Oct 26, 2009
The Louisiana Board that licenses psychologists is facing a growing legal
fight over torture and medical care at the infamous Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib prisons.
In 2003, Louisiana psychologist and retired
colonel Larry James watched behind a one-way mirror in a U.S. prison camp while an
interrogator and three prison guards wrestled a screaming near-naked man on the
The prisoner had been forced into pink women's panties, lipstick and a wig;
the men then pinned the prisoner to the floor in an effort "to outfit him with
the matching pink nightgown." As he recounts in his memoir, Fixing
Hell, Dr. James initially chose not to respond. He "opened [his] thermos, poured a cup of
coffee, and watched the episode play out, hoping it would take a better turn
and not wanting to interfere without good reason..."
Although he claims to eventually find "good reason" to intervene, the Army
colonel never reported the incident or even so much as reprimanded men who had engaged in activities that constituted
Sadly, the story of Dr. James' complicity in prisoner abuse does not end
there. The New Orleans native and former
LSU psychology professor admits to overseeing the detention, interrogation and health
care of three boys, aged twelve to fourteen, who were disappeared to Guantanamo and held
without charge or access to counsel or their families. In Fixing Hell and elsewhere, Dr. James proudly proclaims that he was in a position of
authority at Guantanamo.
Government records indicate that, as the senior psychologist consulting on
interrogations, his decisions affected the policy and operations of
interrogations and detention on the base. During his time there, reports
of beatings, sexual abuse, religious humiliation and sleep deprivation during
interrogations were widespread, and draconian isolation was official
policy. Prisoners suffered, and some continue to suffer, devastating
physical and psychological harm.
Dr. Trudy Bond, a psychologist under an ethical obligation to report abuse
by other psychologists, filed a complaint against Dr. James before the
Louisiana State Board of Examiners of Psychologists in February 2008.
Dr. Bond's complaint says that Dr. James' conduct violated Louisiana laws governing his psychology
license. As a psychologist and military colonel, he had a duty to avoid
harm, to protect confidential information, and to obtain informed consent, as
well as to prevent and punish the misconduct of his subordinates.
How did the Louisiana licensing board respond? Rather than investigate, the Board dismissed the
complaint, and when asked again, reaffirmed its decision. Dr. Bond has
now taken the case to the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge.
Dr. James played an influential role in both the policy and day-to-day
operations of interrogations and detention in the notorious prison camps built
to hold men and boys captured during the U.S. "War on Terror."
According to his own statements, he was a senior member of interrogation
consulting teams that, as documented by government records, were central in
designing interrogation plans that exploited psychological and physical
weaknesses of individual detainees. In one example cited by the New York
Times, a military health professional told interrogators that "the detainee's
medical files showed he had a severe phobia of the dark and suggested ways in
which that could be manipulated to induce him to cooperate."
Had Dr. James chosen to cast himself as a brave, but ultimately ineffective
voice against torture, he may have fooled some people into believing him.
Instead, he's presented an utterly implausible portrait: one of a man "chosen"
by "the nation" to "fix the hell" of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, a feat he
claims to have accomplished so successfully that ever since he was first
deployed in January 2003, "where ever [sic] we have had psychologists no abuses
have been reported." This is patently untrue. The real "fact of the
matter," as documented by government records, reports from the International
Committee of the Red Cross and eyewitness accounts, is that serious abuses were
widespread both during Dr. James' tenure as senior psychologist for the Joint
Intelligence Group at Guantanamo, and after he left.
One would imagine that such disregard for a law designed to protect the
public welfare would greatly concern the body charged with its enforcement.
But the Louisiana State Board of Examiners of Psychologists, which issued James
his license, has refused to investigate whether he violated professional
The Board's conduct should alarm all Louisiana health professionals and their patients. The Board demeans the profession
when it fails to seriously address the possibility that a Louisiana licensee was involved in
torture. It also strips the Louisiana psychology license of meaning and value. How can patients rely on a
license issued and enforced by a body that arbitrarily refuses to look into
allegations of grave misconduct?
As the legal battle wears on, the people of Louisiana need to ask the Board's members
what "good reason" they await in order to act. They should demand that
the Board of Examiners conduct a thorough investigation of Larry James and, if
what he admits is true, revoke his privilege to practice.
We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.