Reported Involvement: Dr. John Leso was the first BSCT psychologist at Guantánamo Bay Naval Base (GTMO), and while in this role, he participated in the torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment [A1, B4, D2, B13] of Mohammed al Qahtani. [A1, B1, B5] A DoD log of the interrogation of Mr. al Qahtani shows that Dr. Leso observed at least two abusive interrogation sessions and, on at least one occasion, advised the interrogators on how to increase Mr. al Qahtani’s suffering.[B4]
It is not yet publicly known whether he participated in other sessions in which Mr. al Qahtani was abused, but draft BSCT policies and statements by his colleagues suggest that the question warrants further investigation. [B7, D5, D6]
Also worthy of further investigation is the question of whether, as a BSCT charged with supporting the GTMO task force’s interrogation mission, Dr. Leso participated in the interrogation of other detainees during his time at GTMO. [B7, D1, C1] This question is vital to determine whether he was involved in the abusive treatment of other men and boys interrogated at GTMO between June 2002 and January 2003. [D5, A2, B12]
Additionally, Dr. Leso – a clinical psychologist with no training in interrogation prior to arriving at GTMO – helped craft a policy of torture at GTMO by designing psychologically and physically abusive interrogation techniques and detention conditions. Together with psychiatrist Dr. Paul Burney, Dr. Leso co-wrote a draft interrogation policy memo for GTMO that incorporated illegal techniques adapted from methods used by the Chinese and North Korean governments against American prisoners of war. Their memo eventually formed the basis for a memo signed by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in December 2, 2002, in which the Secretary authorized at least eleven abusive interrogation techniques that were similar or identical to the ones presented by Drs. Leso and Burney. [B1, B6, B8, B9, B10, B11, B6] Many of the techniques and conditions that Dr. Leso helped put in place were applied to Mr. al Qahtani [B4, B1] and many of the men and boys held at GTMO. [B1, D5] Eventually, similar techniques were also used on prisoners held in Department of Defense custody in Iraq and Afghanistan. [B1]
To date, no criminal, civil, administrative or professional ethics sanctions have been imposed on Dr. Leso.
The Psychologist: Dr. John Leso is a clinical psychologist who was sent to GTMO to provide care to U.S. personnel suffering from deployment-related stress. Prior to deploying to Cuba with the Army’s 85th Medical Detachment Combat Stress Control Team from Fort Hood, Texas, [B1, C1] Dr. Leso had no training related to interrogation. He had worked in the Department of Psychology at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. under the supervision of Dr. Larry C. James. [E1, E2, D3, C1] He received a Ph.D. in counseling psychology from the State University of New York (SUNY) at Albany, [B1, E1, E2] and he completed his doctoral training with a residency at Bellevue Hospital in New York City, where he specialized in bilingual psychotherapy and assessment. [E2] In January 2003, Dr. James replaced him as the GTMO BSCT psychologist, and Dr. Leso returned to Walter Reed to assume the role of Chief of Clinical Psychology. [E2] By August 2005, he had left D.C. for the U.S. Embassy in Austria. [E2] As recently as 2007, he was reported to be stationed at Fort Rucker, Alabama, home to the Army Aviation’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) school. [E4] Whether he is currently a SERE psychologist is not publicly known. If he is, then his tasks could include ensuring that SERE trainers (mock interrogators) do not cause military trainees (mock captives) lasting harm.
The issuing authority for Dr. Leso’s license to practice as a psychologist is the New York State Office of the Professions. He holds an active license in New York state (#013492, issued in May 1998), where he is registered to practice through July 31, 2012. [E3] Dr. Leso is also a member of the American Psychological Association (APA).
Criminal Investigation/Sanction: None.
NY Professional Misconduct Investigation/Sanction: None. A psychologist filed a complaint against Dr. Leso on April 5, 2007 with the NY State Education Department’s Office of Professional Discipline. The Director of Investigations rejected the complaint via telephone claiming that the office lacked jurisdiction over the matter, without reference to any law or regulation in support of the Office’s decision. On February 29, 2008, the complainant asked for a written decision stating that NYOPD would not investigate. To date, NYOPD has not responded.
APA Investigation/Sanction: None. At least four complaints have been filed before the Ethics Committee of the APA.
Public Accountability: Health professionals, human rights groups and other concerned individuals have organized behind efforts by NY state legislators Richard Gottfried and Tom Duane to amend New York law to make it easier to sanction New York-licensed health professionals for torture and abuse, wherever the conduct occurs. While we believe that Dr. Leso’s conduct in particular is prohibited by existing NY law, CCR hopes that the Gottfried-Duane Anti-Torture bill, by bringing NY law in line with international norms and professional standards will help deter such conduct, protect health professionals who refuse to obey unlawful orders and send a clear message to the NY disciplinary boards of their duty under the law.