Why Wright State is wrong: the controversial appointment of Dr. Larry James by Bob Fitrakis

Dandelion Salad

by Bob Fitrakis
Crossposted with permission from The Free Press
October 14, 2009

Who is Dr. Larry James? A man who in his biography claims responsibility for “Fixing Hell.” Whose hell did he fix? Or did he look the other way while the Devil’s work was done?

Between 2003 and 2007, Army Colonel Larry James served as Chief Psychologist of the Joint Intelligence Group and a senior member of the Behavioral Science Consultation Team (BSCT). James’ job was advising on interrogation and “behavior management” for the men and kids at the Guantanamo Bay detention center. In 2004, he functioned as the director of the Behavioral Science Unit at the Abu Ghraib prison.

That’s right. His past includes both the notorious Gitmo and Abu Ghriab, the infamous torture site in Iraq.

Having retired from the U.S. Army, James is currently the Dean of the Professional Psychology Department at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. James is licensed to practice psychology in Louisiana, Ohio, and Guam. Human rights advocates argue that Wright State is absolutely wrong in appointing James as Dean because of his questionable past.

Public records indicate that while James served at Gitmo in the spring of 2003, “…abuse and interrogations was widespread and cruel treatment was official policy,” according to the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). The Center argued that James’ “conduct” at Gitmo should “warrant immediate investigation.”

“Detainee and government reports of abuse during the period of Dr. James’ first deployment include beatings, rape threats, religious and sexual humiliation and painful body positions,” the Center stated.

Under James’ tenure, Guantanamo developed and implemented the Camp Delta “Behavioral Management Plan.” The Plan called for treating new detainees in a way that would “enhance and exploit [their] disorientation and disorganization.” How was this accomplished? Prolonged periods of solitary confinement that are known to cause hallucinations, extreme anxiety, muscular atrophy, weight loss, and other physical conditions that may be irreversible, according to the Center.

While James has denied responsibility, his critics have charged that he used his access to confidential medical records of detainees to target their “physical and mental vulnerabilities.”

At the recent August American Psychological Association (APA) conference in Toronto, the Canadian Centre for International Justice (CCIJ) handed out fliers with the headline: “Department of Defense Ensures Psychologists’ Collusion in Torture.” Larry James was singled out as one of the psychologists in question.

Both the CCIJ and the CCR called upon the Minister of Public Safety in Canada, Peter Van Loan, to investigate James’ for possible war crimes. They included an 8-page Appendix extensively foot-noted including numerous references to admissions from James’ book, “Fixing Hell.”

The Appendix points out that while James frequently claimed he was reforming things, his actual accounts show he either turned a blind eye to torture, or may have facilitated it.

On page 50-51 of “Fixing Hell,” James writes the following:

“I saw Luther and three MPs wrestling with a detainee on the floor. It was an awful sight. I wanted to run back to my room and wash my eyes with bleach. The detainee was naked except for the pink panties I had seen hanging on the door earlier. He also had lipstick and a wig on. The four men were holding the prisoner down and trying to outfit him with the matching pink nightgown, but he was fighting hard. My first instinct was to rush in and start barking orders at the men, demanding they stop this ridiculous and abusive wrestling match. But I managed to quell that urge and wait.”

James admitted he went to have a cup of coffee and then intervened to urge the interrogators to build better relations with the man being tortured. James writes: “I never once said anything about the lingerie or interrogation. My purpose was to build a relationship with Luther, rather than to attack him as being wrong or as a human being.”

Hell hath been fixed.

When another prisoner was being abused by large MPs screaming in his face for three hours straight, James once again “fixed” hell by suggesting they might want to offer him a drink or a bathroom break.

While James was at Gitmo and Abu Ghraib, court records and affidavits indicate that prisoners were not only isolated, but their sleep cycles were deliberately disturbed, they were exposed to extremely hot and cold temperatures, forced to smell unpleasant odors and subject to “dietary manipulations.”

But what does that mean in practical terms? Allegations by one detainee claim that he went for 3-4 weeks without any solid food, living on Ensure and water. Reports by six other high-value detainees allege they were subject to the same liquid diets.

According to the Red Cross report, there was also the use of “prolonged diapering” to force the detainees to urinate and defecate on themselves. They were deprived of using a toilet. Six high-value detainees reported being repeatedly slammed against walls 20-30 times consecutively as an interrogation technique.

If James had the urge to go in and “bark orders” when confronting torture, he most likely had command authority over the torturers at Gitmo. Remember that the standard definition for torture is the deliberate infliction of physical or mental distress on detainees.

Under Canadian law, it is a war crime if any military personnel are found to be “committing outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment.”

Dr. Trudy Bond, a Toledo psychologist, filed an extensive complaint against James with the Louisiana State Board of Examiners of Psychologists (LSBEP). Bond’s complaint specifically charged that James violated his ethical duties as a licensed psychologist to keep his patients from harm, to protect confidential information, and to obtain their informed consent.

Bond filed her complaint on February 29, 2008. Within a month, the LSBEP chose not to investigate the matter. On June 19, 2008, Bond asked the Board to reconsider. In less than a week, the LSBEP reaffirmed their decision not to investigate.

Bond next turned to the courts, asking the 19th Judicial District Court for the Parish of East Baton Rouge to review the LSBEP’s decision on June 13, 2009. The Court ruled in favor of the Board. On August 6 of this year, Bond filed an appeal with the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeals.

Bond has taken similar action in Ohio as well as with the American Psychological Association. On July 8, 2008, she filed a formal complaint against James with the Ohio State Board of Psychology for, among other things, that James’ conduct is an ethical violation because it “…substantially harmed or is likely to substantially harm a person.”

In her complaint to the American Psychological Association (APA), Bond cited the Report from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) published after their visit to Guantanamo. The Report documented behavior commonly regarded as torture prior to Bush and Cheney. The rest of the world still defines torture in the traditional sense.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has demanded that medical professionals including James be a “specific focus” of an investigation assessing whether the interrogations violated legal or medical ethics. Steven Reisner of PHR said, “The conclusions that these interrogation techniques cause no lasting harm is the equivalent of psychological practice.”

In a report issued by PHR in 2009, they categorically concluded, that “Health professionals played central roles in developing, implementing, and providing justification for torture.”

While the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association have come out unequivocally against the interrogation techniques used at Gitmo and Abu Ghraib, the APA has waffled on the issue.

In 2005, the APA’s Board endorsed the role of psychologists involved in interrogations as consistent with APA ethics, if it was done for the purpose of making the interrogations “safe, legal and effective.” In 2008, the APA passed another resolution against its members being present in any facility where U.S. and international law was being violated unless they were working for the benefit of the detainees.

James is at the center of this ongoing debate, and now so is Wright State University.

Whether James is qualified to be licensed in Ohio or to be a Dean at Wright State is probably best decided after a careful reading of “Fixing Hell.” One of the most telling passages from the book reads as follows: “Sex was a complicated factor in much of our work at Abu Ghraib. I came to know several single women at Abu Ghraib who got pregnant, received adverse legal action, and were sent home. Private Jenni Nelson was a short, fat, seriously ugly young lady. She looked as though she was crying all the time. Nevertheless, she got a boyfriend, got pregnant, and was promptly sent home by her company commander. Did she do it on purpose to get out of Abu Ghraib? Probably. And I’m sure she wasn’t the first.”

One wonders why Wright State University would hire a man as their Professional Psychology Department Dean who has so little sensitivity to Private Nelson, as well as the prisoners he was charged to protect. The reality is Private Nelson took action to get out of Abu Ghrai, and not be charged with war crimes. James stayed and wrote a book insulting Nelson and covering-up crimes against humanity.

Was he fixing hell? Human rights advocates say he helped create it for his patients and they are doing everything to hold him accountable for his admitted actions. Bond is currently re-filing an ethics complaint against James in Ohio. There’s an ongoing campaign by the Center for Constitutional Rights called “When Healers Harm” demanding that we “hold health professionals accountable for torture.”

Bob Fitrakis is the Editor of the freepress.org and is the author of the forthcoming book, Cops, Coverups, and Corruption.

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