Abu Ghraib figure Larry James is finalist for MU position

Wednesday, January 9, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 1:14 p.m. CST, Wednesday, January 9, 2013

COLUMBIA — Psychologist Larry James, who has been linked to controversial interrogation techniques at the detainee center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, Iraq, is one of two finalists for a high-ranking position at MU's College of Education.

James was director of the Behavioral Science Consultation Team at Guantánamo Bay in 2003, and again from 2007 to 2008. He led the same group at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, according to a curriculum vitae he provided to the college's search committee. He is being considered for the job of division executive director, in which he would oversee a faculty of about 65.

Some faculty are concerned about James being hired by the college.

Peggy Placier, a retired MU professor, received — with other faculty and staff — an announcement from the search team alerting them that James was a finalist.

"They said they had done their research and had asked the hard questions," she said.

Professor Deborah Popowski, lecturer on law at Harvard Law School, who has led a team of investigators at the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, said there is strong evidence that James could be prosecuted for ethics violations at the very least.

"The evidence indicates that he used his health training to hurt people," said Popowski, "which violates the cardinal ethical rule to do no harm."

The Harvard Law team, working with human rights activists in Ohio, filed a professional misconduct and ethics complaint with the Ohio Board of Psychology. The board dismissed the complaint without comment. A similar complaint was filed in Louisiana and also failed.

"He was a senior intelligence psychologist in one of the most notorious prisons of our time at one of the worst times in its history," said Popowski.

James disagrees.

"There has never been any evidence whatsoever for any of these boards to have the slightest cause to investigate me," he said in a phone interview.

MU professor Michael Pullis, head of the search committee, said the committee found James to be forthright.

"I understand the allegations, but that is not sufficient to discriminate against anyone," said Pullis.

The search team considered James' credentials substantial enough to offer him a Skype interview.

Members of the search committee faced the allegations head on, and, according to Pullis, so did James.

"We asked him directly. We said we had become aware of his activities as a military psychologist, and we asked him to explain that, and about how that had been dealt with officially," Pullis said.

Pullis said the gist of James' explanation was that he was not brought to the detainee centers to teach interrogation. He was instead on hand to clean up issues related to detainees and personnel working with detainees.

James was adamant when he spoke of his role.

"Absolutely not. I did not have command authority," James said. "I was a consultant to a commanding general."

"These are some rough places, and some bad things happened there before I arrived, so I trained the staff and I wrote policies so other abuses would not occur to anyone in our care," he said.

James is expected to interview at MU the first week of February. He has been the dean of the School of Professional Psychology at Wright State University since 2008.

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.

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Tracy Greever-Rice January 9, 2013 | 9:18 a.m.

I just vomited a little in my mouth. I'm repulsed and ashamed of MU. The kindest description one can possibly assign to Mr. James is that he has been a collaborator, willingly manning his post, in perpetrating acts of grave moral turpitude.

The only decent response to the torture perpetrated at Abu Ghraib was loud, public, crystal-clear denunciation of those felonious, hateful acts. 'clean(ing) up issues...' doesn't even begin to cut it.

Why stop with a mere collaborator? I under the ghost of Josef Mengele's back on the market.


(Report Comment)
frank christian January 9, 2013 | 11:41 a.m.

What you are doing Tracy, is called "milking it". The world knows about the actions of those few degenerates, without you to spray us again. How did you forget to denounce W. Bush?

(Report Comment)
Hilary Niles January 9, 2013 | 11:51 a.m.

I'm curious about Mr. James's pedagogical experience and training. It seems his background is psychology, yet he is being considered for a position in education. Is it common that someone in the position for which he is bring considered would come from a different field?

(Report Comment)
John Farmer de la Torre January 9, 2013 | 12:37 p.m.

Hello Hilary,

This is John Farmer de la Torre. I wrote this story.

I was told by Mike Pullis, who heads the committee, that since the school teaches counseling, James' experience in that area was relevant. The college faculty also asked the same thing. I will upload his C.V. so readers like you can see his credentials.

I also asked the chair of the committee why the search went forward after James' history with the detainee centers was discovered.

Pullis said, James met the job requirements, explained himself well enough, and led the field of candidates, and that was sufficient on its merits to offer him the Skype interview.

Thank you for your question.

(Report Comment)
Richard Saunders January 9, 2013 | 1:54 p.m.

How can one "lead the field of candidates" when one lacks the morality/ethics to NOT work for a torture center?

I realize many criminals have worked at MU over the years, but I thought that was limited to the gray area of white-collar crime.

I bet Mengel was a leader in his field as well.

(Report Comment)
Hilary Niles January 9, 2013 | 3:19 p.m.

Thanks, John!

(Report Comment)
frank christian January 9, 2013 | 6:25 p.m.

R. Saunders - "James was adamant when he spoke of his role.

"Absolutely not. I did not have command authority," James said. "I was a consultant to a commanding general."

Is James lying, or what?

(Report Comment)
Trudy Bond January 9, 2013 | 8:50 p.m.

I am one of four Ohio citizens who filed the complaint with the Ohio Board of Psychology against Dr. Larry James in April of 2010 that is referenced in the article. Dr. James became licensed as a psychologist in the state of Ohio in September of 2008 after he retired from military service. Many of us spent eighteen months researching, writing and documenting the 50-page complaint which was linked in the article. Some of our reasons for filing this complaint have been documented for others to view at

The complaint would never have been filed without solid, verifiable evidence for the allegations made in the complaint. Dr. James was not investigated by the Ohio Board of Psychology and has never been investigated for these allegations by any board or licensing agency.

I am available to answer any questions at or you may contact the Human Rights Program at If I am unable to answer a question, I can refer you to other experts and specialists in the field.

(Report Comment)
Tracy Greever-Rice January 9, 2013 | 11:04 p.m.

There's a great, great deal of coverage of Larry James' involvement in developing, implementing, and controlling interrogation at both Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. The above link is a comprehensive description of his work, but many, many articles in the mainstream media and professional literature are easily available to understand his role. His own book, an exercise in rationalizing complicity, is filled with examples of his observation of and participation in interrogations techniques defined as torture by international and US law. The entirety of his self-aggrandizing rationalization can be summed up as 'it could have been worse'.

He is highly controversial in his own profession. Ethicists in the field of psychology have used their professional, state licensing boards and the courts to attempt to hold him accountable. The Harvard Law School has vigorously researched and attempted to hold him and his colleagues of torture accountable, a difficult task in a political culture deeply committed to endless war and addicted to the teat of the military's research budget - the latter, no doubt, responsible for his potential presence at the University of Missouri.

I remain disgusted and repulsed.

(Report Comment)
Tracy Greever-Rice January 10, 2013 | 9:49 a.m.

So, the army, with intent, trained Abu Ghraib torturers based on the success of torture at Guantanamo, including psychological abuse as an organizing principle including moving personnel and transferring knowledge during exactly the period that Dr. James moved from Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib to Guantanamo, in a military assignment complete with duties and responsibilities.

The public record makes it clear that the AMA and American Psychiatric Association quickly distanced themselves from the ethical quagmire of the post-911 use of torture by Americans against its perceived enemies. The profession of psychology reacted less clearly and, arguably, ethically. While there have always been clinicians serving the armed forces, the role the field of psychology has chosen is not exclusively about healing. Some psychologists help heal, others choose to use their professional expertise and knowledge in a tactical setting. Dr. James' army career, via his own CV, appears to include plenty of both activities.

By his own admission, including his apologist autobiography, he worked with and on children as young as 12 indefinitely incarcerated at Guantanamo. Here at MU we would be a faculty member in the College of Education at Missouri's flagship higher ed institution, tasked to train K12 educators to serve thousands and thousands of Missouri's children.

So, a man integral to the process of torturing children in indefinite detention will be training educators to work with Missouri's children...

In the entirety of the brouhaha over the appropriate and ethical role of psychologists in facilitating the use of torture by the United States, a handful of 4 or 5 names, including Dr. James, were obviously integrally involved, at at the height of the period of abuse (that we know of).

There's zero evidence that Dr. James attempted to be a whistleblower, nor to substantively reform torture tactics, nor that he ever considered resigning his post or leaving military service in disgust and ethical outrage by the use of torture against prisoners who were of limited intelligence value, including in some cases, pre-adolescents.

(Report Comment)
Tracy Greever-Rice January 10, 2013 | 9:52 a.m.

However, in some ways, Dr. Pullis' remarks are the most shocking and disturbing part of this.

"I understand the allegations, but that is not sufficient to discriminate against anyone,"

Seriously? SERIOUSLY? of all the academic psychologists on this globe today, and MU will choose between two candidates, one of which, by his own admission, has participated in the interrogation and torture of children as young as 12, including forms of torture such as sleep deprivation, threats of physical violence, sexual humiliation, religious humiliation, forced nudity, belittling, and food deprivation.

If that doesn't disqualify one from training educators to work with children, I would sure like to hear Dr. Pullis and his committee members describe for us what possible ethical failures would disqualify someone from serving on the College of Education faculty at the University of Missouri?

I'll leave you with a quote from Dr. James' autobiography:

“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…”

The episode involved physically beating a Muslim detainee into pink bikini underwear, lingerie, lipstick and a woman's wig.

Yep, that's who I want teaching my kids' teachers.

(Report Comment)

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