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The CIA's torture teachers

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  • Robert Sterling
    Please send as far and wide as possible. Thanks, Robert Sterling Editor, The Konformist http://www.konformist.com
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 24, 2007
      Please send as far and wide as possible.

      Robert Sterling
      Editor, The Konformist


      The CIA's torture teachers
      Psychologists helped the CIA exploit a secret military program to
      develop brutal interrogation tactics -- likely with the approval of
      the Bush White House.
      By Mark Benjamin

      Jun. 21, 2007 | There is growing evidence of high-level coordination
      between the Central Intelligence Agency and the U.S. military in
      developing abusive interrogation techniques used on terrorist
      suspects. After the Sept. 11 attacks, both turned to a small cadre
      of psychologists linked to the military's secretive Survival,
      Evasion, Resistance and Escape program to "reverse-engineer"
      techniques originally designed to train U.S. soldiers to resist
      torture if captured, by exposing them to brutal treatment. The
      military's use of SERE training for interrogations in the war on
      terror was revealed in detail in a recently declassified report. But
      the CIA's use of such tactics -- working in close coordination with
      the military -- until now has remained largely unknown.

      According to congressional sources and mental healthcare
      professionals knowledgeable about the secret program who spoke with
      Salon, two CIA-employed psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce
      Jessen, were at the center of the program, which likely violated the
      Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners. The two are
      currently under investigation: Salon has learned that Daniel
      Dell'Orto, the principal deputy general counsel at the Department of
      Defense, sent a "document preservation" order on May 15 to the
      chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other top Pentagon
      officials forbidding the destruction of any document mentioning
      Mitchell and Jessen or their psychological consulting firm,
      Mitchell, Jessen and Associates, based in Spokane, Wash. Dell'Orto's
      order was in response to a May 1 request from Sen. Carl Levin, the
      Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who is
      investigating the abuse of prisoners in U.S. custody.

      Mitchell and Jessen have worked as contractors for the CIA since
      9/11. Both were previously affiliated with the military's SERE
      program, which at its main school at Fort Bragg puts elite special
      operations forces through brutal mock interrogations, from sensory
      deprivation to simulated drowning.

      A previously classified report by the Defense Department's inspector
      general, made public last month, revealed in vivid detail how the
      military -- in flat contradiction to previous denials -- used SERE
      as a basis for interrogating suspected al-Qaida prisoners at
      Guantánamo Bay, and later in Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreover, the
      involvement of the CIA, which was secretly granted broad authority
      by President Bush days after 9/11 to target terrorists worldwide,
      suggests that both the military and the spy agency were following a
      policy approved by senior Bush administration officials.

      Close coordination between the CIA and the Pentagon is referred to
      in military lingo as "jointness." A retired high-level military
      official, familiar with the detainee abuse scandals, confirmed that
      such "jointness" requires orchestration at the top levels of
      government. "This says that somebody is acting as a bridge between
      the CIA and the Defense Department," he said, "because you've got
      the [CIA] side and the military side, and they are collaborating."
      Human-rights expert Scott Horton, who chairs the International Law
      Committee at the New York City Bar Association, also says that the
      cross-agency coordination "reflects the fact that the decision to
      introduce and develop these methods was made at a very high level."

      On Wednesday, dozens of psychologists made public a joint letter to
      American Psychological Association president Sharon Brehm fingering
      another CIA-employed psychologist, R. Scott Shumate. Previous news
      reports led the American Medical Association and the American
      Psychiatric Association to ban their members from participating in
      interrogations, but the issue has remained divisive within the
      American Psychological Association, which has not forbidden the
      practice. "We write you as psychologists concerned about the
      participation of our profession in abusive interrogations of
      national security detainees at Guantanamo, in Iraq and Afghanistan,
      and at the so-called CIA 'black sites,'" the psychologists wrote. In
      violation of APA ethics, they said, "It is now indisputable that
      psychologists and psychology were directly and officially
      responsible for the development and migration of abusive
      interrogation techniques, techniques which the International
      Committee of the Red Cross has labeled 'tantamount to torture.'"
      [Ed. note: The full letter detailing the allegations of APA
      complicity can be read here.]

      The letter cites a previously public biographical statement on
      Shumate that listed his position from April 2001 to May 2003 as "the
      chief operational psychologist for the CIA's Counter Terrorism
      Center." The bio also noted that Shumate "has been with several of
      the key apprehended terrorists" who have been held and interrogated
      by the agency since 9/11. At CTC, Shumate reported to Cofer Black,
      the former head of CTC who famously told Congress in September
      2002, "There was a before 9/11, and there was an after 9/11. After
      9/11 the gloves come off." Shumate's bio, obtained by Salon, has
      been removed from the InfowarCon 2007 conference Web site. Shumate
      did not return a phone call seeking comment.

      The SERE-based program undermines assertions made for years by Bush
      administration officials that interrogations conducted by U.S.
      personnel are safe, effective and legal. SERE training, according to
      the Department of Defense inspector general's report, is
      specifically designed "to replicate harsh conditions that the
      service member might encounter if they are held by forces that do
      not abide by the Geneva Conventions."

      "The irony -- and ultimately the tragedy -- in the migration of SERE
      techniques is that the program was specifically designed to protect
      our soldiers from countries that violated the Geneva Conventions,"
      says Brad Olson, president of the Divisions for Social Justice
      within the American Psychological Association. "The result of the
      reverse-engineering, however, was that by making foreign detainees
      the target, it made us the country that violated the Geneva
      Conventions," he says.

      There are striking similarities between descriptions of SERE
      training and the interrogation techniques employed by the military
      and CIA since 9/11. Soldiers undergoing SERE training are subject to
      forced nudity, stress positions, lengthy isolation, sleep
      deprivation, sexual humiliation, exhaustion from exercise, and the
      use of water to create a sensation of suffocation. "If you have ever
      had a bag on your head and somebody pours water on it," one graduate
      of that training program told Salon last year "it is real hard to

      Many of those techniques show up in interrogation logs, human rights
      reports and news articles about detainee abuse that has taken place
      in Guantánamo, Afghanistan and Iraq. (The military late last year
      unveiled a new interrogation manual designed to put a stop to
      prisoner abuse.) An investigation released this month by the Council
      of Europe, a multinational human rights agency, added extreme
      sensory deprivation to the list of techniques that have been used by
      the CIA. The report said that extended isolation contributed
      to "enduring psychiatric and mental problems" of prisoners.

      Isolation in cramped cells is also a key tenet of SERE training,
      according to soldiers who have completed the training and described
      it in detail to Salon. The effects of isolation are a specialty of
      Jessen's, who taught a class on "coping with isolation in a hostage
      environment" at a Maui seminar in late 2003, according to a
      Washington Times article published then. (Defense Department
      documents from the late 1990s describe Jessen as the "lead
      psychologist" for the SERE program.) Mitchell also spoke at that
      conference, according to the article. It described both men
      as "contracted to Uncle Sam to fight terrorism."

      Mitchell's name surfaced again many months later. His role in
      interrogations was referenced briefly in a July 2005 New Yorker
      article by Jane Mayer, which focused largely on the military's use
      of SERE-based tactics at Guantánamo. The article described
      Mitchell's participation in a CIA interrogation of a high-value
      prisoner in March 2002 at an undisclosed location elsewhere --
      presumably a secret CIA prison known as a "black site" -- where
      Mitchell urged harsh techniques that would break down the prisoner's
      psychological defenses, creating a feeling of "helplessness." But
      the article did not confirm Mitchell was a CIA employee, and it
      explored no further the connection between Mitchell's background
      with SERE and interrogations being conducted by the CIA.

      A call to Mitchell and Jessen's firm for comment was not returned.
      The CIA would not comment on Mitchell and Jessen's work for the
      agency, though the contractual relationship is not one Mitchell and
      Jessen entirely concealed. They advertised their CIA credentials as
      exhibitors at a 2004 conference of the American Psychological
      Association in Honolulu.

      In a statement to Salon, CIA spokesman George Little wrote that the
      agency's interrogation program had been "implemented lawfully, with
      great care and close review, producing a rich volume of intelligence
      that has helped the United States and other countries disrupt
      terrorist activities and save innocent lives."

      Until last month, the Army had denied any use of SERE training for
      prisoner interrogations. "We do not teach interrogation techniques,"
      Carol Darby, chief spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Special Operations
      Command at Fort Bragg, said last June when Salon asked about a
      document that appeared to indicate that instructors from the SERE
      school taught their methods to interrogators at Guantánamo.

      But the declassified DoD inspector general's report described
      initiatives by high-level military officials to incorporate SERE
      concepts into interrogations. And it said that psychologists
      affiliated with SERE training -- people like Mitchell and Jessen --
      played a critical role. According to the inspector general, the Army
      Special Operations Command's Psychological Directorate at Fort Bragg
      first drafted a plan to have the military reverse-engineer SERE
      training in the summer of 2002. At the same time, the commander of
      Guantánamo determined that SERE tactics might be used on detainees
      at the military prison. Then in September 2002, the Army Special
      Operations Command and other SERE officials hosted a "SERE
      psychologist conference" at Fort Bragg to brief staff from the
      military's prison at Guantánamo on the use of SERE tactics.

      The chief of the Army Special Operations Command's Psychological
      Directorate was Col. Morgan Banks, the senior SERE psychologist, who
      has been affiliated with the training for years and helped establish
      the Army's first permanent training program that simulated
      captivity, according to a 2003 biographical statement. Banks also
      spent the winter of 2001 and 2002 at Bagram Airfield in
      Afghanistan "supporting combat operations against Al Qaida and
      Taliban fighters," according to one of his bios, which also said
      that Banks "provides technical support and consultation to all Army
      psychologists providing interrogation support."

      In 2005, Banks helped draft ethical guidelines for the APA that say
      a psychologist supporting an interrogation is providing "a valuable
      and ethical role to assist in protecting our nation, other nations,
      and innocent civilians from harm." But as Salon reported last
      summer, six of the 10 psychologists who drafted that policy,
      including Banks, had close ties to the military. Some psychologists
      worry that the APA policy has made the organization an enabler of
      torture. Those ethics guidelines "gave the APA imprimatur to any of
      these techniques," says Steven Reisner, an APA member who has been
      closely tracking psychologists' role in interrogations. The policy,
      Reisner says, was developed by "psychologists directly involved in
      the interrogations."

      Another of the six psychologists on the panel that drafted the
      guidelines who had ties to the military was Shumate. His bio for
      that APA task force said he worked as a "director of behavioral
      science" for the Defense Department. It never mentioned that he also
      worked for the CIA.
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