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.