Hard work of BSCT validated by peers

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Hard work of BSCT validated by peers

Story and photo by
Army Spc. Shanita Simmons

JTF Guantanamo Public Affairs The negative spotlight placed on psychologists assigned to military detention facilities in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba has now dimmed after the American Psychological Association showed support for the work performed by its colleagues.

Although a small group of psychologists continue to argue that the use of their colleagues in such environments is immoral and unethical, the APA rejected these accusations by voting down a proposal that called for their removal from military detention facilities. Army Col. Larry James, director of the Behavioral Science Consultation Team here, attended the APA convention in August to help educate his colleagues on the important role psychologists play within the military. When the proposal was voted down, James said he received the validation he had hoped for from his colleagues.

“From a moral standpoint, it is always good to feel that not only do you have the support of your loved ones when you are deployed forward, but you also have the support of your professional peers around the country,” said James. “It’s clear given the vote at the APA convention that there is overwhelming support for psychologists who wear the uniform all around the world in defense of this nation.”

James, a military psychologist for the past 22 years, arrived in Guantanamo Bay in June 2007 for his second deployment with the BSCT. Prior to this deployment, he served as the deputy director of BSCT here from January 2003 to May 2003. He and his team, which includes another licensed psychologist and a behavioral science specialist, work with leaders within the Joint Detention Group and the Joint Intelligence Group to perform two different but equally important missions.

James said his team works with the JDG to help ensure that Troopers have the knowledge and skills necessary to properly manage diffi cult detainees. By walking through the camps and observing interactions between guards and detainees, the BSCT is able to make suggestions on how to further improve the communication process. In addition, the BSCT works with interrogators assigned to the Joint Intelligence Group by monitoring their interactions with detainees and providing feedback on how they can strengthen their repertoire-building techniques.

Although the BSCT team has gone through several iterations since its inception in summer 2002, James said its objectives remain the same – to read behavior, look for clues on how to improve communication and to teach techniques on how to manage uncooperative detainees.

“It is not unusual to see myself or a member of my team walking around the camps observing and interacting with the guards, interrogators and analysts. We provide them with feedback by coaching, mentoring and helping to improve their interactions with the detainees,” said James. “The BSCT does not have any command authority over the interrogators or the guards. However, we work with them on a consulting basis where they will come to me and ask my opinion.”

Members of the guard force attend periodic training sessions where the BSCT helps reinforce the skills necessary to properly perform their mission. James said his team educates Troopers on the importance of operational security and how sharing information with detainees, family members and shipmates can be detrimental to the mission.

“We help them understand a lot of the detainee dynamics, and we give them examples of how a detainee can manipulate them, or how detainees can work to pit one guard against another,” said James. “Many of these detainees have been here for fi ve and six years now, and they have had the opportunity to hone their skills. We teach Troopers how to avoid some of the traps that detainees will try to lure them into.”

Since the guards here are so well trained and motivated before they arrive in Guantanamo Bay, James said BSCT training serves as a refresher for skills already ingrained in many of these Troopers.

“When I walk through the camps, I can’t tell you that I have stumbled across a lot of things that are wrong. During my time here, I am proud to say that I have not seen a guard or interrogator abuse anyone in any shape or form,” said James. “These young men and women go out of their way well beyond the call of duty to make sure that detainees are treated safely and humanely at all times.”

In addition to working with Trooper’s here, James continues to work diligently to advocate against the removal of psychologists from military detention facilities. As a member of the council of representatives for the APA, James said he has had many opportunities to speak with colleagues working within academic and clinical settings to help them understand the important role psychologists play within military detention facilities. As a representative for military psychologists, his goal is to help his colleagues understand that the political climate surrounding the detention of an individual should not affect the care they receive.

“If you look at some of the difficult-to-manage cases we’ve got right here at Guantanamo, these cases are no different from those you would see in any other detention facility. The only difference is the population of the people we are dealing with,” said James. “Roughly 5-to-10 percent of any general prison population in the United States will have inmates who experience signifi cant mental health concerns. I think it will be unconscionable and morally wrong to deprive the detainees here or any inmates housed within U.S. facilities of mental health services.”

James, who has deployed to other BSCT sites over the course of his career, said he does not need any statistics to validate the need for psychologists within military detention facilities. He added that the positive, productive and reciprocal relationships that have developed within detainee operations confi rms the need for mental health professionals on the grounds that they are integral to fostering these productive interactions.

“It has been a great mission, and I am happy to be here. It is great to be on the tip of the spear working with these young Troopers in the battle to defeat terrorism,” James said.