Notes on Guantánamo and the ‘War on Terror’ (18 July)


Military psychologists and torture

In Rorschach and Awe (great title!), a must-read article in Vanity Fair, Katherine Eban explores how two military psychologists, James Elmer Mitchell and Bruce Jessen –- trained in the secretive SERE program (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape), which conditions soldiers to endure captivity in enemy hands –- were largely responsible for “reverse-engineering” the techniques to provide the core of the “enhanced interrogation techniques” so beloved by Bush and his cronies that the President boasted about them when he announced the delivery of 14 “high value” detainees –- including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah –- to Guantánamo in September 2006.

Abu ZubaydahAt the heart of the article, which deals with the “interrogation” of Abu Zubaydah –- a supposed leader of al-Qaeda who was actually nothing more than an administrative assistant with mental health issues –- is the revelation that Zubaydah’s great confession about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s role as the architect of 9/11 came about not through SERE-influenced torture applied by the CIA, but through old-fashioned rapport-building conducted by the FBI. As Eban describes it, the CIA’s modus operandi –- with the complicity of medical professionals –- was “to conduct a psychic demolition in which they’d get Zubaydah to reveal everything by severing his sense of personality and scaring him almost to death,” whereas, without resorting to torture, “America learned the truth of how 9/11 was organized because a detainee had come to trust his captors after they treated him humanely.”

There’s much, much more in the article and I urge you to read it.

Disillusioned CIA agents spill the beans

Meanwhile, over in the Guardian, in what happens to be an allied story, Suzanne Goldenberg reports from America that CIA officials who were “deeply opposed to the secret transfer of terror suspects to interrogation centres across Europe” cooperated with a recent Council of Europe investigation into the CIA’s undisclosed network of jails. Dick Marty, the Swiss senator who produced the report on “extraordinary rendition,” told a European parliament committee that he had “received information about the secret programme from dissident officers within the upper reaches of the CIA.”

Goldenberg spoke to three former CIA officers who explained that Marty was “correct about the deep divisions within the CIA,” although Vincent Cannistraro, a former counter-terrorism chief, doubted that he would have met serving officials, but admitted that, as Goldenberg described it, “the depths of anger within the CIA remained real.” “There are people who decided to take early retirement,” Cannistraro said, explaining that there were a couple of “relatively senior officials whose upward career was blocked because of their lack of wholehearted endorsement of the programme.” Another ex-CIA officer, Larry Johnson, endorsed Marty’s claims. “I know officers who thought this was wrong-headed,” he said, “who thought this was counterproductive and who stayed away from it. So the fact that there are some people getting up and publicly expressing their concern and dissent is not surprising.”

Expect more beans to be spilled as the long, slow countdown to the end of Bush’s ignominious Presidency approaches.

For more on Abu Zubaydah and US torture techniques, see my book 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). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed.

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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 and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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