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Columbia Missourian

Abu Ghraib figure Larry James is finalist for MU position

By John Farmer de la Torre
January 9, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST

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.

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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.