CIA paid two ex-military psychologists $81 million to help design and run torture program


Included in the hideous details of the executive summary version of the torture report released Tuesday is the news that the company founded by two former military psychologists who urged waterboarding and other coercive methods against suspects secretly imprisoned by the CIA and Department of Defense was paid $81 million for work with the agency's interrogation program from 2005 until 2009.

The two, referred to by pseudonyms in the torture report, were James E. Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. They were among the catalysts for an uprising at the American Psychological Association in 2008 that was covered in the post Torture Generates Turmoil at the APA. An excerpt:

What we do know is horrible enough. Most horrible of all is knowing that medical personnel and psychologists violated the most basic ethics of their professions— Do No Harm—by participating in and helping to design "enhanced" interrogations designed to break prisoners. Some did break. Some were killed. This systematic torture focused on sensory and sleep deprivation, overstimulation, and dependency creation. Massive amounts of pain and fear were also included. For their part, psychologists "reverse-engineered" the military's Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) program—designed to help American soldiers and marines resist torture—as a means to teach interrogators how to employ torture against captives.  

Let me repeat that. Training established to help American prisoners of war cope with, or at least anticipate, their captors' efforts to break them down was "reverse-engineered" as a means to break down prisoners at Guantánamo and "black sites" run by the CIA or military intelligence operations in Europe, Asia, North Africa and the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

Talk about becoming the enemy.

We also know that, even after the supposed banning of some measures that had been previously approved by the Secretary of Defense, these techniques continued at the detention center at Guantánamo Bay Naval Base, and probably other prisons, even while the Inspector General was putting a seal of approval on the whole affair.

Among other things spurred by Mitchell and Jessen's work was a program at Guantánamo in which 17 detainees were subjected to being moved frequently from cell to cell, causing sleep deprivation and disorientation to soften them up for interrogation. This was called the "frequent flyer" program in official documents. The Washington Post found that the frequent cell movements occurred on the same days a Navy admiral was visiting to determine whether detainees were being abused.

So, with "frequent flyer," they didn't just torture, they made torture a joke.

Morality aside, one element of the incompetence and stupidity plaguing the CIA's and military's interrogation programs is shown in The New York Times report, which notes that Mitchell and Jessen were each paid $1,800 a day, four times the going rate for an interrogator even though neither of them had ever interrogated a subject previously.

As human beings, Mitchell and Jessen should have known what they were doing was the product of sick or sociopathic minds. As psychologists, they should have known that what they did broke the most basic ethical guidelines. If they had doubts about their actions, they succeeded in suppressing them. The money apparently made that easy.


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