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Context of 'April 16, 2002: SERE Psychologist Proposes Torture Program'

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Two psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, draft a paper on the use of harsh interrogations to break suspected al-Qaeda terrorists. Mitchell, a retired Air Force psychologist, and Jessen, the senior psychologist in charge of the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA)‘s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training program, will soon begin consulting for both the Pentagon and a variety of US intelligence agencies on the harsh methods—torture—they advocate. Jessen proposes an interrogation program similar to those later adopted by the CIA and Pentagon. His proposal recommends creating what he calls an “exploitation facility,” off-limits to outside observers including journalists and representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the agency detailed to ensure that captives in the custody of other nations are being treated properly in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. In the “exploitation facility,” interrogators would use such tactics as sleep deprivation, physical violence, and waterboarding to break the resistance of captured terrorism suspects. JPRA officials will later add their own suggestions to Jessen’s initial list, including sexually provocative acts by female interrogators and the use of military dogs. Most of these techniques are considered torture under the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture. [Washington Post, 4/22/2009]

Entity Tags: Geneva Conventions, Bruce Jessen, Central Intelligence Agency, Convention Against Torture, Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, James Elmer Mitchell, US Department of Defense, International Committee of the Red Cross

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Captured al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002), after recovering somewhat from three gunshot wounds inflicted during his capture, is transferred to a secret CIA prison in Thailand, presumably the revamped Vietnam War-era base in Udorn. [Weiner, 2007, pp. 297; Washington Post, 4/22/2009] In late 2006, after being transferred to Guantanamo, Zubaida will tell representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross the story of his interrogation in Thailand (see October 6 - December 14, 2006). Zubaida becomes what CIA interrogator John Kiriakou will later call “a test case for an evolving new role… in which the agency was to act as jailer and interrogator of terrorism suspects” (see September 17, 2001).
New Tactics To Be Used - Officials from the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) program are involved in Zubaida’s interrogations. SERE officials have prepared a program of so-called “harsh interrogation methods,” many of which are classified as torture under the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture (see December 2001 and July 2002). A 2009 Senate report (see April 21, 2009) will find: “At some point in the first six months of 2002, JPRA [the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency] assisted with the preparation of a [redacted name], sent to interrogate a high-level al-Qaeda operative.” Further investigation will prove that the person whose name will be redacted is, indeed, Zubaida. According to a June 20, 2002 memo, the SERE officials’ participation in the Zubaida interrogation is “training.” JPRA psychologist Bruce Jessen, one of the authors of the JPRA torture methodology (see January 2002 and After), suggests that “exploitation strategies” be used against Zubaida. Jessen’s collaborator on the torture proposal, James Mitchell, is present for Zubaida’s torture; Mitchell plays a central role in the decision to use what the CIA calls an “increased pressure phase” against Zubaida. [Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
First Weeks Shackled and Sleep-Deprived - Zubaida will begin his narrative after his initial, and successful, interrogation by FBI agents (see Late March through Early June, 2002). He spends the first weeks of his captivity shackled to a chair, denied solid food, and kept awake. In Zubaida’s words: “I woke up, naked, strapped to a bed, in a very white room. The room measured approximately [13 feet by 13 feet]. The room had three solid walls, with the fourth wall consisting of metal bars separating it from a larger room. I am not sure how long I remained in the bed. After some time, I think it was several days, but can’t remember exactly, I was transferred to a chair where I was kept, shackled by [the] hands and feet for what I think was the next two to three weeks. During this time I developed blisters on the underside of my legs due to the constant sitting. I was only allowed to get up from the chair to go [to] the toilet, which consisted of a bucket. Water for cleaning myself was provided in a plastic bottle. I was given no solid food during the first two or three weeks, while sitting on the chair. I was only given Ensure [a nutrient supplement] and water to drink. At first the Ensure made me vomit, but this became less with time. The cell and room were air-conditioned and were very cold. Very loud, shouting type music was constantly playing. It kept repeating about every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day. Sometimes the music stopped and was replaced by a loud hissing or crackling noise. The guards were American, but wore masks to conceal their faces. My interrogators did not wear masks. During this first two to three week period I was questioned for about one to two hours each day. American interrogators would come to the room and speak to me through the bars of the cell. During the questioning the music was switched off, but was then put back on again afterwards. I could not sleep at all for the first two to three weeks. If I started to fall asleep one of the guards would come and spray water in my face.” In 2009, author Mark Danner will write: “One can translate these procedures into terms of art: ‘Change of Scenery Down.’ ‘Removal of Clothing.’ ‘Use of Stress Positions.’ ‘Dietary Manipulation.’ ‘Environmental Manipulation.’ ‘Sleep Adjustment.’ ‘Isolation.’ ‘Sleep Deprivation.’ ‘Use of Noise to Induce Stress.’ All these terms and many others can be found, for example, in documents associated with the debate about interrogation and ‘counter-resistance’ carried on by Pentagon and Justice Department officials beginning in 2002. Here, however, we find a different standard: the [proposed regulations say], for example, that ‘Sleep Deprivation’ is ‘not to exceed four days in succession,’ that ‘Dietary Manipulation’ should include ‘no intended deprivation of food or water,’ that ‘removal of clothing,” while ‘creating a feeling of helplessness and dependence,’ must be ‘monitored to ensure the environmental conditions are such that this technique does not injure the detainee.’ Here we are in a different place.”
CIA Team Moves In - The first weeks of Zubaida’s captivity are maintained by a small team of FBI agents and interrogators, but soon a team from the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center takes over. As Kiriakou will later recall: “We had these trained interrogators who were sent to his location to use the enhanced techniques as necessary to get him to open up, and to report some threat information.… These enhanced techniques included everything from what was called an attention shake, where you grab the person by their lapels and shake them, all the way up to the other end, which is waterboarding.” After the initial period of captivity, Zubaida is allowed to sleep with less interruption, stretched out naked and shackled on the bare floor. He is also given solid food for the first time in weeks—rice. A female doctor examines him and asks why he is still naked; he is, he will recall, “provided with orange clothes to wear.” The clothes only last a day, though: “[G]uards came into my cell,” Zubaida will recall. “They told me to stand up and raise my arms above my head. They then cut the clothes off of me so that I was again naked and put me back on the chair for several days. I tried to sleep on the chair, but was again kept awake by the guards spraying water in my face.”
Alternating Harsh and Lenient Treatments - For the next few weeks, Zubaida’s treatment veers from abusive to almost lenient. Mostly he is kept naked and confined to his cell, often suffering from intense cold in the frigid air-conditioned environment. One official later tells the ICRC that often he “seemed to turn blue.” Clothing is provided, then taken away. Zubaida will tell ICRC officials: “When my interrogators had the impression that I was cooperating and providing the information they required, the clothes were given back to me. When they felt I was being less cooperative the clothes were again removed and I was again put back on the chair.” For a time he is given a mattress to sleep on; sometimes he is “allowed some tissue paper to use when going to toilet on the bucket.” A month goes by with no interrogations. He will recall: “My cell was still very cold and the loud music no longer played but there was a constant loud hissing or crackling noise, which played 24 hours a day. I tried to block out the noise by putting tissue in my ears.” Then, “about two and half or three months after I arrived in this place, the interrogation began again, but with more intensity than before.” Danner will write that he isn’t sure if the wild swings in procedures are intentional, meant to keep Zubaida off-guard, or, as he will write, “resulted from disputes about strategy among the interrogators, who were relying on a hastily assembled ‘alternative set of procedures’ that had been improvised from various sources, including scientists and psychiatrists within the intelligence community, experts from other, ‘friendly’ governments, and consultants who had worked with the US military and now ‘reverse-engineered’ the resistance training taught to American elite forces to help them withstand interrogation after capture.” Danner notes that some CIA documents going back to the 1960s advocate subjecting the captive to sensory deprivation and disorientation, and instilling feelings of guilt, shame, and helplessness. The old CIA documents say that captives should be kept in a state of “debility-dependence-dread.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]
Justice Department's 'Ticking Bomb' Scenario - The August 2002 “golden shield” memo from the Justice Department (see August 1, 2002) will use what is often called the “ticking bomg scenario”—the supposition that a terror attack is imminent and only torture can extract time-critical information from a terrorist detainee to give US officials a chance to stop the attack—to justify Zubaida’s torture. According to CIA reports, Zubaida has information regarding “terrorist networks in the United States” and “plans to conduct attacks within the United States or against our interests overseas.” But Brent Mickum, who later becomes one of Zubaida’s attorneys, will say that he believes the Justice Department memo retroactively approved coercive tactics that had already been used. “If torture occurred before the memo was written, it’s not worth the paper it’s written on, and the writing of the memo is potentially criminal,” Mickum will note. [Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
Interrogations Continue in June - Sometime in June, Zubaida will once again be interrogated (see June 2002).

Entity Tags: Mark Danner, John Kiriakou, James Elmer Mitchell, Bruce Jessen, Al-Qaeda, Abu Zubaida, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Convention Against Torture, George Brent Mickum, Geneva Conventions, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, International Committee of the Red Cross

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Pentagon psychologist Bruce Jessen, who serves as the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA)‘s senior psychologist for its SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) training program, releases an internal draft report for reverse-engineering SERE training techniques to be used against enemy detainees. SERE training teaches soldiers to resist torture inflicted on them by enemy captors. Jessen’s report, a follow-up to a previous report authored by him and fellow military psychologist James Mitchell (see January 2002 and After), calls for the creation of a secret “exploitation facility” that would be off-limits to oversight bodies such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, and would be kept clear of reporters. Jessen’s plan also describes the fundamentals of an “enhanced interrogation” methodology. According to a 2009 press report, it advocated techniques “strikingly similar to those that later surfaced at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere: nudity, stress positions, hoods, treatment like animals, sleep disruption, loud music and flashing lights, and exposure to extreme temperatures.” The techniques also include waterboarding, used 266 times against two high-value al-Qaeda detainees (see April 16, 2009 and April 18, 2009). The report notes: “Typically, those who play the part of interrogators in SERE school neither are trained interrogators nor are they qualified to be. Their job is to train our personnel to resist providing reliable information to our enemies.” However, senior JPRA and Pentagon officials will ignore Jessen’s caveats and authorize the application of SERE methods to the interrogations of al-Qaeda detainees (see April - June 2002). Three months later, JPRA will begin training CIA agents in SERE-derived techniques (see July 2002), including a two-day session on waterboarding (see July 1-2, 2002). Shortly after the training sessions, Pentagon general counsel William Haynes will ask JPRA for more information on SERE techniques. Haynes’s deputy, Richard Shiffrin, will later confirm “that a purpose of the request was to ‘reverse engineer’ the techniques.” [Agence France-Presse, 4/22/2009] In 2009, the press learns that Mitchell and Jessen are paid $1,000 a day to train military interrogators (see April 30, 2009).

Entity Tags: Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, Bruce Jessen, Richard Shiffrin, US Department of Defense, William J. Haynes, Central Intelligence Agency, James Elmer Mitchell

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Instructors from the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), which oversees the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training program, conduct a training seminar for intelligence officials. JPRA officials, including senior psychologist Bruce Jessen, have proposed a set of interrogation procedures that amounts to torture (see January 2002 and After and April 16, 2002), and the JPRA instructors are now training CIA and other agency officials in those procedures. Two JPRA legal advisers tell the group that such harsh interrogation methodologies are already deemed acceptable, even though the Justice Department has not yet issued such approval (see August 1, 2002). The lawyers tell the seminar participants, “They [interrogators] could use all forms of psychological pressure discussed, and all the physiological pressures with the exception of the ‘water board.’” The lawyers say that waterboarding might also be permitted, but interrogators “would need prior approval.” [Washington Post, 4/22/2009] During the seminar, CIA agents are given two days of training in waterboarding (see July 1-2, 2002). In 2009, the media learns that Jessen and his partner, James Mitchell, are paid $1,000 a day for the training (see April 30, 2009).

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, James Elmer Mitchell, Central Intelligence Agency, Bruce Jessen, Joint Personnel Recovery Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Two days after General Rick Baccus has been relieved from duty as the guard commander at Guantanamo (see October 9, 2002), and almost one and a half months since the writing of the Office of Legal Counsel’s (OLC) August memo on torture (see August 1, 2002), military intelligence at Guantanamo begin suggesting new rules of interrogation. Lieutenant Colonel Jerald Phifer, Director J2, sends a memo, to Major General Michael E. Dunlavey, Commander of Joint Task Force (JTF) 170, requesting approval for more severe interrogation techniques. [US Department of Defense, 10/11/2002 pdf file; New Yorker, 2/27/2008] In 2009, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) will write (see April 21, 2009) that Dunlavey’s request is sparked by recent reports on the use of SERE training techniques for interrogation purposes (see January 2002 and After and April 16, 2002). [Huffington Post, 4/21/2009]
Three Categories of Techniques - The memo states, “The current guidelines for interrogation procedures at GTMO [Guantanamo] limit the ability of interrogators to counter advanced resistance.” Phifer proposes three categories of techniques. The mildest, which includes yelling and weak forms of deception, are included in category one. Category two techniques are more severe and require approval by an “interrogator group director.” They include the use of stress positions for up to four hours; use of falsified documents; isolation for up to 30 days; sensory deprivation and hooding; 20-hour interrogations; removal of comfort and religious items; replacing hot food with cold military rations; removal of clothing; forced grooming, including the shaving of beards; and playing on detainees’ phobias to induce stress, such as a fear of dogs. The harshest techniques, listed in category three, are to be reserved for a “very small percentage of the most uncooperative detainees” and only used with permission from the commander of the prison. These methods include using non-injurious physical contact like poking or grabbing; threatening a detainee with death or severe pain or threatening that a family member would be subjected to such harm; exposing him to cold weather or water; using a wet towel to “induce the misperception of suffocation.” [US Department of Defense, 10/11/2002 pdf file; New Yorker, 2/27/2008]
Desire to Extract More Information from Detainee - The request is prompted in part by military intelligence’s belief that Guantanamo detainee Mohamed al-Khatani has more information than the FBI has managed to extract from him. “Al-Khatani is a person in… whom we have considerable interest,” Dell’Orto will explain during a 2004 press briefing at the White House. “He has resisted our techniques. And so it is concluded at Guantanamo that it may be time to inquire as to whether there may be more flexibility in the type of techniques we use on him.” [Washington File, 6/23/2004]
JAG Officer Concludes Tactics are Legal - The same day, a staff judge advocate, Lieutenant Colonel Diane E. Beaver, reviews Phifer’s proposed techniques for legality and, while making qualifications and recommending further review, concludes in a memo to Dunlavey that they are legal. Also the same day, Dunlavey sends the list of techniques to his superior, General James T. Hill, commander of the Southern Command, requesting approval for their use. Dunlavey writes: “Although [the techniques currently employed] have resulted in significant exploitable intelligence the same methods have become less effective over time. I believe the methods and techniques delineated in the accompanying J-2 memorandum will enhance our efforts to extract additional information.” [US Department of Defense, 10/11/2002 pdf file] Beaver concludes that since President Bush had decided that all the detainees “are not protected by the Geneva Conventions” (see January 18-25, 2002, February 7, 2002), all of the desired techniques are allowable because “no international body of law directly applies.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 178]

Entity Tags: Rick Baccus, George W. Bush, James T. Hill, Carl Levin, Daniel J. Dell’Orto, Diane E. Beaver, Michael E. Dunlavey, Mohamed al-Khatani

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

The CIA fires two contractors, psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, from their lucrative consulting contracts. Mitchell and Jessen designed the CIA’s torture program (see January 2002 and After, April 16, 2002, Mid-April 2002, and Between Mid-April and Mid-May 2002), and earned $1,000 a day in doing so (see April 30, 2009). The CIA now believes that the two fundamentally misrepresented their knowledge of the safety and efficacy of particular torture techniques, particularly waterboarding. The firings are part of a larger “purge” by CIA Director Leon Panetta of all contractors involved in the Bush-era torture program. Panetta tells CIA employees that all contractors involved in the interrogation program and secret prisons are being “promptly terminated.” [ABC News, 6/16/2009]

Entity Tags: Leon Panetta, Bruce Jessen, Bush administration (43), James Elmer Mitchell, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

The White House releases four key Justice Department memos documenting the CIA’s use of harsh interrogation methods—torture—against suspected terrorists. The memos were released as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The documents show that two high-level detainees were subjected to waterboarding at least 266 times between them. Al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida was waterboarded at least 83 times in August 2002, contradicting earlier CIA reports that he “broke” after a single waterboarding session (see December 10, 2007). Confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was waterboarded at least 183 times in March 2003. The so-called “insect” technique—exposure to insects within an enclosed box—was approved for use on Zubaida, but apparently never used. Numerous prisoners were subjected to “walling” and “sleep deprivation,” with at least one detainee subjected to the technique for 180 hours (over seven days). Three of the memos were written by then-Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) chief Steven Bradbury in May 2005 (see May 10, 2005, May 10, 2005, and May 30, 2005), and the fourth by Bradbury’s predecessor, Jay Bybee, in August 2002 (see August 1, 2002). [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/16/2009; New York Times, 4/19/2009; BBC, 4/23/2009] Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says: “These legal memoranda demonstrate in alarming detail exactly what the Bush administration authorized for ‘high value detainees’ in US custody. The techniques are chilling. This was not an ‘abstract legal theory,’ as some former Bush administration officials have characterized it. These were specific techniques authorized to be used on real people.” [CNN, 4/17/2009] House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) agrees, saying: “This release, as well as the decision to ban the use of such techniques in the future, will strengthen both our national security and our commitment to the rule of law and help restore our country’s standing in the international community. The legal analysis and some of the techniques in these memos are truly shocking and mark a disturbing chapter in our nation’s history.” [Think Progress, 4/16/2009] Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), whose committee is conducting an investigation of abusive interrogation methods used during the Bush administration, says Bush officials “inaccurately interpreted” the Geneva Conventions prohibiting torture. “I find it difficult to understand how the opinions found these interrogation techniques to be legal,” she says. “For example, waterboarding and slamming detainees head-first into walls, as described in the OLC opinions, clearly fall outside what is legally permissible.” [United Press International, 4/16/2009]
White House Condemns Methods, Opposes Investigations - Attorney General Eric Holder says of the memos: “The president has halted the use of the interrogation techniques described in these opinions, and this administration has made clear from day one that it will not condone torture. We are disclosing these memos consistent with our commitment to the rule of law.” Holder adds that, according to a Justice Department statement, “intelligence community officials who acted reasonably and relied in good faith on authoritative legal advice from the Justice Department that their conduct was lawful, and conformed their conduct to that advice, would not face federal prosecutions for that conduct.” Holder states, “It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department.” [US Department of Justice, 4/16/2009] President Obama condemns what he calls a “dark and painful chapter in our history,” and promises that such torture techniques will never be used again. However, he restates his opposition to a lengthy investigation into the program, saying that “nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.” In contrast, Leahy says that the memos illustrate the need for an independent investigation. Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, points out that the memos were written at a time when the CIA was working to prevent a repeat of the 9/11 attacks. “Those methods, read on a bright, sunny, safe day in April 2009, appear graphic and disturbing,” he says. “But we will absolutely defend those who relied on these memos.” [New York Times, 4/19/2009] The ACLU demands criminal prosecution of Bush officials for their torture policies (see April 16, 2009). [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/16/2009]
Techniques Include Waterboarding, Insect Exposure, 'Walling' - The memos show that several techniques were approved for use, including waterboarding, exposure to insects within a “confinement box,” being slammed into a wall, sleep deprivation, stress positions, forced nudity, and others. [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/16/2009; New York Times, 4/19/2009; BBC, 4/23/2009]
Waterboarded Well beyond Allowed Procedures - Because the information about the waterboarding of Zubaida and Mohammed comes from the classified and heavily redacted CIA’s inspector general report, which has not yet been released to the public, the information is at least in part based on the videotapes of Zubaida’s interrogation sessions that were later destroyed by CIA officials (see March 6, 2009). The CIA memo explained that detainees could be waterboarded between 12 and 18 times in a single day, but only on five days during a single month—which mathematically only adds up to 90 times in a month, and thus does not explain how Mohammed could have been waterboarded 183 times in a month if these procedures were being followed. The memos also reveal that in practice, the waterboarding went far beyond the methodologies authorized by the Justice Department and used in SERE training (see December 2001 and July 2002).
Information Unearthed by Blogger - Initial media reports fail to divulge the extraordinary number of times Zubaida and Mohammed were waterboarded. It falls to a blogger, Marcy Wheeler, to unearth the information from the CIA memo and reveal it to the public (see April 18, 2009). [Marcy Wheeler, 4/18/2009]

Entity Tags: Marcy Wheeler, Central Intelligence Agency, Dennis C. Blair, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Dianne Feinstein, Jay S. Bybee, Geneva Conventions, Eric Holder, Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), John Conyers, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), US Department of Justice, American Civil Liberties Union, Steven Bradbury, Patrick J. Leahy, Abu Zubaida, Obama administration

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Marcy Wheeler.Marcy Wheeler. [Source: Project Censored]Progressive blogger Marcy Wheeler, who posts under the moniker “emptywheel” at FireDogLake.com, finds that, upon careful perusal of the March 30, 2005 CIA torture memo just released by the Obama administration (see May 30, 2005 and April 16, 2009), two suspected terrorists, Abu Zubaida and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, were waterboarded 266 times. Initial, more cursory news reports on the memo did not reveal this fact. The next day, the New York Times will cite Wheeler in its report on the discovery. [Marcy Wheeler, 4/18/2009; New York Times, 4/19/2009] Wheeler writes: “The CIA wants you to believe waterboarding is effective. Yet somehow, it took them 183 applications of the waterboard in a one month period to get what they claimed was cooperation out of KSM. That doesn’t sound very effective to me.” [Marcy Wheeler, 4/18/2009] Days later, an unidentified “US official with knowledge of the interrogation program” will tell a Fox News reporter that the claim of 183 waterboardings for Mohammed is inaccurate and misleading. Mohammed was only waterboarded five times, the official will claim. The figure of 183 is the number of “pours” Mohammed was subjected to. “The water was poured 183 times—there were 183 pours,” the official says, adding, “[E]ach pour was a matter of seconds.” The report of five waterboardings for Mohammed comes from a 2007 Red Cross report, the official will say. [Fox News, 4/28/2009]

Entity Tags: Marcy Wheeler, Obama administration, FireDogLake (.com), Central Intelligence Agency, Abu Zubaida, New York Times, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

ABC News learns that two former military officers, both psychologists, were paid $1,000 a day to design a program to torture and waterboard detainees in US custody. The psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen (see January 2002 and After, April 16, 2002, Mid-April 2002, and Between Mid-April and Mid-May 2002), were recipients of a contract awarded by the CIA to their firm, Mitchell Jessen and Associates. Mitchell and Jessen told the CIA that waterboarding was safe to use on prisoners. The American Civil Liberties Union’s Jameel Jaffer says, “It’s clear that these psychologists had an important role in developing what became the CIA’s torture program.” According to ABC, “Associates say the two made good money doing it, boasting of being paid a thousand dollars a day by the CIA to oversee the use of the techniques on top al-Qaeda suspects at CIA secret sites.” Air Force interrogator Colonel Steven Kleinman says, “The whole intense interrogation concept that we hear about is essentially their concepts.” ABC notes that “neither Mitchell nor Jessen had any experience in conducting actual interrogations before the CIA hired them.” A military officer says that the CIA “went to two individuals who had no interrogation experience. They are not interrogators.” The CIA came to believe that the waterboarding “expertise” they claimed was “misrepresented,” and therefore the claims that waterboarding was “medically safe” and “effective” were questionable. As ABC notes, “The waterboarding used on al-Qaeda detainees was far more intense than the brief sessions used on US military personnel in the training classes.” [ABC News, 4/30/2009; Raw Story, 5/1/2009]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, ABC News, Al-Qaeda, Bruce Jessen, Steve Kleinman, Jameel Jaffer, James Elmer Mitchell, Mitchell Jessen and Associates

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Bryce Lefever, a former military psychologist who worked with the US military’s SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) program, says the techniques reverse-engineered from the program and used to torture terrorism suspects in US custody are justified. Lefever has worked with two military psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, since 1990, developing techniques for SERE training. That training helps prepare US soldiers to resist torture if they are captured by enemy forces and interrogated. Mitchell and Jessen helped create the torture program of interrogation used by the US against suspected terrorists (see January 2002 and After, April 16, 2002, and Mid-April 2002). Lefever himself served as a military psychologist at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, where prisoners were routinely tortured and brutalized.
Patriots - Unlike many critics who have attacked the psychologists’ lack of ethics and concern, Lefever calls Mitchell and Jessen patriots. “I think the media ought to give us a big ol’ thank you for our efforts on behalf of America,” Lefever says. “There should be some recognition of the effort—the really extreme effort—that we’ve gone through to help.”
Ethically Compelled to Construct Torture Program - Lefever says the criticism of Mitchell and Jessen is unfounded and stems from a basic misunderstanding of the ethical mission of psychologists. “[T]he idea that they would be involved in producing some pain just seems at first blush to be something that would be wrong, because we ‘do no harm,’” he says, but “the ethical consideration is always to do the most good for the most people.” Because torturing a “few” prisoners might well produce intelligence that would help prevent another attack on the magnitude of 9/11, Lefever says, it was incumbent on Mitchell, Jessen, and himself to use their knowledge of SERE tactics to construct an interrogation program that might elicit such actionable intelligence. “America’s house was broken into on 9/11 and someone had to raise their hand to stop it,” he says. “And early on there was a sense of desperation in intelligence-gathering.” Lefever has no doubts that torture works to produce reliable intelligence. “You know, the tough nut to crack, if you keep him awake for a week, you torture him, you tie his arms behind him, you have him on the ground—anyone can be brought beyond their ability to resist.” Indeed, he says, it would have been unethical for him not to come forward: “America is my client; Americans are who I care about. I have no fondness for the enemy and I don’t feel like I need to take care of their mental health needs.” Mitchell, Jessen, and other military psychologists felt the same way, he says. “Anyone who wants to throw stones in this situation really needs to step back and figure out what they themselves would do in these situations and not just be ‘ivory tower’ critics,” he notes. “Most of the time they have no idea what they’re talking about.” [National Public Radio, 5/4/2009]
Accused of Abandoning Ethical Code - Psychologist Stephen Soldz, who writes for the organization Psychoanalysts for Peace and Justice, is highly critical of Lefever’s stance, accusing him of renouncing the psychologists’ code of ethics, and notes that Lefever implicitly acknowledges that SERE tactics were used on US detainees, an admission CIA and Pentagon officials have been loath to make. [Psychoanalysts for Peace and Justice, 5/4/2009]

Entity Tags: James Elmer Mitchell, Bruce Jessen, Bryce Lefever, Stephen Soldz

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Malcolm Nance, the former master instructor and chief of training at the Navy’s Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) School who now serves as a consultant on counterterrorism and terrorism intelligence for the US government, makes a cogent point about “breaking” interrogation subjects. Nance is interviewed by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who asks: “One of the other things that I think is a term that sort of gets bandied around by civilians who don’t have experience in these things when we talk about, not only the politics of interrogation, but also the utility of interrogation, is this idea of somebody being broken, a prisoner, the subject of an interrogation being a broken person. And that was described by political actors about interrogation techniques as sort of the goal, about what the idea was to—what the object was of what we wanted to be doing to al-Qaeda prisoners. Does breaking a person in interrogation terms make sense if what you’re trying to do is get real information out of them?” Nance replies, “The process of ‘breaking,’ quote-unquote, a prisoner is not something interrogators do. Interrogators really don’t want to break you down as a human being and take away all of your ability to think and reason and give a coherent answer. That was something that was developed by totalitarian and hostile regimes who saw that a confession is what they wanted out of you. They didn’t care whether you had done it or not. A confession is what they needed out of you, and to get that confession, what they would do is break you physically, psychologically, and mentally so that you could get into a state of learned helplessness and you would comply no matter what they would say. Now, this killed hundreds, if not thousands, of American service members in Korea, World War II, and Vietnam. And this is not something which any real interrogator would want to try because, of course, at that point, you are not getting information. You are just getting compliance. And any idiot can comply and that makes no intelligence whatsoever.” Nance and Maddow note that former SERE psychologists Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell, the two SERE psychologists who designed the US torture program (see Late 2001-Mid-March 2002, January 2002 and After, Late March through Early June, 2002, April - June 2002, Mid-April 2002, April 16, 2002, Between Mid-April and Mid-May 2002, Mid-May 2002 and After, June 2002, July 2002, April 2009, and April 30, 2009), were experienced in the methodologies of “breaking” prisoners and not in extracting useful information. [MSNBC, 8/13/2009]

Entity Tags: Bruce Jessen, Rachel Maddow, Malcolm Nance, James Mitchell

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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