Attempts to call to accountability any of the architects of the Bush administration’s torture program have so far been depressingly unsuccessful. First, any hopes that President Obama would lead the way were dashed when, even before taking office, the President-Elect declared “a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.” Then, in January this year, the best hope to date — the final report of a four-year internal investigation into the Justice Department lawyers who wrote the “torture memos” in 2002 and 2003 that purported to redefine torture so that it could be practiced by the CIA, and later by the US military — was shattered when a senior Justice Department official was allowed to override the report’s damning conclusions, declaring that, instead of facing disciplinary measures for “professional misconduct,” the men in question — John Yoo, now a professor at Berkeley, and Jay S. Bybee, now a judge in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals — had only exercised “poor judgment.”
The actions of that official, David Margolis, were disgraceful, because bending the law out of shape in an attempt to justify the use of torture is clearly illegal, and is particularly distressing when the lawyers involved were working for the Office of Legal Counsel, the department within the Justice Department that is obliged to render impartial legal advice to the Executive branch. The report’s authors made it clear that Yoo “committed intentional professional misconduct when he violated his duty to exercise independent legal judgment and render thorough, objective, and candid legal advice,” and that Bybee “committed professional misconduct when he acted in reckless disregard of his duty to exercise independent legal judgment and render thorough, objective, and candid legal advice.”
However, they also indicated that Yoo and Bybee were not acting alone, as, for example, when they noted that they “found evidence” that the men “tailored their analysis to reach the result desired by the client” — in other words, former Vice President Dick Cheney, who is mentioned as putting “great pressure” on the OLC regarding three revised memos defending the use of torture, which were issued in May 2005 by Acting Assistant Attorney General Stephen Bradbury (who largely escaped censure in the report), and Cheney’s Legal Counsel, David Addington, and White House Deputy Counsel Tim Flanigan, who are mentioned in relation to the original “torture memos” of August 1, 2002. Unsurprisingly, these men were key players in what Philippe Sands (in his book Torture Team) identified as a “War Council” of lawyers who met regularly to plan and implement the legal strategies they wanted for the “War on Terror” — largely without any outside consultation — which consisted of just six men: Addington, Flanigan, Yoo, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, William J. Haynes II, the Pentagon’s General Counsel, and his deputy, Daniel Dell’Orto.
The complaint against Dr. James Mitchell
Last Wednesday, however, a new front in the search for accountability opened up, when Texan psychologist Jim L.H. Cox, Ph.D., assisted by Dicky Grigg, a lawyer in Austin, Texas, and Joe Margulies of Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago (who has been involved in the Guantánamo litigation since the prison opened in January 2002) filed a complaint to the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists regarding another architect of the torture program, James Elmer Mitchell (PDF).
The complaint, which accuses Mitchell of numerous grave violations of his duties as a practicing psychologist, ought to be explosive, because Mitchell, along with a colleague, John “Bruce” Jessen, devised the horrendous experimental program that was used on Zubaydah, after his capture in Pakistan on March 28, 2002, and his subsequent rendition to a secret CIA facility in Thailand, which, on August 1, 2002, was ostensibly approved by John Yoo and Jay S. Bybee in their “torture memos.” Explaining Mitchell’s role in Zubaydah’s torture, the complaint stated:
[Mitchell] ordered that Zubaydah be chained to a chair for weeks on end; that he be whipped by the neck into concrete walls; that he be stuffed into a small, black box and left for hours; that he be hung naked from the ceiling; that he be kept awake for 11 consecutive days, and sprayed with cold water if he dozed. But the torture designed by Dr. Mitchell was about to pass to another level. It was time to implement the final stage of Dr. Mitchell’s program.
Abu Zubaydah lay strapped to a gurney specially designed to maximize his suffering. His feet were above his head, just as Dr. Mitchell had ordered. His hands, arms, legs, chest, and head were restrained by heavy leather straps. As Zubaydah lay helpless, Mitchell and his subordinates placed a black cloth over his face and began to pour water onto the cloth. Rivers of water ran up Zubaydah’s nose and down his throat. He could not breathe. Panic gripped him as he began to drown. And when Mitchell sensed that Zubaydah dangled on the precipice between life and death, he ordered that the board be raised. Zubaydah expelled the water in a violent, racking spasm of coughing, gurgling and gasping. But before Zubaydah could catch his breath, Dr. Mitchell repeated the experiment. Then he did it again. And again. According to the United States Government, Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times in August 2002 alone.
Mitchell’s purported expertise in interrogations came from his involvement as a psychologist in the US Air Force’s SERE program (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape). Similar programs are run by the Army and the Navy, and, as the Senate Armed Services Committee explained in a damning report on the abuse of detainees, issued in December 2008 (PDF), they involve teaching US personnel “to withstand interrogation techniques considered illegal under the Geneva Conventions,” which are “based, in part, on Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean war to elicit false confessions.” As the Committee proceeded to explain, the techniques used include “stripping detainees of their clothing, placing them in stress positions, putting hoods over their heads, disrupting their sleep, treating them like animals, subjecting them to loud music and flashing lights, and exposing them to extreme temperatures.” In some circumstances, they also include waterboarding.
How the torture program was developed
James Mitchell retired from the SERE program in May 2001, after 13 years’ service, but, as the complaint noted, after the September 11 attacks, he “saw an opportunity to sell his independent consulting services to the CIA.” According to the CIA Inspector General’s “Special Review: Counterterrorism Detention and Interrogation Activities (September 2001 – October 2003),” another important document analyzing the perceived successes and failures of the torture program, which was issued in May 2004 but was only made publicly available (in a heavily redacted form) last August (PDF), Mitchell’s involvement in developing the program began in December 2001, when, in collaboration with a Department of Defense psychologist who also had SERE experience — John “Bruce” Jessen — he was “tasked … to write a paper on Al-Qaeda’s resistance to interrogation techniques.”
As the New York Times explained last August, Jessen was the SERE psychologist at the Air Force SERE school in the 1980s, but when he “moved in 1988 to the top psychologist’s job at a parallel ‘graduate school’ of survival training, a short drive from the Air Force school,” Mitchell “took his place.” The two men became friends, but the Times profile noted that, although “many subordinates considered them brainy and capable leaders, some fellow psychologists were more skeptical.” Two colleagues recalled that, at an annual conference of SERE psychologists, Mitchell “offered lengthy put-downs of presentations that did not suit him,” and Jessen ran into trouble when he moved from being a supervising psychologist to a mock enemy interrogator. According to colleagues, he “became so aggressive in that role” that they “intervened to rein him in, showing him videotape of his ‘pretty scary’ performance.”
This should have been an early warning sign for Jessen of the dangers of what the Senate Armed Services Committee report identified as “behavioral drift, which if left unmonitored, could lead to abuse of students,” and which, in a real-world scenario, involving alleged threats to the national security of the United States, was even more likely to occur. However, Jessen and Mitchell failed to pay it any attention, and in December 2001, despite having no experience whatsoever of al-Qaeda or of real-life interrogations, the two men produced a paper entitled, “Recognizing and Developing Countermeasures to Al-Qaeda Resistance to Interrogation Techniques: A Resistance Training Perspective,” which clearly met with approval. As the CIA IG report continued, “Subsequently, the two psychologists developed a list of new and more aggressive EITs [“enhanced interrogation techniques”] that they recommended for use in interrogations.”
The techniques recommended by Mitchell and Jessen included slamming prisoners into walls, cramped confinement, the prolonged use of painful stress positions, sleep deprivation for up to 11 days at a time, and waterboarding, and, as the New York Times explained last August, by early 2002, Mitchell was consulting with the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, where director Cofer Black, and chief operating officer Jose A. Rodriguez Jr. were “impressed by his combination of visceral toughness and psychological jargon.” One witness said Mitchell “gave the CIA officials what they wanted to hear,” and by the end of March, when Abu Zubaydah was seized, “the Mitchell-Jessen interrogation plan was ready.”
This was in spite of numerous criticisms identified in the complaint filed last week, and in the Senate Armed Services Committee report. One of Mitchell and Jessen’s most prominent critics is Air Force Colonel Steve Kleinman, described in the complaint as “a former colleague at SERE who was also a career military interrogator with training in intelligence.” Col Kleinman stated that:
[W]hen Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen became involved in CIA interrogations, “that was their first step into the world of intelligence … Everything else was role-play.” “What [Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen] failed to understand was they were stepping out of their area of expertise,” yet they nonetheless promoted themselves as offensive interrogation experts despite the “disconnect between the SERE model, a resistance model, and an actual interrogation for intelligence purposes.”
Col. Kleinman has also stated, “I think they have caused more harm to American national security than they’ll ever understand,” and other high-level criticism has come from Michael Rolince, the former section chief of the FBI’s International Terrorism Operations, who described the methods employed by Mitchell and Jessen as “voodoo science.”
The importance of the timing of Mitchell’s involvement
The exact timing of Mitchell and Jessen’s involvement in developing the program is crucial, although it is not addressed in the complaint, because it is clear from the Senate Armed Services Committee report into detainee abuse that, in December 2001, William J. Haynes II, the Pentagon’s General Counsel (and a protégé of Vice President Dick Cheney), had begun soliciting advice from the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (the DoD agency responsible for the SERE program). As the New York Times reported last August, that same month Mitchell’s involvement seems to have begun when he was invited as a member of “a small group of professors and law enforcement and intelligence officers,” including CIA psychologist Kirk M. Hubbard, who “gathered outside Philadelphia at the home of a prominent psychologist, Martin E. P. Seligman, to brainstorm about Muslim extremism.” As the Times also explained, to the later horror of Seligman, who had pioneered the notion of “learned helplessness” — whereby animals were taught through mistreatment that resistance was futile — Mitchell told him how much he admired his work, which, of course, fed directly into his plans for terrorist suspects captured in the “War on Terror.”
The timing is central, because it is necessary to understand that Mitchell and Jessen — though fired up by their own enthusiasm for reverse engineering SERE techniques — were not acting alone, and were, in effect, exactly the kind of individuals that Haynes, other members of the “War Council” and Cheney were already looking for.
I stress this point because, otherwise, the impression given by the complaint filed last week may be that Mitchell and Jessen acted independently, when, like the lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel, they were clearly part of a program that was endorsed at the highest levels of the administration.
Mitchell’s numerous ethical violations
Nevertheless, in dealing specifically with James Mitchell’s role as one of the two key architects of the torture program, the complaint filed last week is devastating. As the authors of the complaint explained, “Dr. Mitchell has sullied his profession by violating the standards demanded by the Psychologists’ Licensing Act and the Board’s Rules of Practice,” specifically because he “misrepresented his professional qualifications and experience to the Central Intelligence Agency” in order to “achieve his ultimate plan of implementing a brutal interrogation and torture regime”; because he “designed this torture regime only by ignoring the complete lack of a scientific basis for the regime’s safety and — assuming its safety — its effectiveness”; and, “most ominously,” because he “himself tortured prisoners held in US custody and directly supervised others who engaged in torture at his direction.”
The complaint is worth reading in its entirety, partly because of its detailed explanations of Mitchell’s unprofessional activities, as, for example, when the authors note that, “At no time prior to implementing these programs did Dr. Mitchell conduct experiments, publish research about offensive interrogation techniques, or subject his theories to peer-review in a publicly-available forum,” and that his “failure to verify his interrogation regime using scientifically sound, empirical methods therefore constitutes direct violations of the Board’s Rule of Practice requiring licensees to rely on scientifically and professionally derived knowledge when making professional judgments and the Rule requiring licensees to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of others involved in emerging fields of study.”
Why this story is bigger than Dr. James Mitchell
Moreover, the complaint also covers extensively what was actually involved in the torture of Abu Zubaydah, beyond the short summary at the start of this article, and leaves some tantalizing unanswered questions regarding the involvement of the CIA in developing the program. According to the CIA Inspector General’s 2004 report, the CIA’s Office of Medical Services (OMS) “was neither consulted nor involved in the initial analysis of the risk and benefits of EITs,” and claimed that “the reported sophistication of the preliminary EIT review was exaggerated, at least as it related to the waterboard, and that the power of this EIT was appreciably overstated.” The OMS also stated that “there was no a priori reason to believe that applying the waterboard with the frequency and intensity with which it was used by the psychologist/interrogators [Mitchell and Jessen] was either efficacious or medically safe.”
This sounds plausible, but it could indicate an explicit attempt by the CIA — or the OMS, at least — to distance itself from the program as early as 2004, given that the Inspector General concluded the report by stating, “The Agency faces potentially serious long-term political and legal challenges as a result of the CTC [Counterterrorism Center] Detention and Interrogation Program, particularly its use of EITs and the inability of the US Government to decide what it will ultimately do with terrorists detained by the Agency.”
In 2004, when Abu Zubaydah and 27 other supposed “high-value detainees” were held in secret CIA prisons, that last concern must have weighed heavily. It is no less significant now, even though 14 of the men in question, including Zubaydah, are now held in Guantánamo, and this is not only because the whereabouts of 13 others are unknown (and one, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, died in mysterious circumstances last May, having been returned to Libya), but also because the Obama administration has no idea what to do with Abu Zubaydah, the “guinea pig” for the torture program, who, after his horrendous treatment, was revealed not as a significant al-Qaeda leader, but as a mentally-damaged training camp facilitator, whose relationship with al-Qaeda was, at most, minimal.
When it comes to passing the buck for implementing torture, however, the CIA is also on shaky ground. In the complaint filed last week, James Mitchell was rightly targeted for his deeply disturbing role as a psychologist who spurned his professional obligations when, as the authors state bluntly, he “tortured prisoners in US custody,” but as is clear from the complaint and from other reports mentioned above, those involved in the program included senior CIA officials — director George Tenet, CTC director Cofer Black, and CTC chief operating officer Jose A. Rodriguez Jr. — as well as former Vice President Dick Cheney and the members of his “War Council” — David Addington, Alberto Gonzales, Tim Flanigan, John Yoo, William J. Haynes II and Daniel Dell’Orto — and other senior administration officials identified in the Senate Armed Services Committee’s report into detainee abuse, including former President George W. Bush and former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
If there is to be any accountability for those who played a part in the introduction of a widespread US torture program whose brutal inefficiency both started with and was demonstrated through the torture of Abu Zubaydah, the compliant filed last week against James Mitchell ought to revive demands for a thorough investigation. To paraphrase President Obama, an investigation would need to look backwards so that America can look forward again without having to hide the dark truth about torture that continues to infect the way America views itself, and the way it is perceived by other countries — and the only way to do that is to hold the Bush administration’s torturers to account.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in January 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, currently on tour in the UK, and available on DVD here), and my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
For a sequence of articles dealing with the use of torture by the CIA, on “high-value detainees,” and in the secret prisons, see: Guantánamo’s tangled web: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Majid Khan, dubious US convictions, and a dying man (July 2007), Jane Mayer on the CIA’s “black sites,” condemnation by the Red Cross, and Guantánamo’s “high-value” detainees (including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed) (August 2007), Waterboarding: two questions for Michael Hayden about three “high-value” detainees now in Guantánamo (February 2008), Six in Guantánamo Charged with 9/11 Murders: Why Now? And What About the Torture? (February 2008), The Insignificance and Insanity of Abu Zubaydah: Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner Confirms FBI’s Doubts (April 2008), Guantánamo Trials: Another Torture Victim Charged (Abdul Rahim al-Nashiri, July 2008), Secret Prison on Diego Garcia Confirmed: Six “High-Value” Guantánamo Prisoners Held, Plus “Ghost Prisoner” Mustafa Setmariam Nasar (August 2008), Will the Bush administration be held accountable for war crimes? (December 2008), The Ten Lies of Dick Cheney (Part One) and The Ten Lies of Dick Cheney (Part Two) (December 2008), Prosecuting the Bush Administration’s Torturers (March 2009), Abu Zubaydah: The Futility Of Torture and A Trail of Broken Lives (March 2009), Ten Terrible Truths About The CIA Torture Memos (Part One), Ten Terrible Truths About The CIA Torture Memos (Part Two), 9/11 Commission Director Philip Zelikow Condemns Bush Torture Program, Who Authorized The Torture of Abu Zubaydah?, CIA Torture Began In Afghanistan 8 Months before DoJ Approval, Even In Cheney’s Bleak World, The Al-Qaeda-Iraq Torture Story Is A New Low (all April 2009), Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi Has Died In A Libyan Prison , Dick Cheney And The Death Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, The “Suicide” Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi: Why The Media Silence?, Two Experts Cast Doubt On Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi’s “Suicide”, Lawrence Wilkerson Nails Cheney On Use Of Torture To Invade Iraq, In the Guardian: Death in Libya, betrayal by the West (in the Guardian here), Lawrence Wilkerson Nails Cheney’s Iraq Lies Again (And Rumsfeld And The CIA) (all May 2009) and WORLD EXCLUSIVE: New Revelations About The Torture Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (June 2009), The Logic of the 9/11 Trials, The Madness of the Military Commissions (November 2009), UK Judges Compare Binyam Mohamed’s Torture To That Of Abu Zubaydah (November 2009), UN Secret Detention Report Asks, “Where Are The CIA Ghost Prisoners?” (January 2010), Binyam Mohamed: Evidence of Torture by US Agents Revealed in UK (February 2010), Torture Whitewash: How “Professional Misconduct” Became “Poor Judgment” in the OPR Report (February 2010), Judges Restore Damning Passage on MI5 to the Binyam Mohamed Torture Ruling (February 2010), What Torture Is, and Why It’s Illegal and Not “Poor Judgment” (March 2010), Abu Zubaydah’s Torture Diary (March 2010), Seven Years of War in Iraq: Still Based on Cheney’s Torture and Lies (March 2010), Protests worldwide on Aafia Siddiqui Day, Sunday March 28, 2010 (March 2010), Abu Zubaydah: Tortured for Nothing (April 2010), Mohamedou Ould Salahi: How a Judge Demolished the US Government’s Al-Qaeda Claims (April 2010), Judge Rules Yemeni’s Detention at Guantánamo Based Solely on Torture (April 2010), How Binyam Mohammed’s Torture Was Revealed in a US Court (May 2010), What is Obama Doing at Bagram? (Part One): Torture and the “Black Prison” (June 2010), New Report Reveals How Bush Torture Program Involved Human Experimentation (June 2010), UN Human Rights Council Discusses Secret Detention Report (June 2010), UN Secret Detention Report (Part One): The CIA’s “High-Value Detainee” Program and Secret Prisons (June 2010), UN Secret Detention Report (Part Two): CIA Prisons in Afghanistan and Iraq (June 2010), UN Secret Detention Report (Part Three): Proxy Detention, Other Countries’ Complicity, and Obama’s Record (June 2010). Also see the extensive archive of articles about the Military Commissions.
Great article on the Texas Mitchell complaint. I’d wanted to write something up, but hadn’t the time, hence I’m so glad someone extremely competent took it up. You are correct that Mitchell/Jessen’s torture program came along at a convenient time… in fact, more than convenient.
The most opaque part of the narrative accepted thus far (which you can expect has been heavily massaged by the Agency) is exactly how and why and by whom Mitchell was “tasked” with the report on Al Qaeda counter-resistance techniques. I wrote about this last August :
According to my source, Mr. Aldrich [who was on the Board of Mitchell-Jessen, and was Mitchell’s JPRA superior] had contacts with the CIA through Special Forces work. Special Forces has a unique relationship with SERE and JPRA, as all Special Forces operators must receive SERE training and certification, due to the danger of their work. It is my hypothesis that the CIA passed the Al Qaeda document on to Aldrich, and set up the cover story of a “review” of the terrorist manual as the opportunity to launch the torture plan. (See discussion as well in part one of this series.)
The review itself was only a premise, which is clear to anyone who has ever bothered to look at the manual, and its simplistic, if not homely, rendition of how to resist what the manual assumes is inevitable torture. Since the Al Qaeda manual assumes that a number of torture techniques will be used upon the prisoner, including stripping, hanging by feet and hands, beatings, cold water, forced standing and positions, attack by dogs, solitary confinement, use of drugs, being placed in a septic tank, and more, one wonders, given the accounts of torture by U.S. interrogators, just how surprised Al Qaeda members were by the so-called “enhanced” techniques doled out by the SERE/CIA specialists.
And, by the way, I have more than one source who has mentioned Aldrich’s role. The Times story mentioned Aldrich, too, but no one but myself has followed up on it (even though I know for a fact, from discussions) that others have intended to go that direction.
Kleinman says that Mitchell and Jessen had no experience with intelligence work. That doesn’t make sense, if you think about it. JPRA, for one thing, is heavily involved with the intelligence world, and even has its own intelligence directorate (though I heard it was shut down last year, but probably, the better to hide the past, as its functions are reborn in a “new” department). See the first part of the three part series I did on SERE (the quote above is from part three of that series).
Links didn’t go through on my comment above.
Interested readers should look at http://firedoglake.com/2009/08/16/roger-aldrich-the-al-qaeda-manual-and-the-origins-of-mitchell-jessen/ and at http://firedoglake.com/2009/08/13/nyt-misses-full-story-on-mitchell-jessen/
The “Al Qeada Manual” can be accessed at http://cryptome.org/interr-man.htm
Thank you for this powerful article. Please keep on digging, for the sake of humanity and for the future of the United States.
[…] Attempts to call to accountability any of the architects of the Bush administration’s torture program have so far been depressingly unsuccessful. First, any hopes that President Obama would lead the way were dashed when, even before taking office, the President-Elect declared “a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.” Then, in January this year, the best hope to date — the final report of a four-year internal investigation into the Justice Department lawyers who wrote the “torture memos” in 2002 and 2003 that purported to redefine torture so that it could be practiced by the CIA, and later by the US military — was shattered when a senior Justice Department official was allowed to override the report’s damning conclusions, declaring that, instead of facing disciplinary measures for “professional misconduct,” the men in question — John Yoo, now a professor at Berkeley, and Jay S. Bybee, now a judge in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals — had only exercised “poor judgment.” Read the rest of this article here. […]
Here are some comments from Common Dreams:
John Mitchell wrote:
The article states that “Dr. Mitchell has sullied his profession by violating the standards demanded by the Psychologists’ Licensing Act and the Board’s Rules of Practice …”
True enough, but I remember that during the Bush administration the American Psychological Association declined to fully repudiate the participation of its members in the government’s torture programs.
For example, the story at http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2007/08/american-psycho states that the group’s policy council rejected a resolution that would have forbid [sic] its doctors from “taking part in any interrogations at U.S. military prisons ‘in which detainees are deprived of adequate protection of their human rights.’” The group did say that members couldn’t take part in interrogations involving mock executions, water-boarding, etc., but it allowed psychologists to assist in interrogations that involved such forms of abuse.
By contrast, the American Psychiatric Association did formally and fully condemn and repudiate such practices. It seems that James Mitchell had plenty of supporters in the American Psychological Association. It’s hard to imagine how one could sully a profession that is already so lacking in basic morality and simple courage.
The refusal of the Democrats to oppose Bush’s use of torture continues in compounded form through the fact that the Democrats who now have the White House firmly in their own hands, refuse to prosecute those officials who carried out the tortures. They currently refuse to enforce the law against torturing people (or animals for that matter), and they spent years trying to pretend that they did not know that torture was actually being used. So that makes the Democrats just like the Republicans here. They are both lying, torturing, murdering war mongers.
Oh! Did you vote for them? I hope I haven’t offended your delicate sensibilities by my mentioning the facts and history of the matter?
Jill June wrote:
This has bothered me for so long. The US did and does torture. Torture is now being codified into our “law”. I don’t understand why this doesn’t bother very many people. I keep wondering why it causes so little distress that our ruling elite is so depraved that they authorized and approve of torture. And I wonder why people don’t think torture could happen to them if the govt. decides they have gotten out of line.
I couldn’t understand it under Bush and I can’t understand it under Obama. Something has gone terribly wrong with the thinking and values of everyday Americans. This should be so profoundly unacceptable, so widely condemned, and yet, there is almost complete silence. I think this silence disturbs me more than the depravity of our “leaders”.
Obama’s protection of Bush Administration torturers will forever change my view of him as a president who knows better but made a cynical, sickly “pragmatic” politically calculated decision not to antagonize various centers of power (in the military, intelligence agencies, Congress, and the media) if he got serious about defending the rule of law and our Constitution.
I’ve long wondered, along with the other commenters, why so many prominent people working for or on behalf of the U.S. government haven’t been held responsible for torture of detainees, either past or on-going. The best insight into this can be gained by considering the beliefs of those who have the power and opportunity to effectuate criminal prosecutions and disciplinary actions such as removal of law or medical licenses. I’ll refer to them generically as law enforcers. There are thousands of them in the U.S., but to my knowledge none have used their power to enforce the laws against torture of detainees, except for a few low-level prosecutions.
It might be useful to consider torture imposed by perpetrators of rape, murder, and serious assault. Law enforcers have no reluctance to pursue such cases because they believe they will be rewarded for doing so — financially, by the esteem of their peers, and in terms of moral and ethical “law and order” motivations. What negates the prospect of these rewards with regard to public officials and other higher-level officials responsible for torture of detainees? I propose the following (not necessarily in order of importance).
First, law enforcers don’t understand that there has actually been violation of law by the prominent operatives.
Second, law enforcers lack sensitivity to the harm suffered by detainees who are tortured.
Third, law enforcers fear that other law enforcers, their employers, and the general public will remove or seek to remove them from their jobs and otherwise retaliate against them if they attempt to hold higher-level persons responsible for torturing detainees.
Fourth, law enforcers believe that the use of torture has been empirically shown to allow discovery of information that leads to prevention of terrorism.
Fifth, law enforcers believe that terrorism is the greatest threat to the “freedoms” enjoyed by the U.S.
Sixth, law enforcers believe that accused terrorists do not enjoy the same status as human beings as people in the U.S. who are not accused of being terrorists.
There may be more.
Once we fully understand what negates, with respect to acts by prominent officials leading to torture of detainees, the rewards that law enforcers earn by prosecution of ordinary serious crimes, we can begin organizing systematic attacks to remove these roadblocks.
Here are a few comments from The Smirking Chimp:
*IF* there is to be any accountability, here is what needs to happen:
obama needs to be replaced with a human being;
all congressional democrats need to be replaced with human beings;
all republicans need to die;
all american voters need to understand the difference between video game and teevee torture and the real thing.
So, there will never be any accountability in this country.
It is far more likely that yoo or bybee will be elected president some day.
Dennis Rouse wrote:
The fix was in before Obama was even elected President…Those who make the rules control the game…!
The US has been losing its soul for some 30 years now and there is no one on the horizon to put it back….anytime soon….
Blood Red Sun wrote:
These guys, along with the justice department lawyers, are good examples of what happens when academics, who have never done anything of real consequence in the world, have to prove their Manhood. Likewise for bush junior and cheney.
These poor excuses for human beings should be put in the same historical category as the Nazis in the Nuremberg trials. They might escape punishment during their lifetimes, but they will be reviled by world historians as the creators of crimes against humanity. They are cut from the same evil cloth as the Nazi torturers.
These evil subhumans have created a deep and dark malaise in the hearts of all Americans. Forget liberal bleeding hearts in all of this. Even rigid, uptight conservatives instinctively know that causing unnecessary suffering in other human beings is morally wrong. It is mentally sick, evil, subhuman behavior. I think this instinctive knowledge is inherited as part of our group animal mentality and we don’t necessarily learn it from our parents or teachers. It’s instinctive and hard-wired into us to set some acceptable standard of treatment for fellow human beings.
We human animals will compete for food and land and money and gold and silver. We humans will often kill each other over these things. However, to go out of our way to cause great pain and terrible suffering in other humans, even enemies, is simply against our humanity or, if you will, our nature as a species of animal.
Torture of helpless people, even enemy prisoners, is sick behavior. It is like a festering sore in the hearts of Americans everywhere.
The only way this sickening sore can be healed is to punish those involved in it and expose it and announce to the entire world that it is a terrible crime, and that we were wrong for having engaged in it.
Only then, can some sort of national healing begin that will bring us back to some sort of human normalcy to the US.
Of course, like the above posters, I don’t expect this to happen anytime soon.
When revenge is sought, humans can become truly evil. History is full of such examples.
I do not know what portion of germans actually supported the pogrom against jews (and others). But I do know that polling in the us has shown support for torture, be it so labelled or disguised as “enhanced interrogation”, to vacillate between 40 and 55%. If you poll congress, the support would seem to be 99%ish. If you poll Rs, it’s 120%. If you poll only elected Ds, it’s about 95%, including nobody in the white house nor in the DOJ. I’m basing this on how each has voted and/or advocated.
So, though those who CREATED the policy, for no real reason discernable except just plain meanness and revenge, should be mankind’s pariahs. But so, too, should be everyone who is or was ever in a position to advocate against it and hold those who did it accountable and did nothing. And, then, of course, you must also include the 150 million or so of american nazi party members who lust for blood at least as much as cheney and the bushbaby.
This problem goes all the way to the tips of the americans’ roots. There was a panelist on the Maher show who labelled the designers of the policy “monsters”. We are a nation of monsters. It’s really pretty simple.
What you are saying that “we are a nation of monsters” in relation to torture is correct. I hope this might just be a temporary anomaly.
I am attempting to take the long view that all of the great documents and real thinkers like our founding fathers and the writers of the Geneva Convention took…no cruel and unusual punishments etc. Those folks who wrote those documents and policies had just experienced terrible warfare and massive death in the millions that reached into every family and took a father, son, daughter wife or cousin. Contrast that with we overfed, puffed up, exceptionalist Americans who were being pushed into war by silly, priggish “can do” CEO types who intentionally paid their propaganda Wurlitzer to stir up massive anger over a the loss of a couple of buildings and a couple of thousand citizens. Now, I’m not minimizing this loss in any way, but our loss is tiny in comparison to millions lost in WWI, or the desperate times of the American Revolution when our founding fathers had their very own lives on the line and faced hanging for treason if they failed.
Yet,as you note Pvequalkt, many people desire a strong leader, a furor, especially in a crisis, and when filled with fear,and the entire Bush co. agenda was pre-designed to fill the populace with terrible fear. Remember, “be afraid, be very afraid” mantra that they pushed in their propaganda Wurlitzer. This was brainwashing on a massive scale.
Since I was the only war veteran teacher in our school where I taught, I remember being interviewed by a kid for the school announcements about my opinion as to what we should do after 9/11. I was against unilateral military action, but it was really hard to go against the the calls for revenge. I said that “I have seen war and I am saddened by all of the loss of life that has occurred and will occur because of this event.” That was all I said. However, it was really difficult not to jump on the popular bandwagon and say what another teacher said, “that we need to go over there and clean out that nest of killers.” And I later caught hell for waffling in the revenge department and being too “soft” and too “liberal.”
So, public opinion is due to many things, especially how efficiently a government propaganda machine operates. Our Whurlitzer is magnificent and super efficient. It keeps the US masses in a mindless stupor most of the time.
The common US citizen is like an old work horse with those huge leather blinders sewn on the sides of its bridle that keep it looking straight ahead, with reins hooked to either side of the bridle so our leaders can pull their heads in the direction they want them to look while ignoring everything else around them.
Nazi Germany was a little different however. Hitler had the charisma to charm and lead while the German people were beset by defeat and massive inflation and poverty. The German people had some legitimate reasons to be very angry at something or someone. Hitler simply turned their heads toward his chosen scapegoats; Jews, Gypsies and other minority groups, and seemingly decent people readily followed, just as normally peaceful Americans swallowed the Bush co. war propaganda hook, line and sinker.
Now, as torture is instituted in the depths of the US government and our military, we can speculate that it will be used at some point, probably against everyday citizens. These things just grow bigger once they are allowed. When this happens, torture might be used on Americans to create justifications for expanding ant-terror policies and operations that make huge profits for contractors and anti-terror police state functionaries. This is what happened in Tsarist Russia and in the Soviet Union and in many other places where the torture genie was let out of the bottle. When torture becomes a commonplace thing everytime a citizen is arrested for ordinary violations, then, citizen opinion might move against it, but that will be too late. In fact, it is probably already too late.
This might be beginning to happen right now when our police can easily pull the trigger on their tasers and shoot electric wires and 60,000 volts into an citizen offender. They are already using these devices to “punish” citizens right there on the spot even for honestly questioning their arrest. So, now torture and selling torture devices has been accepted in America. It has become profitable and expedient to employ those devices against the US citizenry. So we are far down the road toward a culture like existed in Tsarist Russia or Nazi Germany.
Will the American people wake up and realize that the pure meanness of Dick Cheney and his sick crowd has lead the entire nation down a torture path where torture could easily become common down at your local police station.
As this occurs, I wonder what percentage of people will continue to support US torture policies.
[…] Andy Worthington: Abu Zubaydah and the Case Against Torture Architect James Mitchell […]
[…] their terrible contribution to the Bush administration’s torture program in my articles, Abu Zubaydah and the Case Against Torture Architect James Mitchell, The Torture of Abu Zubaydah: The Complaint Filed Against James Mitchell for Ethical Violations and […]
[…] another point in the interview, Rodriguez also made reference to the psychologists — including James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen — who had worked on the US military’s program for using torture to train US […]
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
Email Andy Worthington
Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist: