Video: Andy Worthington’s Band The Four Fathers Play “81 Million Dollars” About the US Torture Program, Calling for Bush, Cheney and Others to be Held Accountable

19.10.15

Richard Clare and Andy Worthington of The Four Fathers play '81 Million Dollars', Andy's song about the US torture program, in a screenshot from a video.To coincide with some renewed activity in connection with the Bush administration’s torture program — namely, the ACLU suing James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, the former military psychologists who set up the program — I’m taking the opportunity to make available a video of my song ‘81 Million Dollars‘ about the torture program, and about Mitchell and Jessen.

$81m is the amount Mitchell and Jessen were paid for taking their experience as psychologists involved in the US military’s SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) program — which involved subjecting US personnel to torture to prepare them if they were seized by a hostile enemy — and reverse-engineering it for use in real-life situations, something for which they were abjectly unqualified.

The result, as the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s CIA torture report made clear last December, was unspeakably brutal and pointless, producing no information that could not have been produced without the use of torture. It also involved the CIA lying about its actions.

See below for the video, of myself and Richard Clare of my band The Four Fathers, playing the song last month while my friend Todd Pierce (the former military defense attorney who represented Guantánamo prisoners in their military commission trials) was staying with me. Please note also that the version by the full band is available here on Bandcamp, where those interested can buy it for just 60p ($0.93), or as part of the whole of our album ‘Love and War’ — as a download or on CD.

I’m also cross-posting below the Guardian‘s article about the ACLU’s lawsuit. I’d have preferred to write something myself, but I’m permanently short of time at the moment because of the ongoing demands of the Fast For Shaker campaign I launched last week, so please do forgive me. Here’s the 82-page complaint, and the ACLU’s post announcing it.

CIA torture survivors sue psychologists who designed infamous program
By Spencer Ackerman, the Guardian, October 13, 2015

Survivors of CIA torture have sued the contractor psychologists who designed one of the most infamous programs of the post-9/11 era.

In an extraordinary step, psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen now face a federal lawsuit for their role in convincing the CIA to subject terror suspects to mock drowning, painful bodily contortions, sleep and dietary deprivation and other methods long rejected by much of the world as torture.

In practice, CIA torture meant disappearances, mock executions, anal penetration performed under cover of “rehydration” and at least one man who froze to death, according to a landmark Senate report last year. Versions of the techniques migrated from the CIA’s undocumented prisons, known as black sites, to US military usage at Guantánamo Bay, Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan and Abu Ghraib in Iraq.

On behalf of torture survivors Suleiman Abdullah Salim and Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud, as well as a representative of the estate of Gul Rahman – who froze to death in a CIA black site in Afghanistan – the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed the suit against Mitchell and Jessen on Tuesday in a federal court in Washington state, where the two currently reside. They seek compensatory damages of at least $75,000.

The suit calls the torture program a “joint criminal enterprise” and a “war crime” in which the CIA, Mitchell and Jessen colluded and from which Mitchell and Jessen financially profited.

Although numerous US government investigations have pierced the veneer of secrecy around the torture program, the program’s government architects have faced no legal reprisal. A Justice Department inquiry ended in 2012 without prosecutions. The new lawsuit, aimed not at government officials but the contractors Mitchell and Jessen, aims to break the trend.

“This case is about ensuring that the people behind the torture program are held accountable so history doesn’t repeat itself,” Steven Watt, one of the ACLU attorneys representing the three ex-detainees, told the Guardian.

“Impunity for torture sends the dangerous message to US and foreign officials that there will be no consequences for future abuses.

“This lawsuit is different from past ones because public government documents now provide exhaustive details on the CIA torture program, and they identify the people who were tortured and how it happened. The government has long abused the ‘state secrets’ privilege to prevent accountability for torture but at this stage, any claim that the torture of our clients is a state secret would be absurd.”

One of the litigants reacted to his torture by attempting to kill himself. Another was kept naked for “more than a month”, the suit alleges, and was subjected to “a form of waterboarding”.

Salim, a Tanzanian fisherman, said in a video published by the Guardian that flashbacks from his ordeal in CIA custody are a permanent part of his life. After five years in CIA and then US military custody, Salim’s captors released him unceremoniously from Bagram in August 2008, presenting him with a memo stating that the US determined him not to pose a threat to the US.

“You can’t sleep, you can’t eat, you can’t smell,” said Salim, who says his CIA captors chained his arms and legs to a metal hoop in his cell that forced him into a squatting position so uncomfortable it prevented him from sleeping. Like other detainees, Salim was doused in ice-cold water and then wrapped in a freezing plastic sheet. According to the lawsuit, Salim hid painkillers he was given in order to hoard a dose strong enough for an ultimately unsuccessful suicide attempt.

“Flashbacks come anytime, so much they make you crazy,” Salim said in the video.

Ben Soud, who now lives in his native Libya, was taken to a CIA black site in Afghanistan, and for extended periods permitted “sleep only for minutes at a time because of painful stress positions, constant blaring music, and guards banging loudly on the door of his cell every hour or so”, the suit claims. Guards paraded him naked around the black site for “15 minutes every half hour through the night and into the morning”, according to the Senate report.

Although the CIA only acknowledges waterboarding three detainees – Abu Zubaydah, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Abdul al-Rahim al-Nashiri – the lawsuit claims the agency subjected Ben Soud to a “form of waterboarding”.

“He was strapped to a wooden board that could spin around 360 degrees,” the suit claims.

“His interrogators spun him around on this board with a hood over his head covering his nose and mouth. While strapped to the board with his head lower than his feet, his interrogators poured buckets of cold water him. While they did not pour water directly over his mouth and nose, they threatened to do so if he didn’t cooperate.”

Ben Soud was also treated with the same frigid-water dousing and plastic-sheet coating that Salim received, only Ben Soud reported the freezing water being treated with a gel-like substance, causing it to stick to his body.

Famously, Jessen and Mitchell, former instructors in the military’s Survival Evasion Resistance Escape (SERE) program to counter torture, revised torture techniques from the SERE training and proposed to use them on CIA detainees.

They faced their first test case in the spring of 2002, after the CIA captured Abu Zubaydah, then thought to be a senior member of al-Qaida, and took him to Thailand. Although Zubaydah spoke openly with his FBI interrogators who sought to establish a rapport with him, Mitchell cabled the CIA’s Counterrorism Center “nearly every day” for permission to torture him.

CIA personnel, with Mitchell overseeing, waterboarded Zubaydah 83 times in the span of a month. Eventually, according to the Senate intelligence committee’s report – which gives Mitchell and Jessen the pseudonyms Grayson Swigert and Hammond Dunbar – Zubaydah would submit to torture after hearing his captors snap their fingers twice. They forced him into “confinement boxes”, one the size of a coffin and the other just two and a half feet square and 21 inches deep.

Now missing an eye, Zubaydah is still detained at Guantánamo Bay, although the CIA no longer believes he is a member of al-Qaida. The Senate intelligence committee concluded the torture techniques did not produce any useful intelligence; the CIA’s official position as of 2014 is that the question is unanswerable. But the 2002 test case convinced the CIA, supported by the Bush White House, of the value of torture.

The torture of Abu Zubaydah, who is not a party to the lawsuit, began weeks before the US Justice Department provided its August 2002 legal blessing, since withdrawn, to the CIA torture program. An adviser to Condoleezza Rice would later inform the Bush-era secretary of state that use of the techniques Mitchell and Jessen implemented amounted to a “felony war crime”.

A Spokane-based company the two founded, Mitchell and Jessen Associates, would secure $75m from the CIA in contracts, in addition to a further $6.1m from the agency for legal expenses in the event of criminal or civil action stemming from the contract. Although Barack Obama banned CIA torture by executive order on the second day of his presidency, the CIA continued to cover the company’s legal bills until 2012. Mitchell and Jessen themselves each received more than $1m from their contracts.

The suit does not claim that Mitchell and Jessen were present during the torture of Salim, Ben Soud and Rahman. But it derives their culpability through the application of the torture techniques – prolonged sleep deprivation, nudity, “stress positions”, cramped confinement – that the two psychologists provided to the CIA, which implemented the techniques.

“Defendants are directly liable,” the suit charges, “because they designed, developed, and implemented a program for the CIA intended to inflict physical and mental pain and suffering on Plaintiffs, and because Plaintiffs were tortured and subjected to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment as a consequence of their inclusion in that program.”

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album, ‘Love and War,’ is available for download or on CD via Bandcamp — also see here). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign, the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, calling for the immediate release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — 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. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

4 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    Kathy Da Silva wrote:

    It’s awful the price paid 81 million dollars.
    And did any of that come out of our tax?

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    US taxpayers paid it all, Kathy. They should complain vociferously. Good to hear from you.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    When my friend Jan Strain shared this on Facebook, she wrote:

    Now…can we get some accountability here!?!?!

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Well, wouldn’t that be great, Jan? The ACLU lawsuit is an interesting development, and I see that in Germany the Berlin-based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) has filed a complaint against Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, the inept and sadistic CIA officer given a makeover in Kathryn Bigelow’s dreadful film Zero Dark Thirty. Here’s the Al-Jazeera report: http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/10/19/in-germany-cia-official-charged-with-torture.html
    And Jane Mayer from December: http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/unidentified-queen-torture

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer (The State of London).
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