The American Psychological Association (APA) is in the news almost 10 years after its board voted to keep its convention of 20,000-plus members in post-Katrina New Orleans. A standards-setting organization for the nation's psychologists, the APA is now vowing an era of reform after an internal investigation found APA leaders secretly "colluded" with CIA and Pentagon torture programs.
Retired U.S. Army Col. Larry C. James, a native New Orleanian and former psychology professor at LSU who became a top intelligence psychologist at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prisons, cast the only "no" vote against an APA proposal to ban psychologists from participating in national security interrogations. The resolution passed, 157-1.
"'No torture' — who's going to disagree with that?" James said before the recent APA vote in Toronto. He expressed fears of fallout from the election. "Does international law supersede U.S. law? Because if the answer to that is yes, this [vote] has dire consequences for all federal employees, particularly in the [Veterans Affairs Administration] and the Department of Homeland [Security]."
The vote followed an APA investigative report that found a "pattern of secret collaboration" between APA leaders and the Pentagon to influence APA rules affecting CIA and Pentagon interrogations.
The 542-page report didn't support allegations that James and three other psychologists participated in the "torture" of suspected terrorists, but it did cast doubt over the APA disciplinary process that dismissed ethics complaints against them. "We found that the handling of ethics complaints against prominent national security psychologists was handled in an improper fashion, in an attempt to protect these psychologists from censure," the report said of the APA Ethics Committee.
Bill Quigley, a law professor at Loyola University at New Orleans, says the Louisiana State Board of Examiners of Psychologists should reconsider its 2008 decision to dismiss a complaint against James' conduct at "Gitmo" as outside the licensing board's jurisdiction. "What Dr. James did was wrong then and it is wrong now," Quigley says. James denies any wrongdoing.