Judicial Hearing on Whether New York State Must Investigate Gitmo Psychologist

American Civil Liberties Union

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First Court in the U.S. to Consider Whether State Ethics Board Must Investigate Claim that Alleged Participation in Torture of Gitmo Detainees was Unethical

On Wednesday in Manhattan, a hearing will be held before Justice Sally Ann Scarpula of the New York State Supreme Court to consider whether the state must investigate an ethics complaint filed against a New York State-licensed psychologist who allegedly designed and participated in the abusive interrogation program at Guantánamo Bay. It is the first court hearing in the United States to consider whether a psychologist’s participation in abusive interrogations could violate state ethical standards.

In a petition filed on Nov. 24 in the State Supreme Court of New York County, the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) and the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) asked the court to direct the New York State Office of Professional Discipline (OPD) to investigate a misconduct complaint against Dr. John Francis Leso, a New York-licensed psychologist who allegedly led the “Behavioral Science Consultation Team” at Guantánamo Bay from June 2002 to January 2003. Consideration of the petition will occur at the Wednesday morning hearing. 

In July 2010, CJA, a San Francisco-based human rights organization, filed a professional misconduct complaint with OPD on behalf of Dr. Steven Reisner, a New York psychologist and longtime anti-torture advocate.  CJA’s complaint detailed Leso’s alleged role in designing, implementing, and in some cases personally supervising, the abusive treatment of detainees at Guantánamo Bay

The OPD, which is responsible for regulating the ethical conduct of all New York-licensed psychologists, declined to investigate the complaint, claiming that there was “no legal basis for instituting an investigation” of Leso’s alleged conduct.  The CJA and NYCLU argue that Leso’s conduct falls squarely within the purview of OPD’s oversight and that an investigation is mandated by state law.  The State has asked the court to dismiss the case.

CJA’s original complaint detailing Leso’s alleged conduct, and the court papers in Reisner v. Catone, are available at CJA’s website:  http://cja.org/article.php?list=type&type=412.

The Center for Justice and Accountability is a San Francisco-based human rights organization dedicated to ending torture and other severe human rights abuses around the world and advancing the rights of survivors to seek truth, justice and redress. CJA uses litigation to hold perpetrators individually accountable for human rights abuses, develop human rights law, and advance the rule of law in countries transitioning from periods of abuse.

The New York Civil Liberties Union is one of the nation’s foremost defenders of civil liberties and civil rights. Founded in 1951 as the New York affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, it is a not-for-profit, nonpartisan organization with eight chapters and regional offices and nearly 50,000 members across the state. Its mission is to defend and promote the fundamental principles and values embodied in the Bill of Rights, the U.S. Constitution, and the New York Constitution.  Among the most fundamental principles are those protecting human dignity and the rule of law.


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