Complaint dropped against John Leso, involved in brutal interrogation of suspected 9/11 hijacker Mohammed al-Qahtani

• APA: ‘We cannot proceed with formal charges’ – full letter

Mohammed al-Qahtani
Mohammed al-Qahtani was twice charged by the Pentagon in 2008 with war crimes related to 9/11. Photograph: motesjj

America’s professional association of psychologists has quietly declined to rebuke one of its members, a retired US army reserve officer, for his role in one of the most brutal interrogations known to have to taken place at Guantánamo Bay, the Guardian has learned.

The decision not to pursue any disciplinary measure against John Leso, a former army reserve major, is the latest case in which someone involved in the post-9/11 torture of detainees has faced no legal or even professional consequences.

In a 31 December letter obtained by the Guardian, the American Psychological Association said it had “determined that we cannot proceed with formal charges in this matter. Consequently the complaint against Dr Leso has been closed.”

But the APA did not deny Leso took part in the brutal interrogation of the suspected 20th 9/11 hijacker, Mohammed al-Qahtani, whose treatment the Pentagon official overseeing his military commission ultimately called “torture”.

Leso was identified as “MAJ L” in a leaked log, published by Time magazine in 2005, of Qahtani’s marathon interrogation in November 2002. With Leso recorded as present for at least some of the session, Qahtani was forcibly hydrated through intravenous drips and prevented from using the bathroom until he urinated on himself, subjected to loud music, and repeatedly kept awake while being “told he can go to sleep when he tells the truth”.

At one point, Qahtani was instructed to bark like a dog.

“Dog tricks continued and detainee stated he should be treated like a man,” the log records. “Detainee was told he would have to learn who to defend and who to attack.”

During an interrogation on 27 November 2002, the log records a direct intervention by Leso: “Control puts detainee in swivel chair at MAJ L’s suggestion to keep him awake and stop him from fixing his eyes on one spot in booth.”

The APA’s move concludes a years-long effort within the organization to get the association to condemn members who took part in torture. Those who argued for censuring Leso said that the organization has opened the door to future wartime violations of its central do-no-harm ethos.

“With Leso, the evidence of his participation is so explicit and so incontrovertible, the APA had to go to great lengths to dismiss it,” said Steven Reisner, a New York clinical psychologist who unsuccessfully ran for the APA presidency last year. “The precedent is that APA is not going to hold any psychologist accountable in any circumstance.”

Trudy Bond, an Ohio psychologist who filed the complaint against Leso, cited APA’s policy on interrogations and torture as she said the organization had sent the message that “psychologists are free to violate our ethical code, perhaps, in certain situations”.

The APA’s communications chief, Rhea Farberman, told the Guardian that a seven-year ethics investigation could not meet the burden of finding “direct unethical conduct” by Leso, and said it was “utterly unfounded” to fear the organization has condoned professional impunity.

“A thorough review of these public materials and our standing policies will clearly demonstrate that APA will not tolerate psychologist participation in torture,” Farberman said.

Documents that emerged from a Senate armed services committee torture inquiry detailed Leso’s involvement in an early “Behavioral Science Consultation Team” at Guantánamo, which was instrumental in crafting torture techniques out of measures taught to US troops to withstand brutal treatment.

Leso, whose name is redacted in a lengthy report produced by the committee in 2008, helped write a memorandum in October 2002, “Counter-Resistance Strategies”, for Guantánamo staff who were under pressure from the chain of command to produce intelligence from the detainee population.

The memorandum detailed the use of abusive conditions and techniques on the detainees, including isolation, “stress positions”, sensory and sleep deprivation, dietary manipulation and exposure to extreme cold. Those techniques migrated through the Pentagon bureaucracy and were ultimately used at Abu Ghraib prison in 2003.

“Counter-Resistance Strategies” also recommended manipulating the living conditions of detainees outside the interrogation chambers, such as limiting “resistant” detainees to four hours of sleep daily, depriving them of “comfort items” like sheets and mattresses and controlling access to their Qur’ans.

 

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APA member John Leso dodges professional consequences for brutal interrogation of detainee Mohammed al-Qahtani

- Common Dreams staff

Guantánamo Bay’s Camp Delta. (Photo: Bob Strong/Reuters)The American Psychological Association is protecting one of its members from formal rebuke for his role in torturing a Guantanamo Bay inmate.

The esteemed professional association stated in a December 31 confidential letter, obtained by Guardian reporters and released publicly on Wednesday, that it is declining to rebuke member John Leso.

“[W]e have determined that we cannot proceed in this matter,” write APA officials in response to a complaint. “Consequently, the complaint against Dr. Leso has been closed.”

Leso, a former Army reserve major, participated in the brutal interrogation of detainee Mohammed al-Qahtani that even a Pentagon official acknowledged amounts to torture, reports Spencer Ackerman for The Guardian.

Ackerman continues:

Leso was identified as “MAJ L” in a leaked log, published by Time magazine in 2005, of Qahtani’s marathon interrogation in November 2002. With Leso recorded as present for at least some of the session, Qahtani was forcibly hydrated through intravenous drips and prevented from using the bathroom until he urinated on himself, subjected to loud music, and repeatedly kept awake while being “told he can go to sleep when he tells the truth”.

In the letter, the APA officials do not deny Leso’s participation in the torture.

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