Dec 19, 2008

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.

***Don't forget my giveaway for an inscribed copy of Matrimony by Joshua Henkin. Deadline is Dec. 21 and the contest is international.**

***Check out the winner of the Green Beauty Guide and an announcement about First Book.***


Anonymous said...

Sounds like pretty heavy reading for this time of year. I'm glad you enjoyed most of it.

Anna said...

Though this isn't a book I'm likely to read, it sounds pretty interesting. I don't like it when books lose steam at the end.

Diary of an Eccentric

Gottawrite Girl said...

Ohhh, this is RIGHT up my ally!!! Sweet! Thanks, Serena!

Jenners said...

Was stopping by to check out your blog after you visited mine (the Children's Book Quiz). You scored 100% by the way -- and now I know why! You are a busy busy reader! I'm going to blogroll you on my book blog ( and I'll definitely be back to check it out more when I have a little more time!

Serena said...

Bermudaonion: It was heavy "reading" but it was interesting.

Anna: Yeah, I don't expect you to be picking this up.

Gottawrite Girl: This was a great book, except for the end explanations--"setting the record straight"

Jenners: Wow, I had no idea I would get 100! Thanks for stopping by my blog. I'm adding you to my google reader.

Anonymous said...

As usual, a well thought out and revealing review, Serena. Not really my cup of tea, this book, but I enjoyed your analysis. I'm sure there is a sizeable market for this work.

Serena said...

Marvin: This is the PoliSci major in me. The inner workings of government are intriguing...and its often less conspiratorial than you would think.

Amanda said...

This sounds interesting and depressing at the same time.

bethany said...

wow. I am reading The Moment of Truth also about the military, and I am loving it! LOVING IT! Thanks for this review.

Serena said...

Bethany: Now I'm curious. I'm going to have to check out The Moment of Truth.

bethany said...

I'll have my review up soon, it is written by a journalist that was there at the same time my little brother was (in Iraq) and it is a little intense for me at times, I love reading it though.

It is written by Michael Yon, a crazy-cool journalist who used to be a green beret! I am learning so much, I love his middle ground approach, he tells it like he sees it and it has brought me to tears.

Does it say anything that this is the first full price book I have bought in over 4 years?!!?! Seriously!

(Sorry, I was excited that you were interested in the book and got myself carried away in my comment...:)

Sandra said...

It's a story that needs to be told and I'm sure a lot of peole willl be interested. A good review, you covered the points well. I've never tried an audio book but I can see that this story might be more enjoyable in that medium.

Serena said...

Bethany: Your excitement just makes me want to check it out more and more. I love when people get enthusiastic about their books. I will definitely put this on my wish list...though that also seems to be getting out of control these days. I will check out your review as well.

Sandra: I really enjoy audiobooks in the mornings...I think it keeps us relaxed with all the traffic in this area.

naida said...

this does sound intense.
excellent review.

Anonymous said...

tell u the truth? I was never interestedin War's! they make me sad... BUT! because.. it was a challenge for me, I joined the challenge u guys are hosting!

I want to know about it... but it is too sad to handle for me :(

Hopefully i will be able to do it!

Serena said...

Naida: Thanks for popping over to read the review.

Veens: I'm glad that you are challenging yourself. This book was not as intense as A Soldier's Promise, which I liked even more than this one.

Literary Feline said...

This sounds like a really interesting book, one that I might like to read. I imagine Dr. James' job is not very easy. Thanks for the great review!

J.Danger said...

oh my gosh. What a job.