So it appears that John Leso has escaped justice. For the past seven years, the American Psychological Association (APA) has been investigating the case of this man who sat watching while suspects were being tortured at Guantanamo (not my description – this is from the Pentagon’s record). He was a member of a behavioural science consultation team based at Guantanamo and responsible for ensuring that the torture used during questioning was as effective as possible. On 31st December 2013, the APA finally announced that they had decided not to proceed with charges and that the case was formally closed. Laughably, one of the reasons given for excusing Leso’s behaviour was that his work pre-dated the ASA’s official condemation of torture. This seems to imply that torture was not a war crime until the ASA decided it was.
The original complaint was filed by Trudy Bond, a fellow psychologist and APA member, who was disgusted by Leso’s participation in these activities. It should have been a fairly straightforward matter: officially the APA is against torture and the evidence appeared conclusive. However this investigation went the way of similar official enquiries: it moved at a crawl until the original source of concern had faded from memory and then a report was sneaked out on a slow news day (31 Dec) saying that no action would be taken. The Leso case was seen as a litmus test for other prosecutions since this was believed to show the clearest indication of the involvement of American medical staff in torture and what the reaction by their professional organisations would be. It is now unlikely that similar investigations will proceed.
A certain section of the audience will say that terrorists – or in this case suspected terrorists – deserve everything they get. It is easy to sympathise with that knee-jerk reaction. But if we are prepared to break our own laws and adopt the standards of our enemy simply to defeat our enemy then we do not solve the problem, we simply store up troubles for the future. The Leso case will be added to the litany of those who will, with some justification, be able to point and say that we are no better then they. Apparently we are prepared to stoop to the same depths because we, like them, believe that we are unquestionably in the right. It is another little recruiting sergeant created in the enemy’s camp.
For some it will be easy to dismiss what Leso did. But others will remember scenes of prisoners under torture from George Orwell’s 1984 or Terry Gilliam’s Brazil or the hundreds of other real-life comparisons. Any human being who can sit back and watch another being tortured is… well, perhaps it is form of madness. And for those who try to suggest that Leso is not guilty of any offence or that he tried to stop what was happening, consider that he has not stepped forward to condemn these practices. His silence is compelling. Just don’t ask the American Psychological Association about it.