NEW YORK, Aug 11 (Reuters) - A state judge Thursday denied a petition to force the state to investigate whether a psychologist developed abusive interrogation techniques for use on Guantanamo Bay detainees, violating his professional ethics.
The lawsuit against the state Office of Professional Discipline, which oversees standards for psychologists, alleged that John Leso spent six months advising military authorities at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba on "harmful and abusive psychological techniques," including sleep deprivation and withholding of food.
In her ruling, Acting Supreme Court Justice Saliann Scarpulla said the petitioner -- a New York psychologist, Steven Reisner -- did not have legal standing to question the agency's decision not to investigate Leso's actions.
"There is nothingto indicate that the New York Legislature intended any and every individual to have an unfettered, statutory right to have every single complaint of professional misconduct investigated," she wrote.
The Center for Justice and Accountability in San Francisco and the New York Civil Liberties Union brought the petition in November on Reisner's behalf as part of a growing effort to hold certain psychologists accountable for their involvement in honing interrogation methods employed at Guantanamo Bay.
Leso first emerged as a target in 2005 when Time Magazine reported on a leaked military log, indicating that Leso observed the questioning of a prisoner and advised interrogators on how to increase stress through isolation, threatening with a dog, shackling and other techniques.
The center and Reisner initially filed a complaint with the Office of Professional Discipline (OPD) last July, requesting that it investigate Leso - who is licensed in New York - for potentially violating the state's professional standards for psychologists.
NO LEGAL BASIS FOR INVESTIGATION
But the agency argued it had "no legal basis for instituting an investigation into Dr. Leso's activities while in the military service of the United States," according to a letter from the agency's director Louis Catone. He added that Leso's alleged conduct did not fit the definition of psychology, since the detainees were not his patients.
Several months later, the Center for Justice and Accountability and the NYCLU filed suit.
While the ruling focused on the narrow question of legal standing, the controversy over harsh interrogation methods at Guantanamo Bay was not absent from the case.
"The intention here was to prevent another Sept. 11, and that is an important factor that should not be overlooked," James Hershler, a lawyer in the state Attorney General's office, said, according to a court transcript from an April hearing.
In a statement Thursday, Reisner said, "Our country is still in a quandary as to how to hold itself and its officials accountable for this dark chapter in our history, and in particular it is in a quandary with respect to those professionals who are answerable to the higher standards embodied in professional ethical codes."
A lawyer for the NYCLU said in a statement that the two groups would consider their legal options, including an appeal.
"The ruling is unfortunate, as Dr. Reisner's claims raise serious and fundamental questions that should have their day in court," said Taylor Pendergrass.
According to Reisner's initial letter to the OPD, Leso now works at Fort Rucker in Alabama. Attempts to reach him Thursday afternoon were unsuccessful.
A call to the Attorney General's office was not immediately returned.
The case is Reisner v. Catone et al., New York State Supreme Court, No. 115400/2010.
For Reisner: Kathy Roberts of the Center for Justice & Accountability.
For Catone: James Hershler of the New York Attorney General's office.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax)
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