There are so many incredible things in the CIA Torture Report
that will be discussed and analyzed over the next few weeks and months. But one that stands out to me is that the architects of the torture program were not only wholly unqualified to design it, but they profited massively from the program
, to the tune of at least $81 million. And that number may go up, as they also are getting paid by the government for any legal issues related to the program, including over $1 million for legal fees associated with responding to the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation that resulted in this report.
The report uses pseudonyms for the two psychologists: Grayson Swigert and Hammond Dunbar. However, their names were actually revealed back in 2007
: James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. To say they were unqualified for the work of designing the torture program would be an understatement. While they were psychologists with the US Air Force's "Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape" (SERE) program (which is supposed to help train US military personnel in case they're
captured), you'd think they'd actually have some relevant background with terrorism and/or interrogation. But, nope:
psychologist had experience as an interrogator, nor did either have specialized knowledge of al-
Qa'ida, a background in terrorism, or any relevant regional, cultural, or linguistic expertise.
SWIGERT had reviewed research on "learned helplessness," in which individuals might become
passive and depressed in response to adverse or uncontrollable events. He theorized that
inducing such a state could encourage a detainee to cooperate and provide information.
Instead, their only real experience with interrogation was in reading reports on how to resist
the kind of torture programs used by those who failed to follow the Geneva Conventions
. Their limited experience with interrogation revolved almost entirely on pure torture programs that did not follow the Geneva Conventions:
SERE training is intended to be used to teach our soldiers how to resist interrogation by
enemies that refuse to follow the Geneva Conventions and international law. In SERE school, our troops who are at
risk of capture are exposed in a controlled environment with great protections and caution -- to techniques adapted
from abusive tactics used against American soldiers by enemies such as the Communist Chinese during the Korean
War. SERE training techniques include stress positions, forced nudity, use of fear, sleep deprivation and, until
recently, the Navy SERE school used the waterboard. These techniques were designed to give our students a taste
of what they might be subjected to if captured by a ruthless, lawless enemy so that they would be better prepared to
resist. The techniques were never intended to be used against detainees in U.S. custody.
In other words, their knowledge of interrogation came solely from knowing a little about torture programs used by countries who didn't follow the Geneva Conventions, and their role had been to try to help US soldiers resist such techniques should they come up. Instead, they turned it around and told the CIA to do almost everything that they flat out knew
were torture programs in violation of the Geneva Conventions.
The psychologists -- initially led by the pseudonymous "Swigert" -- were the key to initially torturing Abu Zubadayah. According to the report, the CIA initially planned to see if Zubadayah would provide information through more standard interrogation techniques, leaving a "hard approach... only as a last resort." In discussing this, someone suggested bringing in Swigert for help -- and almost immediately the plans changed.
Shortly thereafter, CIA
Headquarters formally proposed that Abu Zubaydah be kept in an all-white room that was lit 24
hours a day, that Abu Zubaydah not be provided any amenities, that his sleep be disrupted, that
loud noise be constantly fed into his cell, and that only a small number of people interact with
him. CIA records indicate that these proposals were based on the idea that such conditions
would lead Abu Zubaydah to develop a sense of "learned helplessness. CIA Headquarters
then sent an interrogation team to Country [X], including SWIGERT, whose initial role was to
consult on the psychological aspects of the interrogation.
Remember, Swigert had apparently recently reviewed some "research" on "learned helplessness," and suddenly the CIA's interrogation plan changed. An FBI message at the time shows exasperation over this, noting that the FBI's more traditional interrogation techniques had been working in getting relevant information, but as soon as the CIA's chosen psychologists showed up, they went straight to torture, and blocked the FBI out of the process. Here's part of an FBI agent's message back to FBI headquarters:
"AZ's health has improved over the last two days and Agency[CIA]is ready
to move [Abu Zubaydah] out of the hospital and back toUH^^Ion
in an elaborate plan to change AZ's environment. Agency [CIA]
advised this day that they will be immediately changing tactics in all future AZ
interviews by having only there [sic] [CIA officer] interact with AZ (there will
be no FBI presence in interview room). This change contradicts all
conversations had to date.... They believe AZ is offering, 'throw away
information' and holding back from providing threat information (It should be
note [sic] that we have obtained critical information regarding AZ thus far and
have now got him speaking about threat information, albeit from his hospital
bed and not [an] appropriate interview environment for full follow-up (due to
his health). Suddenly the psychiatric team here wants AZ to only interact with
their [CIA officer, and the CIA sees this] as being the best way to get the threat
information.... We offered several compromise solutions... all suggestions
were immediately declined without further discussion. .. .This again is quite
odd as all information obtained from AZ has come from FBI lead interviewers
and questioning.... I have spent an un-calculable amount of hours at [Abu
Zubaydah's] bedside assisting with medical help, holding his hand and
comforting hum through various medical procedures, even assisting him in
going [to] the batliroom.... We have built tremendous report [sic] with AZ and
now that we are on the eve of 'regular'' interviews to get threat information, we
have been 'written out' of future interviews.
That was just the beginning. "Swigert" became a key cog in pushing for ever greater torture techniques:
In early July 2002, CIA officers held several meetings at CIA
Headquarters to discuss the possible use of "novel interrogation methods" on Abu Zubaydah.'"
During the course of those meetings SWIGERT proposed using techniques derived from the U.S.
military's SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) school. SWIGERT provided a
list of 12 SERE techniques for possible use by the CIA: (1) the attention grasp, (2) walling, (3)
facial hold, (4) facial slap, (5) cramped confinement, (6) wall standing, (7) stress positions, (8)
sleep deprivation, (9) waterboard, (10) use of diapers, (11) use of insects, and (12) mock
burial. SWIGERT also recommended that the CIA enter into a contract with Hammond
DUNBAR, his co-author of the CIA report on potential al-Qa'ida interrogation resistance
training, to aid in the CIA interrogation process. Like SWIGERT, DUNBAR had never
participated in a real-world interrogation. His interrogation experience was limited to the paper
he authored with SWIGERT and his work with U.S. Air Force personnel at the SERE school.
You'd think that this sort of lack of experience would be a concern. But, to the CIA, apparently, it was seen as an advantage. A footnote quoting the CIA's response discusses this:
Drs. [SWIGERT] and [DUNBAR] had the closest proximate expertise CIA sought at the beginning of the program,
specifically in the area of non-standard means of interrogation. Experts on traditional interrogation methods did not
meet this requirement. Non-standard interrogation methodologies were not an area of expertise of CIA officers or of
the US Government generally. We believe their expertise was so unique that we would have been derelict had we
not sought them out when it became clear that CIA would be heading into the uncharted territory of the program.
The Senate report points follows this up by pointing out that these psychologists were the key to convincing the CIA to adopt the ruthless torture plans:
As noted above, the CIA did not seek out SWIGERT and DUNBAR after a
decision was made to use coercive interrogation techniques; rather,SWIGERT and DUNBAR played a role in
convincing the CIA to adopt such a policy.
In fact, it soon reached the point at which the only people allowed to have contact with Abu Zubadayah were... Swigert and Dunbar, the two psychologists who (remember) had no experience with interrogations and little to no background on Al'Qaeda.
On August 3, 2002, CIA Headquarters informed the interrogation
team at DETENTION SITE GREEN that it had formal approval to apply the CIA's enhanced
interrogation techniques, including the waterboard, against Abu Zubaydah. According to CIA
records, only the two CIA contractors, SWIGERT and DUNBAR, were to have contact with Abu
Zubaydah. Other CIA personnel at DETENTION SITE GREEN - including CIA medical
personnel and other CIA "interrogators with whom he is familiar" - were only to observe.
The report notes, not surprisingly, that this plan to torture Abu Zubadayah produced no useful intelligence (not that it would be okay if it had... but just pointing it out). However, the CIA then let the two psychologists review the success of the program themselves. Guess what they found?
As noted, CIA records indicate that Abu Zubaydah never provided
the information for which the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques were justified and
approved.... Nonetheless, CIA Headquarters
informed the National Security Council that the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques used
against Abu Zubaydah were effective and were "producing meaningful results." A cable from
DETENTION SITE GREEN, which CIA records indicate was authored by SWIGERT and
DUNBAR, also viewed the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah as a success. The cable
recommended that "the aggressive phase at [DETENTION SITE GREEN] should be used as a
template for future interrogation of high value captives," not because the CIA's enhanced
interrogation techniques produced useful information, but rather because their use confirmed that
Abu Zubaydah did not possess the intelligence that CIA Headquarters had assessed Abu
Zubaydah to have.
Got that? They said it was a success because the torture turned up nothing of value, and thus it proved he had no valuable information to provide. Thus, it should become the model for "future interrogations." And it did. The same cable, again, authored by those two psychologists, set themselves up to continue being torturers-for-hire:
The cable further recommended that psychologists—a likely
reference to contractors SWIGERT and DUNBAR— "familiar with interrogation, exploitation
and resistance to interrogation should shape compliance of high value captives prior to
debriefing by substantive experts."
And, indeed, they were used again. And again.
As late as June 2003, SWIGERT and DUNBAR, operating outside
of the direct management of the Renditions Group, were deployed to DETENTION SITE BLUE
to both interrogate and conduct psychological reviews of detainees.
This was just the beginning, but once they were in, they were in
. Despite a few attempts by some in the CIA to raise concerns about these two, they became the go to guys for both torture techniques and in evaluating those very same torture techniques. And they made a shitload of money.
CIA contractors SWIGERT and DUNBAR, who played a central
role in the development of the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques in the summer of 2002,
and then used the techniques as contract interrogators, formed a company in 2005
[Company Y]. In addition to providing interrogators for the CIA's interrogation program,
Company Y was granted a sole source contract to provide operational psychologists, debriefers,
and security personnel at CIA detention sites. Under the contract. Company Y was tasked
with conducting ongoing conversations with CIA detainees to learn about the terrorist mind set
(this project was named the "Terrorist Think Tank" or "T3"), developing [REDACTED]
strategies, and writing the history of the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program. Later
descriptions of their services note that—on behalf of the CIA—Company Y officers participated
in the interrogations of detainees held in foreign government custody and served as
intermediaries between entities of those governments and the CIA.
By 2006, the value of the base contract for their company, with all
options exercised, was in excess of $180 million. As of May 2007, Company Y had hired [X]
former CIA staff officers, many of whom had previously been involved with the CIA's
Detention and Interrogation Program....
The CIA's contract with Company Y was terminated in mid-2009.
From the time of the company's creation in 2005 through the close-out of its contract in 2010,
the CIA paid Company Y more than $75 million for services in conjunction with the CIA's
Detention and Interrogation Program.... In 2008, the CIA authorized an additional payment to
Company Y of approximately $570,000, after Company Y indicated that it had incurred costs for
conducting countersurveillance of its officers when appeared in the press in conjunction with the program. The CIA agreed to a $5 million indemnification contract for the company that covered, among other expenses, criminal
prosecution. Company Y hired a prominent [REDACTED] law firm for representation in
2007, and billed the CIA $1.1 million for legal expenses from 2007 through 2012 per its
indemnification agreement. Part of these expenses included legal presentation at a
Committee staff briefing by SWIGERT and DUNBAR on November [XX], 2008. Under the
CIA's indemnification contract, the CIA is obligated to pay Company Y's legal expenses
Torture sure is profitable.
Reading the details of the report, it certainly feels like James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen deserve a place in history alongside other infamous torturers. And yet, instead, they're free and have banked many millions of dollars -- and Mitchell now spends his retirement kayaking in Florida
. It's downright sickening.