, human rights lawyer and fellow at the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University.

Marks, Associate Professor of Bioethics, Humanities and Law at Penn State University, has worked for years on the issue of complicity of professionals (in particular, doctors, psychologists and lawyers) in torture and detainee abuse in the war on terror.  In this talk, he will discuss his paper on the topic, the first to advance a general unified theory of professional ethics and human rights.

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March 25, 2011

Former GITMO Psychologist Claims to be Named to White House Task Force on “Enhancing the Psychological Well-Being of The Military Family”

Posted by Cara Solomon

UPDATED POST: See comment below.

Larry James, former Guantanamo psychologist and subject of a professional misconduct complaint filed by the International Human Rights Clinic, has claimed he was appointed to a White House Task Force on “Enhancing Psychological Well-Being of The Military Family.”

“That’s just a scary thought,” said Michael Reese, a former U.S. Army private, a member of Disabled American Veterans, and one of the Ohio residents who filed the complaint.  “I just don’t trust him.”

In an e-mail to colleagues and students of Wright State University, where Dr. James serves as Dean of the School of Professional Psychology, he announced “with great pride and pleasure” that he had been “appointed by the First Lady,” and that he would be attending the Task Force’s first meeting at the White House, to be hosted next Tuesday by Mrs. Obama and her staff.

In a Salon post today, Glenn Greenwald asks:

“Of all the psychologists to choose from, why would they possibly choose to honor and elevate the former chief psychologist of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib at the height of the Bush abuses?  More disturbing still, among those most damaged by detainee abuse are the service members forced to participate in it; why would the White House possibly want to put on a task force about the health of military families someone, such as Dr. James, who at the very least is directly associated with policies that so profoundly harmed numerous members of the military and their families?”

UPDATE (3/26/2011)

Today, Greenwald received an interesting response from the White House in which it disputes some—but not all—of Dr. James’s statements.  As a result of this response, we changed the language in the headline from “Named to White House Task Force” to “Claims to Be Named to White House Task Force,” and, in the text, changed the wording of the first paragraph from “reportedly appointed” to “claims he was appointed.”  We also included additional quotes from the e-mail circulated by Dr. James to the Wright State University School of Professional Psychology community.

In an update this afternoon, Greenwald wrote:

“In an email to me from the First Lady’s Communications Director, the White House claims:

Several members of the White House staff are convening a meeting with multiple mental health professionals on Tuesday to discuss issues pertaining to the wellness of military families.  SAMHSA and the American Psychological Association have both been asked to attend.  We understand that Dr. James is involved with these groups and may have been indirectly invited to attend this meeting.

She claims, however, that he now will not be at that meeting, and further states that ‘Dr. James has not been appointed to serve in any capacity with the White House.'”

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