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As a conflict has arisen as to whether the nation should seek accountability for torture and other human rights abuses during the so-called “War on Terror,” the public and media have largely ignored the spectacle of those, like Richard Cheney and John Yoo, who are likely targets of human rights abuse investigations. Potential investigations are denounced as political attacks that will gravely damage the country’s security. The media have largely ignored the self-serving nature of these denunciations.
The latest human rights abuse target to join the anti-accountability chorus is former Guantanamo intelligence psychologist Col. Larry James (retired), about whom questions have been raised regarding unethical or even illegal participation in war crimes. In a press release from Wright State University, where he is now Dean of the School of Professional Psychology, James –– has come out against Attorney General Holder’s limited criminal investigation of CIA torture:
“To reopen cases that were adjudicated as legal may be harmful to the mission and morale of the intelligence community,” said Col. (Ret.) Larry James, now the Dean of the School of Professional Psychology at Wright State University. “That said, I agree with President Obama’s statement several months ago to ‘turn the page’ and move on with regard to the interrogation of detainees of the Global War on Terrorism.”
James said the outcome of appointing the special prosecutor could have negative repercussions on the intelligence-gathering function.
“Being an interrogator is a stressful, challenging and dangerous job,” he said. “If there is new evidence that suggests crimes have been committed, then it would make sense to move forward with an investigation. However, since at the time of the interrogations they were deemed legal and acceptable by that sitting administration, I do not believe the investigation is warranted or necessary. I advise the president to be supportive of our current mission and be very careful as he moves forward in this sensitive area.”
James has previously made clear his belief that intelligence professionals should close their eyes to possible abuses outside of their immediate sphere of action. Thus, when asked by an Associated Press reporter to comment on reports of a secret Camp 7 at Guantanamo, James replied:
“I learned a long, long time ago, if I’m going to be successful in the intel community, I’m meticulously _ in a very, very dedicated way _ going to stay in my lane…. So if I don’t have a specific need to know about something, I don’t want to know about it. I don’t ask about it.”
Like so many others arguing against torture investigations, James may have reason to desire a shut down of torture inquiries. Last month, the Canadian Centre for International Justice and the Center for Constitutional Rights appealed to the Canadian government for a criminal investigation of James for potential involvement in war crimes:
“Allegations of abuse during Dr. James’ January to May 2003 deployment include beatings, religious and sexual humiliation, rape threats and painful body positions. Canadian citizen Omar Khadr is one of the prisoners who has alleged brutal treatment in the spring of 2003 when he was only 16 years old.
“Based on this information, the CCIJ and CCR called on the Canadian government to investigate whether action should be taken against Dr. James or other attendees of the APA Convention who may have been involved in abuse of detainees.”
The two human rights organizations outlined the evidence justifying a criminal investigation in a background document they presented to the Canadian government. At that time, James was in Toronto for the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association [APA], where he became President of the APA Division of Military Psychology Among the serious concerns regarding James’s behavior warranting investigation are that he consulted to interrogators at Guantanamo while isolation was part of the standard operating procedure to make new detainees dependent on their interrogators.
James, however, has repeatedly claimed credit for ending all abuses at Guantanamo, and later, at Abu Ghraib. Thus, his sanitized memoir detailing these claims is entitled Fixing Hell. Similarly, James told a task force convened by the American Psychological Association in 2005 that he and other psychologists ended abuses at detention facilities:
“I am very proud of the fact, it was psychologists who fixed the problems and not caused it. This is a factual statement! the fact of the matter is that since Jan 2003, where ever we have had psychologists no abuses have been reported.” [Emphasis in original.]
James has an idiosyncratic definition of “abuse.” He claims at times never to have witnessed abuses at Guantanamo, where he was deployed as a member of the Chief Psychologist of the Joint Intelligence Group and BSCT #1 [Behavioral Science Consultation Team] in 2003 and 2007:
“When I walk through the camps, I can’t tell you that I have stumbled across a lot of things that are wrong. During my time here, I am proud to say that I have not seen a guard or interrogator abuse anyone in any shape or form,” said James. “These young men and women go out of their way well beyond the call of duty to make sure that detainees are treated safely and humanely at all times.”
James’s account, of course, differs from that of every independent source that has examined Guantanamo and found persistent abuses continuing up to the present. [Even in his own account of his deployment at Guantanamo in his self-justifying “memoir,” James reports witnessing several instances of abuse – abuses which, however, he apparently failed to report to his commanders.]
In his memoir James claims to have had special responsibility for juveniles detained at Guantanamo. Yet, during his deployment there, young Mohammed Jawad [evidently between 12 and 16 when incarcerated there] was subjected to the mandatory four weeks isolation upon his arrival in February 2003. Later that year Jawad was subjected to further isolation and other abuse on the recommendation of a BSCT psychologist; James declined to condemn this abuse to a Newsweek reporter, implying that there were extenuating circumstances. Later, in May 2004, Jawad was also subjected to extended sleep deprivation in the so-called “frequent flyer program” in which, in the words of his military JAG attorney:
“Mohammad Jawad’s arms and legs were … shackled in preparation for the first of 112 moves up and down the hall of L Block, every 3 hours for the next 14 days.”
Also while James was deployed at Guantanamo, adolescent Omar Khadr reported being used as a human mop “because he had urinated on himself during a bout of shackled isolation.” The claim was investigated by the military, which has refused to release any information regarding the investigation. Records released by the Canadian government show that Khadr, like Jawad, was subjected to the “frequent flyer” sleep deprivation program in 2004. Despite his professed concern for the decent treatment of juvenile detainees, other than his Newsweek comment, James nowhere describes his relationship to the Jawad or Khadr cases or comments on the documented abuse these young boys suffered at Guantanamo during and after his deployment.
Does James believe that no investigation of his actions at Guantanamo is warranted as his actions there “were deemed legal and acceptable by that sitting administration”? In other words, was he just following orders?
Due to the secrecy surrounding Guantanamo, we do not know James’s actual conduct at Guantanamo. With his call to stop investigations of detainee abuses, James seems to desire that we never know. If he is innocent of participation in abuses, only an investigation will clear his name. If, however, he did participate in abuses, no defense that “at the time of the interrogations they were deemed legal and acceptable by that sitting administration” should be allowed to obscure the truth, and no claims of damage to the morale of the intelligence community should be allowed to impede an investigation and appropriate criminal and/or professional penalties.
Only the full truth can allow the abused detainees, the nation, and the profession of psychology, to “turn the page and move on.” In the absence of the truth we will be forever looking over our shoulders, wondering just who did what and what did happen during this sorry chapter in our nation’s recent history.
STEPHEN SOLDZ is a psychoanalyst, psychologist, public health researcher, and faculty member at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. He edits the Psyche, Science, and Society blog. He is a founder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology, one of the organizations working to change American Psychological Association policy on participation in abusive interrogations. He is also a Steering Committee member of Psychologists for Social Responsibility [PsySR]. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org