Blog: Larry James

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August 24, 2015

Beyond the APA: The Role of Psychology Boards and State Courts in Propping up Torture

Posted by Deborah Popowski

This post was originally published on Just Security

The image of torture in US popular culture is an intimate one: a government agent and a suspect in a dark cell, usually alone. But the reality of our state-sanctioned torture program is that it took a village, working in broad daylight, to pull it off.

This summer, all eyes are on the American Psychological Association, as they should be. An independent investigation commissioned by the APA found that the organization had, as David Luban describes here, engaged “in a decade of duplicity to permit its members to participate in abusive interrogations while seeming to forbid it.” The report, lead-authored by former prosecutor David Hoffman, tells a tale of wholesale corruption and cooptation. Among its explosive findings is that APA officials refused to act on ethics complaints against military and CIA psychologists so as to shield them from sanction.

But the APA was not the only institution asked to investigate these matters. State licensing boards in Ohio, New York, Texas, Louisiana, and Alabama also received credible, well-documented complaints against implicated psychologists, including many of the same subjects of the improperly dismissed APA complaints. As lawyer and advisor for Dr. Trudy Bond and other courageous complainants in many of these cases, I witnessed how the licensing boards, like the APA, stonewalled and refused to bring formal charges, offering opaque, implausible, or seemingly pretextual justifications for their decisions. 

According to the Hoffman report, ethics director Stephen Behnke told investigators that the duty to protect the public fell not on the APA, but on the state licensing boards. The truth is that the responsibility is shared — and so is their failure.

Licensing boards are legally mandated to protect people from the unsafe practice of psychology. This includes patients, all people with whom psychologists work, and the broader public. Yet, presented with evidence that their licensees had participated in or enabled torture, these state boards seemed to turn a blind eye. To truly understand how a profession dedicated to healing came to sanction brutality, we need a full investigation into how and why these boards dismissed misconduct complaints against psychologists James Mitchell, John Leso, Larry James, and Diane Zierhoffer. Did the state boards handle these complaints properly and in good faith, or did they, like the APA, strain their reading of the law to reach conclusions that would not restrict the government’s interrogation program — even if it included torture and cruelty? To what extent did they rely on compromised APA ethics policies and the now-discredited officials responsible for them?

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September 28, 2012

Psychologists Demand Accountability for Torture from APA Ethics Committee

Posted by Deborah Popowski

Last week, psychologist advocates Trudy Bond and Steven Reisner sent the open letter below to the American Psychological Association president.  The letter calls for a review of the organization’s failure to investigate allegations that APA psychologists, including current Wright State University School of Professional Psychology Dean Larry James, were implicated in torture and other forms of prisoner abuse.

Open Letter to

President Suzanne Bennett Johnson

American Psychological Association

A.P.A. has taken a very strong stance against the use of torture, inhumane, and degrading treatment, and if anyone is able to identify A.P.A. members who have been involved in such activities, we will take disciplinary action.

— Gerald Koocher, former APA President, speaking on Democracy Now! (June 16, 2006)

September 18, 2012

Dear Dr. Johnson:

We are two psychologists committed to making certain that psychologists implicated in torture and prisoner abuse are held accountable by oversight bodies for their egregious ethical violations. We believe the public trust and the reputation of our profession depend upon such accountability.

We are writing at this time regarding ethics complaints filed with the APA Ethics Office against three psychologists who remain APA members in good standing: Dr. Michael Gelles, Dr. Larry James and Dr. John Francis Leso. Based on undisputed facts, these cases cry out for investigation and appropriate censure. We would like to briefly review some of the evidence for these complaints and express our concern with regard to the status of each complaint.

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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.

Case History

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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.

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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:

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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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