What is this case about?
The Center for Justice and Accountability filed an official complaint with the New York State Office of Professions, calling for an investigation of Dr. Leso’s conduct at the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and for revocation of his license to practice psychology.
As a psychologist licensed by New York State, Dr. Leso is required to abide by minimum standards of conduct. There is a tremendous amount of publicly available evidence documenting how Dr. Leso violated those minimum standards when he recommended and participated in a program of psychological torture and other cruel treatment of detainees at Guantánamo.
What are you asking for? What would it mean if you succeed?
Despite overwhelming public evidence of Dr. Leso’s responsibility for and complicity in the torture and the cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees, neither he nor any other U.S. official involved has ever been held accountable for the program of torture and cruel treatment at Guantánamo.
We are asking New York State to conduct an investigation into Dr. Leso’s conduct, to hold a hearing, to consider the evidence, and ultimately to revoke Dr. Leso’s license to practice psychology. We hope that this case will help to clarify the minimum standards of conduct for U.S. health care professionals and to stop psychologists from continuing to participate in abusive interrogations.
Wouldn’t revocation of Dr. Leso’s license be extreme?
We are not asking for extraordinary relief. Licenses have been revoked or suspended for far less heinous acts. So far this year, the NYOP has already revoked or suspended at least four psychologists for misconduct.
Why New York? Shouldn’t the military deal with this?
The military relies on state licensing boards to regulate conduct and set professional standards. Dr. Leso is licensed in New York, and he violated New York’s standards.
Didn’t Dr. Leso play a fairly minor role in the interrogations? Shouldn’t you be going after the higher-ups who approved the use of torture, or the interrogators who carried it out?
Dr. Leso played a leadership role in abusive interrogation and torture at Guantánamo. As a professional psychologist, he recommended many of the abusive techniques that were adopted by military interrogators at Guantánamo, and later in Afghanistan and Iraq. But Dr. Leso’s involvement in abusive detainee interrogations did not end there: public records show that Dr. Leso recommended specific interrogation methods that interrogators then carried out, was present during abusive interrogations, and observed the damaging effects of psychological torture on detainees. As a result, Dr. Leso is directly responsible for much of what happened to Guantánamo detainees.
Is this really New York State’s responsibility? These acts weren’t even committed in New York—does the Office of Professions have jurisdiction over them?
Dr. Leso practices psychology under the authority of his New York license. Further, the New York courts have made it clear that misconduct in other jurisdictions can be the basis for a disciplinary action in New York. New York State should not tolerate and enable Dr. Leso’s psychological torture tactics by allowing him to continue to practice as a licensed psychologist. Rather, it should deal with Dr. Leso as it would any other psychologist who committed gross abuses: by revoking his license to practice.
Why go after Dr. Leso’s license? Isn’t this a matter for criminal prosecution, or civil litigation?
New York’s Office of the Professions is the only venue for the issues raised by this Complaint: whether Dr. Leso violated New York’s standards of conduct, and whether his license to practice psychology should be revoked. It is also important for New York to send a message to other psychologists licensed in this state that such abuses will not be tolerated.
Were the detainees really “patients”? Weren’t the BSCT manuals and Morgan Banks’s BSCT instructions explicit in stating that the client is “the command and the US government”? Did Dr. Leso actually have any responsibility towards them?
The detainees were not patients voluntarily. Dr. Leso’s techniques were implemented on them by interrogators under his supervision without detainees’ consent. These techniques were used to alter the detainees’ psychological condition and to modify their behavior. This unauthorized treatment violated New York’s standards of conduct.
Dr. Leso’s conduct at Guantánamo Bay detention facilities constitutes the practice of psychology, as defined by NY Education Law. As a result, Dr. Leso’s actions toward detainees in Guantánamo rendered them patients.
That the command and the U.S. government were also Dr. Leso’s clients did not relieve him of an obligation to his detainee patients. Just because prison psychologists have the federal government as clients, it doesn’t follow that they can abuse inmates with impunity.
These acts were carried out after September 11, on Mohammed Al Qahtani, a suspected al-Qaeda member. Weren’t Dr. Leso and the other interrogators just doing what was necessary to keep America safe?
CJA rejects the idea that torture, or participation in torture, is ever justified, regardless of the circumstances or the identity of the person tortured. Not only are torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment morally repugnant, but they are prohibited by U.S. and international law, it puts U.S. soldiers at risk, and it doesn’t work.
The United Nations’ principles of medical ethics for health care professionals make clear that health professionals may not participate in abusive interrogations and torture under any circumstances, including in a state of public emergency or under duress by authorities.
If you succeed with this action, and psychologists and other health care professionals keep away from interrogations, doesn’t that just put detainees in greater danger? Aren’t health care professionals able to look out for detainees if they are part of the interrogations?
Unfortunately, there is no indication that Dr. Leso intervened at any time to express concern for the physical and mental health of Guantánamo detainees or say that the interrogations had gone too far. On the contrary, despite directly observing detainees in extreme psychological trauma, Dr. Leso continued to advise interrogators on how to further abuse detainees. Furthermore, international bodies like the World Medical Association and the United Nations have considered and rejected the argument that there is any remedial value to having medical professionals present at abusive interrogations, finding that the risks that medical professionals will facilitate abuse and torture is too great.
How does the Leso case support international accountability efforts?
The mission of the Center for Justice and Accountability is to hold personally accountable those who are responsible for torture and other severe human rights abuses. CJA supports efforts to hold accountable all perpetrators, including U.S. government officials, regardless of their nationality or past or current government employment. Because CJA fights torture and other severe human rights abuses globally, we understand the important international leadership role that the U.S. plays on issues like human rights. Holding U.S. human rights violators like Dr. Leso accountable will help promote respect for the norm against torture around the world.
Dr. Leso violated New York State’s professional rules for psychologists, which forbid gross negligence, unprofessional conduct, unauthorized and unwarranted treatment, neglect of a patient in need of immediate care, harassment, and willful abuse. While there is currently no specific provision in New York State law that addresses the participation of psychologists in interrogations, Dr. Leso’s actions at Guantánamo were clearly prohibited by these basic professional standards. To remove any ambiguity about the issue, the New York Legislature has introduced the Gottfried-Duane Bill, which would explicitly prohibit health care professionals from participating in “torture or improper treatment of prisoners.”
Dr. Leso also violated the standards of international psychological associations, the United Nations, and the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has stated that health professionals like Dr. Leso are “expressly prohibited from using their scientific knowledge and skills to facilitate” abusive interrogations and torture. The American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association have policies that explicitly prohibit their members from participating in abusive interrogations or torture; the American Psychological Association does not have such a policy. However, the APA has publicly stated that “it is a clear violation of professional ethics” and the APA’s Code of Conduct for a psychologist to participate in torture of detainees, that psychologists must intervene to stop torture or abuse, and that they must report any instance of such practices.