John Leso

Torture Connection: 
Invented 'Category 3' interrogations

Major John Francis Leso

  • 2002-2003  Member, Behavioral Science Consultation Team JTF-GTMO
  • 2002  Author, interrogation protocol that relied in part on SERE “reverse-engineered” torture techniques
  • 2002, 2003  Chief of the Clinical Psychology Service, Walter Reed Army Medical Center
  • 2005  U.S. Embassy Austria
  • 1996-current?  Member, American Psychological Association (APA)

John Leso aided interrogators at Guantanamo, devised ways to increase prisoners’ suffering

An army psychologist with no training or experience in interrogations, Dr. Leso in June 2002 became the first psychological clinician assigned to the new U.S. prison compounds at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. As the first psychologist serving with one of the new Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCTs) at Guantanamo, Leso was tasked with using his professional expertise to support interrogators by establishing procedures and general detention conditions that would break down the prisoners’ mental and emotional resistance to interrogation.

Official logs from Guantanamo indicate that Leso participated in abusive interrogation sessions and advised interrogators on how to increase the suffering of prisoners.

Prisoners under Leso abused to point of hospitalization

The BSCT teams were charged with establishing conditions that would maximize prisoners’ mental, emotional, and physical distress, in hopes of breaking down their resistance to interrogation. For example, Dr. Leso was involved in sessions with prisoner Mohammed al Qahtani that included intravenous administration of large quantities of fluids; when al Qahtani requested permission to go to the bathroom, he was chained in place and told to urinate on himself. Also, al Qahtani twice needed hospital treatment for hypothermia inflicted intentionally when he was kept naked in chilled cells.

Leso wrote the book on torturous interrogation

Dr. Leso coauthored with psychiatrist Paul Burney an interrogation manual that recommended abusive practices and detention conditions such as these, which were adapted from methods used by the Chinese and North Korean governments against American prisoners of war. The Leso-Burney manual became the basis for Secretary Rumsfeld’s December 2002 memo authorizing eleven torturous techniques for use in Guantanamo, Iraq, Afghanistan, and probably in secret prisons elsewhere around the world.

After establishing the abusive interrogation routines and conditions utilized at Guantanamo, Dr. Leso was replaced there in early 2003 by a higher-ranking army psychologist, Col. Larry James. The army eventually sent Leso to Fort Rucker, Alabama, home of army aviation’s SERE school, where aviators were trained in ways to resist abusive interrogation techniques.

Leso’s professional status challenged

Dr. Leso’s license to practice psychology has been challenged on grounds that by participating in torturous interrogations and advising interrogators on means of increasing prisoners’ psychological distress, he severely abused his professional credentials. To date, none of the challenges has been investigated.

He has also been charged with professional misconduct, and his membership in the American Psychological Association has come under formal challenge. To date, he retains full professional status, and none of the complaints has been investigated.

Sources on John Leso

New York Times
The Guardian
Wall Street Journal
UC Davis
Washington Post