Fixing Hell by Col. (Ret.) Larry C. James, Ph.D.

Fixing Hell by Col. (Ret.) Dr. Larry C. James, Ph.D. is a nonfiction book about how one army psychologist takes on the task of cleaning up after public relations nightmares at detention centers in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Abu Ghraib, Iraq.

Dr. James is sent to reform these prison/detention centers after scandals break out regarding the treatment of prisoners and detainees. After conducting research and reviewing the Stanford Prison Experiment, which details how otherwise “good” people can commit atrocities in a prison system, Dr. James heads to Cuba.

He outlines some ground rules before he gets to Guantanamo Bay. One of the main rules he sets forth is that leaders must be seen and present. James walks throughout the complex at different hours of the day, even at 2 a.m. He finds that some of the guards on duty in the wee hours are asleep at their posts, while others claim to have never seen a colonel or other military leaders.

Dr. James leaves Guantanamo only to be sent shortly thereafter to Abu Ghraib following the highly public denigration of Iraqi prisoners at the detention center. Soldiers at the prison disrobed prisoners, posed them naked in a human pyramid, and shot photos of the incidents, which were later plastered all over the news. As a psychologist, Dr. James was sent to the detention center to clean up the facility and establish protocols to prevent further incidents.

The audio of this book was well read and engaging. It certainly kept our attention during our early morning commutes, and it was intriguing to get an insider’s look at the military’s psychology department and protocols. My husband enjoyed the details about how Dr. James remedied the problems at Abu Ghraib and the insight those details provided about the actual facts of the situation.

However, the last chapters of the book slowed down the flow of the book for us. Dr. James offers a great deal of explanation about how the media played up the Abu Ghraib incidents and printed misinformation that maligned the reputations of fellow psychologists and himself. While we understood his need to set the record straight, the information was unnecessary given the timeline he issued throughout the book. Any reports placing him or his colleagues at the detention centers during the scandalous incidents could easily be dismissed.

With that being said, anyone interested in military or war history will enjoy this insider’s look at the Iraq War, Abu Ghraib, and the military’s psychology unit.

About the Author:

Colonel Larry C. James, PhD, served as the Chief, Department of Psychology at Walter Reed Army Medical Center for the past five years. In this capacity, he also was the Chief Psychologist for the Army’s northeast region and had responsibility over 100 psychologists in this region. Currently, Dr. James is the Chief, Department of Psychology, Tripler Army Medical Center, Honolulu, Hawaii. During the Military’s response to 9/11 at the Pentagon, Col. James was the Chief Psychologist for the Mental Health Task Force. Dr. James has been awarded the Bronze Star and the Joint Service Commendation medals for his superior and distinguished services during the global war on terrorism. In 2003, he was the Chief Psychologist for the Joint Intelligence Group at GTMO, Cuba, and in 2004 he was the Director, Behavioral Science Unit, Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center at Abu Ghraib, Iraq. Col. James was assigned to Iraq to develop legal and ethical policies consistent with the Geneva Convention Guidelines and the APA Ethics Code in response to the abuse scandal. Also, while at Abu Ghraib, Iraq, Dr. James was tasked with developing a mental health clinic to deliver services to approximately 8,000 prisoners.

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