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Testimony of Colonel Larry C. James

Fixing Hell: Book Cover



In January 2003, Colonel Larry James left his Chair of the Department of Psychology at Walter Reed Army Medical Center to become the senior psychologist at Guantánamo. There he served until May of that year.

In 2008, Colonel James published Fixing Hell: An Army Psychologist Confronts Abu Ghraib, a book which details his experiences at Guantánamo and at Abu Ghraib, which was to be his next assignment. Fixing Hell chronicles the "culture of cruelty" he encountered at Guantánamo--a culture he credits himself with countering. CSHRA has lifted the testimony of prisoner abuse at Guantánamo found in his book and has posted it below.


(LJ1)
Seeing little results from the inexperienced interrogators [at Guantanamo], the commanding general […] brought a group of former CIA contract psychologists to Cuba--a few months before Major Leso's assignment--to teach the interrogators harsh and abusive interrogation tactics. The goal was to get detainees to talk--quickly. Results were marginal, but by the time Leso arrived [in June 2002] a culture of severe tactics had taken hold as the norm for much of the Joint Intelligence Group at Gitmo. The bar for what might be considered abusive was raised higher and higher, and the leaders at the base turned their backs on conduct that was, at a minimum, questionable. The interrogators learned that they could try pretty much whatever they wanted to get the prisoners to talk, and a lack of good information often just spurred them to attempt something more extreme (Fixing Hell, pp. 20-21).

(LJ2) [Major Leso] told me that he had received increasing pressure to teach interrogators procedures and tactics that were a challenge to his ethics as a psychologist and moral fiber as a human being. He was devastated to have been a part of this […] He witnessed many harsh and inhumane interrogation tactics, such as sexual humiliation, stress positions, detainees being stripped naked, and the abuse of K-9 dogs to terrorize detainees (Fixing Hell, p. 29).

(LJ3) I was responsible for putting together a team to handle the three juvenile enemy combatants who would arrive in February 2003 at Guantanamo Bay […] we had to determine just how one can safely and morally interrogate teenage terrorists […] our intel indicated that two of these three boys had been brutally raped, were clinically depressed, and suffered from severe post-traumatic stress disorder (Fixing Hell, pp. 38-40).1

(LJ4) We found out that the youngest of the three, who was approximately twelve years of age, had been kidnapped by his province's Taliban gang lord and forced into sex slavery […] The next oldest was approximately fourteen and also had been kidnapped by another Taliban gang lord […] on the first night of his captivity, he was held down by three members of the Taliban gang and brutally raped all night. The third teenage terrorist was physically healthy and unharmed sexually, but he was academically the most illiterate of the group (Fixing Hell, p. 43).

(LJ5) After getting [the juvenile enemy combatant]'s health on track, we then had to focus on interrogating them […] Though we were dedicated to a gentle approach with these juveniles, there was no mistaking our intentions. We needed these boys to talk to us […] My days were intense, trying to make sure the boys were not abused or unnecessarily stressed while also facilitating their interrogation (Fixing Hell, pp. 46, 47-48).

(LJ6) One day I decided to pay an unannounced visit that night to observe interrogations […] I went into an office to talk with an interrogator by the name of Luther [not necessarily his real name]. As I turned and left his office, I noticed a pair of women's pink panties and a pink nightgown hanging on the back of his office door […] I wanted to observe Luther's next interrogation, and as luck would have it, he was scheduled for that night. Interrogations were regularly scheduled at night as a way to screw with the prisoner's head, to keep him off balance when he was tired […] The interrogation buildings were prefab trailers with several small rooms about ten feet by ten feet in size. Each had a table, usually three or four chairs, and a metal hook welded to the floor. The hook served as the anchor to fasten a detainee's leg irons during interrogation. | As I walked toward the observation room with its one-way mirror that would allow me to peek into the interrogation booths, I heard lots of yelling, screaming, and furniture being thrown around. I saw Luther and three MPs wrestling with a detainee on the floor. It was an awful sight […] The detainee was naked except for the pink panties I had seen hanging on the door earlier. He also had lipstick and a wig on. The four men wee holding the prisoner down and trying to outfit him with the matching pink nightgown, but he was fighting hard […] this was a terrible scene (Fixing Hell, pp. 49-51).

(LJ7) Much of the culture at Gitmo in 2002 and 2003, perhaps due to the anger over 9/11, involved projecting one's rage onto the detainees (Fixing Hell, p. 55).

(LJ8) […] a female nurse who was a Navy lieutenant commander came to see me in a fit of anger […] I captured enough of what she was saying to understand that she was upset with how interrogators were coming over to the medical clinic and demanding unhindered access to detainees' medical records […] what I discovered was that on any given day, FBI, CIA, Army, Navy, and contract interrogators would go to the hospital and demand to see detainees' records immediately. If any of the doctors or nurses hesitated […] these interrogators […] would simply walk into the medical records and help themselves (Fixing Hell, pp. 56-7).

(LJ9) As I watched through a one-way observation window, I saw a detainee being held straight up in a corner by two large, mean, badass-looking MPs, an interrogator, and an interpreter. The four of them yelled at the prisoner as loudly as they possibly could. The interrogator decided it was time for a break after the detainee spit in the eye of the shortest MP. They put the detainee down and started exiting. Once the interpreter, Hakim, came out of the room, I asked him how long they had been going at it and he told me it had been three hours (Fixing Hell, p. 62).

(LJ10) We had about twenty detainees [at Gitmo] who were on starvation diets in 2006 and 2007. Our choice was simple: we would not allow anyone to die by starving themselves to death (Fixing Hell, p. 248).

(LJ11) When I arrived at Guantanamo in 2003 the interrogation regulations were so broad that they allowed almost anything to happen, except the death of a detainee--that would have been considered bad (Fixing Hell, 259).


CSHRA Note

1. These three juveniles were not the only children seized and sent to Guantánamo. In fact, government documents indicate that at least twelve minors have been imprisoned there (see Guantánamo's Children: Military and Diplomatic Testimonies). As far as we are aware, the nine other juveniles were not segregated from the adult population (as required by international law).


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