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Mar 27 2011

Obama To Appoint a Bush Guantanamo Psychologist?

(2 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

While this may not be the most important commission in the Obama administration but the significance of appointing one of the former military psychologists who had questionable involvement in the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, leaves one wonder, just what is Barack Obama thinking. Concerned about “psychological well-being” of the American military family with high PTSD rates, an increase in suicides and abuse cases as they struggle to survive multiple deployment and financial strains, Obama’s response was the typical politician’s, create a commission, “Enhancing the Psychological Well-Being of The Military Family.” and have the First Lady involved. Of all the qualified psychologists, both inside and outside the government and military, who does Obama choose? Col. (ret.) Larry C. James, PhD., who was in the Chief Psychologist at Guantanamo in 2003, at the height of the abuses at that camp, and then served in the same position at Abu Ghraib during 2004. In e-mails circulated by James, he states that he has been selected to serve on the commission and will be meeting at the White House with Michelle Obama and other White House officials.

Here’s a some background into the controversy that surrounds James. From Glenn Greenwald in his article at Salon:

For his work at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, Dr. James was the subject of two formal ethics complaints in the two states where he is licensed to practice: Louisiana and Ohio.  Those complaints (pdf) — 50 pages long and full of detailed and well-documented allegations — were filed by the International Human Rights Clinic of Harvard Law School’s Human Rights Program, on behalf of veterans, mental health professionals and others.  The complaints detailed how James “was the senior psychologist of the Guantánamo BSCT, a small but influential group of mental health professionals whose job it was to advise on and participate in the interrogations, and to help create an environment designed to break down prisoners.”  Specifically:

   During his tenure at the prison, boys and men were threatened with rape and death for themselves and their family members; sexually, culturally, and religiously humiliated; forced naked; deprived of sleep; subjected to sensory deprivation, over-stimulation, and extreme isolation; short-shackled into stress positions for hours; and physically assaulted. The evidence indicates that abuse of this kind was systemic, that BSCT health professionals played an integral role in its planning and practice. . . .

Writing in 2009, Law Professor Bill Quigley and Deborah Popowski, a Fellow at the Harvard Law School Human Rights Program, described James’ role in this particularly notorious incident:

   In 2003, Louisiana psychologist and retired Col. Larry James watched behind a one-way mirror in a US prison camp while an interrogator and three prison guards wrestled a screaming, near-naked man on the floor.

   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 war crimes.

James treated numerous detainees who were abused, degraded, and tortured, yet never took any steps to stop or even report these incidents.

Dr. Stephen Reisner who filed one of the complaints, spoke out at  Democracy Now! during an interview in July of 2010:

Major John Leso and Colonel Larry James, were in charge of the Behavioral Science Consultation Teams, the advisers on interrogations and on the enhanced techniques at Guantánamo.

snip

And Larry James was the chief BSCT starting in January 2003. And when you read the standard operating procedures for mental health, for how to-behavior protocols for detainees during the time that Larry James was the chief psychologist, you find institutionalized abuse and torture-isolation for thirty days at a time with absolutely no contact, prohibition of the International Committee of the Red Cross to see these detainees, no access even to religious articles, to the Qur’an, unless they cooperate with interrogations, not to mention frequent interrogation.

A writer, earlofhuntingdon, in his entry at MyFDL, comments that Obama’s choice is “Orwellian” and “another example of Mr. Obama doubling down on CheneyBush’s GWOT”, in light of the latest revelations about the newest Miranda Memo from Obama’s DOJ.

The other problem, as earlofhuntingdon points out, is how James justifies his actions or lack thereof:

According to complaints filed with his licensing authorities in Louisiana and Ohio (both of which determined they could not act on them), this is what happened at Gitmo and Abu Ghraib during Dr. James’ tenure:

   During his tenure at the prison, boys and men were threatened with rape and death for themselves and their family members; sexually, culturally, and religiously humiliated; forced naked; deprived of sleep; subjected to sensory deprivation, over-stimulation, and extreme isolation; short-shackled into stress positions for hours; and physically assaulted. The evidence indicates that abuse of this kind was systemic, that BSCT health professionals played an integral role in its planning and practice. . . .

(Emphasis mine.)  Dr. James claims he was sent to Abu Ghraib to fix it.   But this is how he describes his role, from his book, Fixing Hell, An Army Psychologist Confronts Abu Ghraib:

   “It was clear to me that I was no longer a doctor but rather a combatant with the sole purpose of helping the Army kill or capture the enemy.”

(last emphasis mine)

That statement is stunning. He also never intervened, stopped or reported any of this, yet, James had an obligation to do so by the oath that he took as an officer in the United States Military.  While  clinical psychologists take no oath to DO No Harm, as physicians and psychiatrists and apparently the American Psychological Association refuses to prohibit its members from participating in interrogations, James did, however, take an oath as an officer in the US military to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

James, by his own words, lacks conscience and regard not only for the laws of the United States and the oath that he took as an officer but no regard or respect for his fellow human beings.

This is an update from Greenwald, with a response in an e-mail to him from the First Lady’s Communications Director:

Several members of the White House staff are convening a meeting with multiple mental health professionals on Tuesday to discuss issues pertaining to the wellness of military families. SAMHSA and the American Psychological Association have both been asked to attend. We understand that Dr. James is involved with these groups and may have been indirectly invited to attend this meeting.

She claims, however, that he now will not be at that meeting, and further states that “Dr. James has not been appointed to serve in any capacity with the White House.”

Perhaps, somebody realized that James’ involvement with the White House, even on what is basically an insignificant commission, would not be an “image” they wish to project, although I believe that it is far too late to repair that damage.

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