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.
- Complaint to the Ohio State Psychology Board (July 7, 2010)
- Verified Complaint for Writ of Mandamus (April 13, 2011)
- Petitioners’ Memorandum of Law in Support of the Verified Complaint (April 13, 2011)
- Respondent’s Motion to Dismiss Complaint in Mandamus (May 18. 2011)
- Memorandum Contra of Petitioners to Respondent’s Motion to Dismiss (July 21, 2011)