J. KARL MILLER: Hiring should be based on merit, not controversy

Wednesday, February 13, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 7:14 p.m. CST, Wednesday, February 13, 2013

I have viewed the controversy over the possible hiring of Dr. Larry James for a "senior administration position" with the MU College of Education with a mixture of amusement, disbelief and disappointment. I have no problem with the individual or collective right to dissent on any issue deemed destructive/embarrassing to the university; however, any protest should go beyond considering rumor, innuendo, emotion and disputing of investigative findings to be considered an informed protest.

James, a psychiatrist and a former colonel in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, was assigned as the chief psychologist at both the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center in Cuba. Both facilities have been the subject of sensationalized and often biased reporting, a circumstance tailor-made to inflame and galvanize the left and other fringe activists and organizations.

The Abu Ghraib publicity flap in 2003 and early 2004 was indeed deplorable in that it soiled the U.S. military's reputation for adherence to good order and discipline by enabling the mistreatment of prisoners. While this conduct was, in a word, reprehensible, a cadre of low-ranking military police in a U.S. Army Reserve battalion were charged in the case.

The culprits in the chain of command were punished appropriately, supervision and accountability rules were stiffened, and the appropriate apologies issued. Nevertheless, the media chattering classes and human rights activists were unsatisfied that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and President George W. Bush were not charged as derelict in duty.

Since its creation, the detention center at Guantanamo Bay has been an imbroglio marked by opposing views between the executive and legislative branches, censure by human rights organizations, the International Red Cross, the American Civil Liberties Union, the leftist bent of academia, talking heads and a phalanx of semi-professional activists. The protests have included allegations of torture, the difference between torture and enhanced interrogation procedures, defaming Islam, the food, a lack of or inept legal counsel, denying habeas corpus, failure to observe the rules of war for prisoners of war and jurisdictional concerns.

Guantanamo Bay is an almost universally unpopular, but undeniably necessary, confinement facility to keep not only U.S. citizens but also other nationalities safe from unreconstructed terrorists. The majority of the issues have been adjudicated or otherwise answered. Owing to the sensitive security requirements, the hostile nature of the detainees and human nature, there have been instances of misbehavior by U.S. personnel.

Critics of the Guantanamo Bay and other terrorist detention facilities do not take into consideration the stressful conditions, physical danger faced by guards, pressure from outside sources, e.g., a hostile foreign press, human rights organizations, geopolitical troublemakers and well-intentioned but ill-informed individuals and special interests.

In the case of James, he has been accused of condoning and permitting torture, beatings, religious and sexual humiliation, sleep deprivation and prolonged solitary confinement at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay alike. These charges were filed by such entities as the International Human Rights Clinic of Harvard Law School’s Human Rights Program. In addition, he was the subject of two formal ethics complaints in states he is licensed to practice, Louisiana and Ohio, both for failing to protect the rights of prisoners of war.

Basically launched as part and parcel of the organized witch hunt against the Bush administration's alleged reign of torture and dehumanizing of prisoners and detainees, the allegations against James could be viewed as merely an adjunct of that effort. All of the charges against James have been dismissed.

The arguments against confirmation of James demand an understanding of reality. As a medical officer, then Col. James was not in any command authority nor was he in the chain of command. As a staff officer, his responsibility was one of a professional psychologist and command adviser. When one considers the totality of the military and civilian oversight demanded by the media, the American Red Cross and Human Rights organizations, it is not difficult to understand the dismissal of the litany of charges against James.

The local opposition to James' appointment is organized by a small band of the "usual suspects" who stand ready to protest at the drop of a hat. While they are exercising their inalienable right to do so, their dissent is based upon a wide range of accusations, largely unsupported by evidence and summarily dismissed by proper authority. James' opponents, faculty, non-faculty and students alike have one thing in common — few, if any, have ever visited Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib.

I would hope that the decision to hire either James or Matthew Burns would be based on merit alone — that the best man for the job be brought aboard.

And, that the protest in opposition to James be afforded the approximate weight of that offered by Franklin D. Roosevelt's vice president, John Nance Garner, of the worth of his position — that of "a cup of warm spit" — or words to that effect.

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via email at Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.

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Ellis Smith February 13, 2013 | 7:04 a.m.

Perhaps third time is charm, Karl. I have already posted twice that we have a good fit at either MU or MS&T for James. John Schultz has thoughtfully posted the names of specific curricula; I definitely concur with John's selections.

Those in academia don't necessarily represent the views of the wider public, regardless of which side of an issue is being discussed.

I wonder what would happen if System administration proposed a former executive of a major energy supplier (petroleum, coal) for a post. Actually, I only wonder what would happen at MU; at MS&T there would probably be a welcoming parade. :) There's a parade due in March - the 105th consecutive annual one - where among other things Saint Patrick will journey up Pine Street in Rolla standing atop a manure spreader. Ah, the symbolism, the symbolism!

(Report Comment)
J Karl Miller February 13, 2013 | 6:35 p.m.


Great minds think alike?

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith February 14, 2013 | 8:49 a.m.

J. Karl:

ABET-approved curricula for all branches of engineering do not include a course in heraldic symbolism; however, when an entity (human, animal or a ficticious human or animal) stands atop something it means conquering that which is being stood upon.

Saint Patrick annually stands proudly atop bovine manure. How different is that from standing atop political correctness? Probably not much.

(Report Comment)
Skip Yates February 14, 2013 | 2:39 p.m.

They need a tipsy Leprechaun on that manure spreader. That would be fun at MS&T; at MU it would be a PC issue and have all kinds of senseless objections from those of permanent offense......

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith February 14, 2013 | 4:07 p.m.

@ Skip Yeates: The tipsy Leprechauns are already there and are known as Knights of Saint Patrick. They are truly a select few. Also, being conservative, we firmly believe that once a Knight is enough. :)

(Report Comment)
Skip Yates February 14, 2013 | 8:21 p.m.

@Ellis: A select "well-educated" few I presume.......

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith February 15, 2013 | 6:43 a.m.

Skip Yates:

U dammed wel rite they is! They haz all taken an passed differential equations an thermodynamics.

We may well be the only university or college campus, public or private, that effectively has TWO spring breaks. The official calander calls Saint Pat's "Spring Recess" and the later break "Spring Break."

(Report Comment)

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