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Army psychologist spared state probe over Guantanamo interrogations

A judge Thursday declined to order a state agency to investigate whether an Army psychologist developed abusive interrogation techniques for detainees at Guantanamo Bay and should be stripped of his state-issued license.

The decision halted what civil-rights advocates have called the first court case amid a push to shed light on psychologists' role in terror suspects' interrogations.

The person who brought the case -- another psychologist -- doesn't have legal standing to do so, Manhattan Civil Court Judge Saliann Scarpulla said in his ruling.

Rights activists and some psychologists have pressed regulators in several states -- unsuccessfully so far -- to explore whether psychologists violated professional rules by designing or observing abusive interrogations.

In New York, rights advocates focused on John F. Leso, saying he developed "psychologically and physically abusive" interrogation techniques for use on detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The state Office of Professional Discipline, which oversees psychologists, declined last year to look into Leso. The agency said that his Army work is outside its purview and that the agency isn't in a position to address larger questions about the appropriateness of detainee interrogation methods.

The agency's decision spurred the San Francisco-based Center for Justice and Accountability, the New York Civil Liberties Union and psychologist Steven Reisner to sue the agency last fall and ask the judge to force a review of techniques developed by Leso, who holds a New York psychologists license.

"The ruling is unfortunate, as Dr. Reisner's claims raise serious and fundamental questions that should have their day in court," Center for Justice and Accountability lawyer Kathy Roberts said.

She said the groups are considering an appeal but also keeping their eye on proposed state legislation that would require investigating any allegation that a health care professional has participated in torture or other improper treatment.

While leading a behavioral science consultation team at Guantanamo in 2002 and 2003, Leso recommended interrogation tactics such as exposing detainees to severe cold, depriving them of sleep and forcing liquids into them intravenously, and he participated in at least one interrogation that used some of those methods, the Center for Justice and Accountability said.

It said it based its allegations on government documents, some of them redacted, as well as academic journal articles and other sources.

The group and Reisner, who specializes in addressing the effects of trauma, say Leso's alleged activities amount to professional misconduct and need to be explored.

The judge told the advocates in April that she shared their "sensibility" but wasn't sure about their legal argument.

They argued that as a psychologist licensed in New York, Reisner has a personal interest in preserving the field's reputation and the value of his license. But the judge said that didn't add up to grounds to force action by the professional discipline office, which is part of the state Education Department.

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