One of the “revelations” of the Senate report on CIA torture has been the role played by two psychologists in devising the regimen of torture used by the Agency.
[A quick but necessary digression: please note that this torture regimen has been lauded as “effective” and “life-saving” by the Obama Administration — even after the release of the report; indeed, the Administration says that the fruits of these crimes still “inform our counterterrorism efforts to this day.” Just bear that in mind as you read the reams of justified denunciations of the Bush Administration for the commission of these particular crimes by this particular agency. The Bush thugs should be excoriated — and prosecuted — for their crimes. But a multitude of crimes in many forms (including torture) are still being committed by the Terror War machine under Obama — the man who has stoutly shielded his predecessors from prosecution and now even praises some of their worst crimes.]
But of course there is nothing new in report’s uncovering of the psychologists’ role. (Except for one element: the fact that these two sinister quacks were paid a whopping $81 million for helping the United States government torture defenseless captives and produce garbage intelligence.) Anyone who wanted to know about their Mengele-style perversion of medical ethics could have read about it in reputable mainstream publications years ago. (Actually, this is also true of almost all the incidents and practices detailed in the report. Anyone who didn’t know of these things before now — especially in the political-media world — simply didn’t want to know of these things.) There were also other psychologists and medical personnel involved in the program after it got started, as Mark Benjamin detailed at Salon.com back in 2007.
In that same year, the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer produced an extensive report on the wide-ranging Terror War torture regimen. The article should have produced a firestorm of outrage and aggressive, in-depth, high-profile investigations from, say, the U.S. Senate, which was then in the control of the Democrats. But as we know, her revelations sank like a stone. And it is very, very likely that the same thing will happen with the newly released (and, it must always be noted, heavily truncated, censored and incomplete) Senate report. Indeed, McClatchy is already reporting that the incoming Republican-controlled Senate will gladly let the report “gather dust,” taking no follow-up action. This stance will doubtless please their Terror War partners in the White House, who fought against the release of the report — and who certainly aren’t going to do anything about it.
I wrote about the Mayer and Benjamin articles when they first came out in 2007. Below are a few excerpts, dealing with their reportage on the torture shrinks:
For those who have been following and chronicling the rise of the gulag since its inception (back in the days when its instigators and practitioners were still happy to brag to cheerleading newspapers about “taking the gloves off” and going to “the dark side”), there is not a lot that is new in Mayer’s piece. But she has brought it all together with devastating thoroughness and clarity.
Mayer mentions tellingly — but briefly — one key aspect of Bush’s torture chambers that has been largely overlooked: the key role played by a couple of psychologists in drawing up the sinister regimen (which was also based in part on KGB practices): CIA contractors James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. Mark Benjamin of Salon has much more on this pair, who devoted their clinical skills to devising ways to destroy a captive’s mind — in the somewhat bizarre conviction that a destroyed mind can somehow produce useful intelligence. (Benjamin in turn drew on a 2005 piece by Mayer about Mitchell and the Bush Regime’s Mengelean use of medical personnel in interrogations.)
Mitchell and Jessen helped run the military’s SERE program, originally designed to teach American forces how to resist and survive torture inflicted on them by evil regimes or terrorists. But it turns out that the Rumsfeld Pentagon and its mad scientists were using U.S. soldiers as guinea pigs to help devise their own torture program. For years, the Pentagon flatly denied using SERE tactics on the captives in the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp, and in Afghanistan and Iraq. This was, of course, a lie. As Benjamin reports:
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.
And Mayer notes:
The SERE program was designed strictly for defense against torture regimes, but the C.I.A.’s new team used its expertise to help interrogators inflict abuse. “They were very arrogant, and pro-torture,” a European official knowledgeable about the program said. “They sought to render the detainees vulnerable—to break down all of their senses. It takes a psychologist trained in this to understand these rupturing experiences.”
The use of psychologists was also considered a way for C.I.A. officials to skirt measures such as the Convention Against Torture. The former adviser to the intelligence community said, “Clearly, some senior people felt they needed a theory to justify what they were doing. You can’t just say, ‘We want to do what Egypt’s doing.’ When the lawyers asked what their basis was, they could say, ‘We have Ph.D.s who have these theories.’”
… Mitchell and Jessen were not experts sought for their dispassionate advice in determining the best policy options for government officials. All the “experts” employed by the Bush Regime are just dupes … or, as with the psychologists, willing stooges, brought in to act as window dressing for policies already decided upon. Bush and Cheney and their minions wanted to torture people — not only for the psychosexual kick these genuine perverts get from it but also because it was a central element in their drive to establish an authoritarian executive unfettered by any law. They could not, as a matter of “principle,” submit to the authority of the Geneva Conventions, American law or Constitutional precepts. They had plenty of scientists and practiced interrogators on hand to tell them that the KGB-SERE system was useless — indeed, counterproductive — in producing actionable intelligence. But they chose to listen only to those who told them what they wanted to hear, whose pseudo-science buttressed decisions they had already taken.
I finished that 2007 piece with a paragraph that still holds true today, as a description of the kind of people who hold power in our blood-soaked bipartisan imperial system:
They don’t want to govern; they want to rule. They simply cannot be treated — on any issue whatsoever — as an ordinary government engaged in ordinary tussles over politics and policy. They are not a government in any traditional sense of the word. They are the criminal vanguard of a radical movement that is now holding the nation hostage. And any political “opposition” that does not recognize this fact is worse than useless; it is, as we’ve said before, complicit in the gang’s crimes.