Students and activists held a protest Friday on the University of Missouri campus against Larry James, the dean of Wright State University’s School of Professional Psychology, being named a finalist for a leadership role at the school.
James, a retired Army psychologist, faced a state ethics complaint in 2010 in regard to his alleged role in the abuse of detainees at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The complaint was dismissed, and MU officials said James is qualified for the opening, and he never was sanctioned for professional or ethical misconduct.
But protest organizers said James has no place on the MU’s payroll because of his alleged misdeeds.
“He was front and center in this horrific and despicable protocol of interrogations and softening up folks for interrogation later on,” said one of the protest organizers, Jeff Stack, coordinator of the Mid-Missouri Fellowship of Reconciliation, an interfaith peace organization. “I hope this man will be quietly dismissed as a candidate.”
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James, who did not immediately return requests for comment on Friday, has served as the dean of the WSU School of Psychology for five years. Before that, he served in the military for 22 years, and he retired as a colonel, according to a statement from Daniel Clay, the dean of the MU College of Education. MU is located in Columbia, Mo.
James has been awarded the Bronze Star and the Defense Superior Service Medal. He is a past president of the American Board of Health Psychology. He is the president-elect for the division of military psychology with the American Psychological Association.
James is one of two finalists for the position of division executive director at the University of Missouri College of Education. The other candidate is Matthew Burns, an educational psychology professor at the University of Minnesota.
“He was selected … as a finalist because the search committee believed his leadership and management experiences aligned well with the minimum and desired qualifications for the position,” Clay said.
Clay said the search committee was aware of the allegations against James, and investigated them. James was never sanctioned by any court, licensing board or accrediting body, Clay said.
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.
His work and responsibilities were at the center of a complaint filed in 2010 with the Ohio Board of Psychology, which claimed James played a crucial role in a system of abusive interrogation and detention techniques.
The complaint, which sought to revoke James’ license to practice psychology, was filed by human rights activists and psychologists, including Deborah Popowski, a clinical instructor for the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School.
Harvard’s International Human Rights Clinic alleged James 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. The complaint against James was dismissed. Two other complaints against him were also dismissed, as well as complaints investigated by a similar panel in Louisiana, where he is also licensed.
James, who has a doctorate in counseling psychology from the University of Iowa, calls the continued scrutiny of his military record “an old story,” according to an interview with the Associated Press. 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.”
But Stack, an MU graduate, said dozens of students, faculty and professionals gathered on Friday to voice their “disgust” with the university considering James for the job opening. Stack said he will continue to raise awareness and mobilize community members to compel MU into rejecting James for the position.
“The university really blundered to have this man as one of its two top candidates,” Stack said.
James called Missouri as “one of the best colleges of education in the country” and said the job is “just a wonderful opportunity.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.