The New York Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) have filed a petition in New York State Court asking the Court to order the New York Office of Professional Discipline (OPD) to perform its duty to investigate a complaint of professional misconduct against Dr. John Francis Leso, who, as asserted in the complaint, violated professional standards when he designed and participated in the abusive interrogation program at Guantánamo.
In July 2010, CJA filed the professional misconduct complaint with OPD calling for an investigation of Dr. Leso for his role in abusive interrogation and torture, and for revocation of his psychologist’s license on that basis. The case was filed on behalf of Dr. Steven Reisner, a New York psychologist, teacher, trauma expert and recent recipient of the Beacon Award by the New York State Psychological Association for his work against torture. OPD declined to investigate because it claimed it did not have jurisdiction.
In the petition, filed on Nov. 24, the NYCLU and CJA ask the Court to invalidate OPD’s denial and to direct the OPD to initiate and complete the investigation of the allegations of professional misconduct advanced in CJA’s original complaint.
According to CJA’s original complaint, Dr. Leso, a major in the U.S. Army, led the first team of mental health professionals tasked with supporting interrogation operations at the U.S. detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The complaint alleges that Dr. Leso violated professional standards for New York psychologists when he recommended a series of escalating physically and psychologically abusive interrogation tactics to be used on detainees, personally supervised interrogations where his tactics were used, and actually participated in the application of these tactics. Many of the techniques and conditions that Dr. Leso is accused of having helped put in place were applied to men and boys held at Guantánamo and eventually to detainees held in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan. Neither Dr. Leso nor any other U.S. official involved has ever been held accountable for the cruel treatment of detainees at Guantánamo.
The lawsuit does not, at this juncture, ask the court to address the questions of whether the allegations about Dr. Leso’s conduct are true or whether he should be sanctioned if the allegations are proved to be true. At issue in this case is whether the OPD erroneously refused to investigate the allegations and consider disciplinary measures.
Petitioner Dr. Steven Reisner is senior faculty and supervisor at the International Trauma Studies Program in New York City. Dr. Reisner comes from a family of Holocaust survivors. His mother lost her entire family at the hands of doctors who determined who was to live and who was to die upon arrival at the Auschwitz concentration camp. Dr. Reisner described why he decided to file the complaint against Dr. Leso:
“Psychologists and medical professionals must be held to the highest ethical standards. The involvement of medical professionals in the torture of detainees at Guantanamo it is just the latest example of medical ethics corrupted and subverted by those who would seek to harm instead of to heal. By refusing to even investigate the actions of Dr. Leso, the State of New York has indicated that it will immunize medical professionals who violate the most fundamental precepts upon which good medicine is practiced, including the bedrock principle that a doctor shall do no harm."
The Board of Psychology and the Office of Professions are responsible for licensing and regulating the conduct of New York psychologists. Dr. Leso has never faced a criminal or civil trial for his actions, and his license remains in good standing.