Man who led Gitmo psych team eyes Mizzou job

ALAN SCHER ZAGIER Associated Press Published:

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) -- A retired Army psychologist accused by human rights advocates of being complicit in the abuse of Guantanamo Bay prisoners during interrogations is among two finalists for a leadership position in the University of Missouri's College of Education, to the dismay of some faculty members.

Former Col. Larry James, 55, is the dean of professional psychology at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, and is vying with Matthew Burns, an educational psychology professor at the University of Minnesota, to be the Missouri college's division executive director. The Columbia Missourian first reported James' MU candidacy.

Before retiring from the military, James served as chairman of the psychology department at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and coordinated mental health resources at the Pentagon after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. He also led a team of psychologists assigned to interrogators at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay for five months in 2003 and again in 2007-08. He also oversaw interrogations at the Abu Ghraib detention center in Iraq in 2004, after the infamous photos surfaced that showed guards abusing detainees.

In 2010, the Harvard Law School's International Human Rights Clinic filed a complaint against James alleging that he witnessed the "systematically" abusive interrogation of military prisoners at the U.S. naval base in Cuba but failed to intervene. The complaint says James initially watched without intervening while an interrogator and three guards subjected a near-naked man to sexual humiliation by forcing him to wear women's underwear, and only intervened when he was concerned someone might get hurt.

James denies the allegations and maintains that he was tasked with ending alleged abuse at both prisons.

A state licensing board in Ohio declined to discipline James, as did a similar panel in Louisiana, where he is also licensed. But some University of Missouri professors oppose his hiring, saying he's unfit for the role and that his hiring will hurt the university's reputation.

"I don't know why we would want to make a connection at all with (James)," said Peggy Placier, a recently retired associate professor of educational leadership and policy analysis. "It's bad for the reputation of MU, and for our College of Education.

"Some serious concerns have been raised that have not been answered," she added.

Placier said that her concerns are shared by colleagues who are afraid to speak publicly. She said the academic department sent out news about the candidates on Christmas Day.

James, who has a doctorate in counseling psychology from the University of Iowa, calls the continued scrutiny of his military record "an old story." He said his critics have tried to get state courts, appeals courts and regulatory boards to sanction him eight times, but to no avail.

"Why do these people continue to try a decorated, disabled military veteran?" James said. "They cannot produce a patient, a prisoner, a government official or any official document that shows I have harmed any person."

James said the Army sent him to Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib to clean up abuses. He offered a similar explanation in his 2008 memoir, "Fixing Hell."

Michael Pullis, the MU professor leading the hiring search, said the faculty search committee knew of the abuse allegations against James and was satisfied that he hadn't been complicit in any alleged torture.

"The search committee felt his leadership and management experiences closely aligned with the minimum and desired qualifications outlined in the job description," he told The Associated Press in an email. "It is the totality of Dr. James' experience that made him a finalist for the position."

James said he expects to interview in Columbia in February at "one of the best colleges of education in the country" and called the Missouri job "just a wonderful opportunity."

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