Blog: Wright State University

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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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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.

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