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Fixing Hell: An Army Psychologist Confronts Abu Ghraib Hardcover – September 18, 2008

2.9 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Narrator Eric Kramer captures this contradiction in a sure voice that also projects James's (author) gentleness, creative thinking, and compassion. James bring listeners into the painful realities of Abu Ghraib with powerful dialogues, and Kramer's delivery makes the most of these conversations." (AudioFile 2008-01-00) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

A colonel in the U.S. Army, Dr. Larry C. James was awarded a Bronze Star for distinguished service in Iraq. He is the Chair of the Psychology Department at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, and is the former Chair of the Department of Psychology at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He is also a Fellow of the American Psychology Association and has published four books as well as more than fifty scientific papers. Colonel James has played a major leadership role in determining the appropriate, legal, and ethical role psychologists must play in national security and intelligence collection. Now retired from the Army, he is currently Dean of the School of Professional Psychology at Wright State University in Ohio.

Gregory A. Freeman is an award-winning writer in journalism and historical nonfiction. His most recent books are The Forgotten 500 and Sailors to the End.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing; 1 edition (September 18, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446509280
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446509282
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #415,326 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As soon as I finished reading this book, I immediately headed to the nearest church, rent my clothes, fell on my face and repented. Col. (ret.) Larry C. James, Ph.D. is clearly the Second Coming of Christ.

Okay, no, not really. Even the briefest study of history or literature will teach you that in order to evaluate any written work, you must first evaluate the narrator. Who is telling the story and why? What point of view (first person, third person, limited or omniscient) does the narrator use to convey his/her story? What agenda does the author have in mind? How reliable is the narrator?

This book is narrated in a first-person voice by Col. James himself. Ostensibly, it is his story of how he cleaned up both GITMO and Abu Ghraib, stopped all prisoner abuses, and provided medical and psychological services to service members and prisoners at both locations, but I haven't read such a blatant piece of self-heroicizing since, well, James Frey's "A Million Little Pieces". As far as reliability, we soon figure out that the Morton company doesn't even make enough salt to take this guy with.

Col. James operates almost exclusively in black and white stereotypes, some of which I'm sure he doesn't even intend. For instance, he portrays all U.S. service members, officer and enlisted alike, as ignorant, potty-mouth, good-ole-boy rubes from Alabama. He tries to convince us he has nothing against gays and lesbians, but yet he portrays them in a ridiculously stereotyped manner (e.g., the fussy gay man worried about his nails while learning to fire a gun). His treatment of women has already been addressed by other reviewers.

And this is to say nothing of the typical stereotypes of Muslims as fanatic, irrational U.S.
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Format: Hardcover
I read this book based on a faculty recommendation for presentation on enhanced interrogation techniques that I'll soon be delivering. Fortunately, I never ventured onto Amazon.com (until now) to read through the reviews for Col. Larry James book. Clearly, this book and the author's text is highly polarizing -- leaving "Fixing Hell" with a 3-star overall rating.

I'm afraid that many of these reviews may be coming at James with a prescribed agenda: defame and debase the author. He's been the target of multiple accusations that he supported and aided the torture regime in the Bush years. As he acknowledges, there is no such evidence that he engaged in the enhanced interrogation/torture techniques nor condoned them.

James presents a climate -- top-down -- where there was a pressure to create actionable intelligence. For a time, that meant any means necessary. One major critique is that this book struggles with the broader political climate and Bybee Torture memos that seemed to allow for this behavior. But he does address this pressure from commanding officers and generals -- they were desperate for anything and everything. Additionally, many of the experienced interrogators from the Vietnam era were replaced by early career 19, 20, and 21-year-olds. This transitional period seems to have worsened the series of events that occurred at Gitmo and Abu Ghraib.

"Fixing Hell" confronts the history of two CIA contractors being brought to Gitmo, and teaching interrogators and commanding staff about enhanced interrogation techniques. These were always controversial, and research has repeatedly shown that these techniques do not work for getting actionable intelligence; rather, it leads to corrupted data.
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Format: Hardcover
As far as a rating level, this was a toughie, as I was reading through it, that bounced everywhere from low 2-star to low 4-star in my mind.

There's several things to like - beyond a psychologist who is also a career soldier putting the reader inside the military lingo and the "fog of war" mind - about this book.

On major thing is James' airing the question as to whether or not the "terrorist mindset" should be classified as a new category of mental illness. He uses Tim McVeigh as a reference, noting that, by all current classifications, McVeigh was "normal."

His describing his own PTSD symptoms, plus his "professional macho" refusal to get help for them at first, personalizes this book, as does his discussion of his history at Abu Ghraib with a class of young Army psychologists a few years later.

Finally, James rightfully defends himself, and Army psychologists in general, against SOME of the charges leveled against them.

BUT - this book also has many problems.

First, it is a matter of record that, as a profession, American psychologists, as opposed to psychiatrists, have never taken an unambiguous stand about being involved with torture in any way, via their relative professional associations. And James, in his self-defense conclusion, never discusses this.

What's Jeams' take on the American Psychological Association's refusal to follow the American Psychiatric Association with an unambiguous condemnation of the reverse engineering of SERE (corrected from original) and other "enhanced interrogation techniques"? (Finally, belatedly, some such condemnation was approved late last year) How does he square that with his "do no harm" mantra?
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