Fixing Hell and Curing Obesity

Colonel (Retired) Larry James, Chief Psychologist at Guatanamo Bay in 2003 and 2007, as well as Abu Ghraib in 2004, has a new vocation: Dean of the School of Professional Psychology at Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio. Seems that James perhaps realized that some academicians might find it difficult to understand how his experiences at these illegal detention facilities qualified him for an academic deanship: he did not include his time at Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib on the CV he presented to Wright State.

More true to fact is the bio that he presented in 2005 when James stated that he was assigned to Guantanamo Bay as Chief Psychologist for the Joint Intelligence Group in 2003 and Director, Behavioral Science Unit, Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center at Abu Ghraib in 2004. We’re talking Intelligence and Interrogation at two of the most notorious sites of abuse and torture that this country has perpetrated in this century.

Though he camouflaged his deployments at these sites on his most recent resume, conversely James has written an entire book about his time at Abu Ghraib: Fixing Hell: An Army Psychologist Confronts Abu Ghraib. Wright State beware: James’ grandiose claims border on the absurd.

According to the publisher’s promotion of Fixing Hell:

” . . . the U.S. Army dispatched Colonel Larry James to Abu Ghraib with an overwhelming assignment: to dissect this catastrophe, fix it, and prevent it from being repeated . . . Colonel James’s expertise made him the ONE INDIVIDUAL CAPABLE of taking on this enormous task . . . readers will see the tightrope military personnel must walk while fighting in the still new battlefield of the war on terror, the challenge of serving
as both a doctor/healer AND combatant soldier, and what can and must-be done to ensure that interrogations are safe, moral, and effective.” (emphasis added)

Never mind that Rumsfeld and the Pentagon wasn’t calling Abu Ghraib a “catastrophe” at the time James was dispatched (at least not publicly). To remind some readers, this is the same Colonel Larry James who was Chief Psychologist of the Guantanamo Joint Intelligence Group [JIG] at the time that the Camp Delta Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) manual was put into place. This secretly-released SOP at Guantanamo was written specifically for the Joint Intelligence Group of which James was Chief Psychologist. The SOP makes it clear that the Joint Intelligence Group was specifically the military unit that decided how long isolation was used on each detainee to “enhance and exploit the disorientation and disorganization felt by a newly arrived detainee in the interrogation process,” along with other means of torture, abuse and violation of international law, such as hiding detainees from the International Red Cross.

This is the same Colonel Larry James who had command responsibility for BSCT psychologists who were involved in SERE-based interrogation methods at Guantanamo during the period documented in a report from the Pentagon’s Office of Inspector General.

Superhero that he claims to be in Fixing Hell, James couldn’t write the book alone, even though his coauthor, Gregory A. Freeman, also seems to lack the credentials required of an academic researcher or historian (are you listening Wright State?), unless we’re talking historical fiction and homophobia.

Freeman’s most notorious writing was in 2003 when he wrote a piece for Rolling Stone with the indelible title of “Bug Chasers: the men who long to be HIV+.” Freeman was writing about gay men who found sex with HIV+ partners erotic, suggesting that the numbers of such men were about 10,000 per year. Freeman’s two experts immediately denounced the quotes Freeman attributed to them, and Freeman’s shoddy misinterpretation of the statistics from the Center for Disease Control (he had assumed that all HIV+ cases were the result of men having sex with men) resulted in a sensationalized scenario that Sean Hannity and others were only too happy to pass along as truth in the midst of trashing gays.

Andrew Sullivan said it best: “The entire lead of the piece is written in a prose style that reads like Jerry Falwell channeling Hunter S. Thompson . . .That’s why this piece isn’t journalism. it’s hysteria, wrapped in a homophobic and HIV-phobic wrapper.”

James’ co-author has also made a couple of attempts at military-related books, neither of which would lend credibility to James’ story of Abu-Ghraib. Freeman’s book, Sailors to the End: The deadly fire on the USS Forrestal and the Heroes Who Fought It, was reviewed in the Naval History Magazine from Annapolis in August, 2003:

The heroic survivors and lost souls deserve to have their story told in a detailed and accurate manner. Unfortunately, this account is a disjointed description of facts and interviews, insufficiently and incoherently tied together . . . The description of several actions frequently are either awkwardly stated or simply incorrect. It was equally disturbing to find a lack of editing for technical accuracy. This resulted in numerous errors throughout the book. . . . These and other gaffes show an obvious lack of familiarity with military terminology, equipment and procedures and calls into question the author’s credibility and ability to tell this epic story with historical accuracy. . . it would more accurately be characterized as ‘historical fiction’ rather than as an accurate documentation of the Forrestal fire.

And Freeman’s more recent attempt in 2007, The Forgotten 500: The Untold Story of the Men Who Risked All For The Greatest Rescue Mission of World War II. (The grandiose title of Freeman’s books begins to take on a familiar pattern: Sailors to the End . . . The Greatest Rescue Mission . . . Fixing hell.) Apart from minor details such as referring to the Yugoslav Air Force in WWI, when Yugoslavia didn’t even exist at that time (remniscent of McCain’s difficulties with Chekoslovakia), Freeman utterly misrepresents the roles of Tito’s Partisans and Mihailovic’s Chetniks in his depiction of that piece of history.

Why did Colonel Larry James choose Freeman as his coauthor to write about his time at Abu Ghraib? And why did Dr. Phillip Zimbardo of the Stanford Prison Experiment write the foreward to a book with Freeman as a coauthor?

But the presses are hot. Dr. Larry James has another book coming out the same month. (Could Wright State be any happier?) This book has nothing to do with Abu Ghraib. It’s about . . . obesity. How did James research and edit a book on obesity intervention while being the Chief Psychologist at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib? You decide.

For this book, which James co-edits with John Linton, James’ bio states that he is Chair of the Department of Psychology at Tripler Army Medical Center, Honolulu, while simultaneiously holding adjunct appointments at the (1) Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences School of Medicine, Bethesda, MD (2) Howard University Hospital, Washington, DC (3) University of West Florida, Pensacola, FA (4) American School of Professional Psychology, Hawaii (5) University of Hawaii, AND (6) Hawaii Pacific University. Busy man, this Dean of Psychology at Wright State University, wright next door to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. Once more, no mention of his time at Gitmo or Abu Ghraib in this bio, even if he was fixing hell in addition to all his faculty appointments.

There is one final tale of tragic irony. Colonel Larry James has been chosen by the American Psychological Association to receive the Booz Black Award to honor outstanding research and practice in Counseling Health Psychology at their annual convention next week, the same convention that was the stage in 2007 for Colonel James, straight from Guantanamo, to urge his fellow psychologists to continue to professionally support those locations where men, women and children are held illegally for years, kept in solitary confinement, lives ruined, tortured and killed. Perhaps APA is confused, thinking it’s giving James the Black Boots Award rather than the Booz Black.

Dr. TRUDY BOND has been a licensed psychologist for 28 years. She can be reached at