The Dark Desires of Bruce Jessen, the Architect of Bush’s Torture Program, As Revealed by His Former Friend and Colleague


In another exclusive report for Truthout, my friends and colleagues Jason Leopold and Jeff Kaye continue to shine an unerring light on the Bush administration’s torture program (see previous examples here and here), this time focusing on the role played by Bruce Jessen, the Air Force psychologist, who, with his colleague James Mitchell, established the torture program used in the “War on Terror.”

Jessen and Mitchell did this by taking torture techniques taught in US military schools to train US military personnel to resist torture if captured (the program known as SERE — Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape), and reverse engineering them for use in the real-life interrogations of alleged terror suspects. And as the article lays out in clear detail for the first time, the purpose was not just to obtain intelligence, as was always asserted in public by senior officials: “Rather, as Jessen’s notes explain, torture was used to ‘exploit’ detainees, that is, to break them down physically and mentally, in order to get them to ‘collaborate’ with government authorities.”

Jessen’s role in the torture program — and the disgraceful way in which his and Mitchell’s actions went against the advice of most of their colleagues, and were viewed by many as a fundamental betrayal of their professional responsibilities — have been previously established over several years, and are spelled out most clearly in a detailed report on detainee treatment that was issued by the Senate Armed Services Committee in December 2008 (PDF). This devastating document, which lays out a clear chronology explaining how the torture prgram was introduced, and how all dissenting voices were sidelined or silenced or ignored, ought to have provided much of the evidence for the prosecution of George W. Bush and other senior officials in his administration for authorizing the use of torture, had there been the will to do so.

However, as we now know to our disappointment — and to America’s undying shame — there was no political will to pursue those in the Bush adminstration who did all they could to drag America down to the level of the most vilified human rights abusers on earth, and there is still no political will today, with the result that, in those parts of the country and of the American psyche that have been infected by the unchallenged sins of the torturers, the prevailing view of America and its role in the world is now even more feral and cruel than it was under George W. Bush.

Although much of Jessen’s story has been exposed before, Leopold and Kaye shine new light on it through the central involvement in their exposé of retired Air Force Capt. Michael Kearns, a former friend and colleague of Jessen’s who “said he decided to come forward” because he was “outraged that Jessen used their work to help design the Bush administration’s torture program.” In September 2009, Capt. Kearns stumbled upon documents prepared by Jessen 20 years ago, and, as a result, was physically sick when he realized how his former colleague had paved the way for the torture program that, after 9/11, he implemented with James Mitchell, infecting the whole of the United States’ detention policies, from Afghanistan to Iraq, and from Guantánamo to the CIA’s secret prisons, with the “dark side” of the SERE program, reverse engineered and brought to inappropriate life in real-life situations.

I had the pleasure to meet Capt. Kearns and to get to know him over several days last October in Berkeley, where I was a special guest of the organizers of “Berkeley Says No to Torture” Week, and, as well as finding him to be a very sympathetic character, it was also impossible not to be struck by the intensity with which he regarded Jessen’s betrayal of the SERE program, turning something that was designed to prevent harm to US soldiers in the field into something completely different — a template for the torture of foreign prisoners seized in the “War on Terror.”

As he explained to Leopold and Kaye, Jessen’s template for the “full exploitation” of prisoners, rather than just their interrogation, was designed to be used for propaganda purposes, “or other needs [of] the detaining power, such as the recruitment of informers and double agents.” As he added, “Those aspects of the US detainee program have not generally been discussed as part of the torture story in the American press.”

After talking to Capt. Kearns in October, it became apparent — as is also emphasized in Leopold and Kaye’s article — that what Jessen (and Mitchell) did was not only to reverse engineer the techniques for use in the real world, but also to reverse engineer the program’s intent, turning its practioners from careful advisors, trying to mitigate the effects of torture on US personnel, into actual torturers, indistinguishable from the foreign torturers aganst whom the SERE program was designed as a protection. As Capt. Kearns says at the end of Leopold and Kaye’s excellent article, cross-posted below, “Bruce Jessen knew better. His duplicitous act is appalling to me and shall haunt me for the rest of my life.”

EXCLUSIVE: CIA Psychologist’s Notes Reveal True Purpose Behind Bush’s Torture Program
By Jason Leopold and Jeffrey Kaye, Truthout, March 22, 2011

Dr. Bruce Jessen’s handwritten notes describe some of the torture techniques that were used to “exploit” “war on terror” detainees in custody of the CIA and Department of Defense.

Bush administration officials have long asserted that the torture techniques used on “war on terror” detainees were utilized as a last resort in an effort to gain actionable intelligence to thwart pending terrorist attacks against the United States and its interests abroad.

But the handwritten notes obtained exclusively by Truthout drafted two decades ago by Dr. John “Bruce” Jessen, the psychologist who was under contract to the CIA and credited as being one of the architects of the government’s top-secret torture program, tell a dramatically different story about the reasons detainees were brutalized and it was not just about obtaining intelligence. Rather, as Jessen’s notes explain, torture was used to “exploit” detainees, that is, to break them down physically and mentally, in order to get them to “collaborate” with government authorities. Jessen’s notes emphasize how a “detainer” uses the stresses of detention to produce the appearance of compliance in a prisoner.

Indeed, a report released in 2009 by the Senate Armed Services Committee about the treatment of detainees in US custody said Jessen was the author of a “Draft Exploitation Plan” presented to the Pentagon in April 2002 that was implemented  at Guantánamo and at prison facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan. But to what degree is unknown because the document remains classified. Jessen also co-authored a memo in February 2002 on “Prisoner Handling Recommendations” at Guantánamo, which is also classified.

Moreover, the Armed Services Committee’s report noted that torture techniques approved by the Bush administration were based on survival training exercises US military personnel were taught by individuals like Jessen if they were captured by an enemy regime and subjected to “illegal exploitation” in violation of the Geneva Conventions.

Jessen’s notes, prepared for an Air Force survival training course that he later “reverse engineered” when he helped design the Bush administration’s torture program, however, go into far greater detail than the Armed Services Committee’s report in explaining how prisoners would be broken down physically and psychologically by their captors. The notes say survival training students could “combat interrogation and torture” if they are captured by an enemy regime by undergoing intense training exercises, using “cognitive” and “exposure techniques” to develop “stress inoculation.” [Click here to download a PDF file of Jessen’s handwritten notes. Click here to download a zip file of Jessen’s notes in typewritten form.]

The documents stand as the first piece of hard evidence to surface in nine years that further explains the psychological aspects of the Bush administration’s torture program and the rationale for subjecting detainees to so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

Jessen’s notes were provided to Truthout by retired Air Force Capt. Michael Kearns, a “master” SERE instructor and decorated veteran who has previously held high-ranking positions within the Air Force Headquarters Staff and Department of Defense (DoD).

Kearns and his boss, Roger Aldrich, the head of the Air Force Intelligence’s Special Survial Training Program (SSTP), based out of Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane, Washington, hired Jessen in May 1989. Kearns, who was head of operations at SSTP and trained thousands of service members, said Jessen was brought into the program due to an increase in the number of new survival training courses being taught and “the fact that it required psychological expertise on hand in a full-time basis.”

“Special Mission Units”

Jessen, then the chief of Psychology Service at the US Air Force Survival School, immediately started to work directly with Kearns on “a new course for special mission units (SMUs), which had as its goal individual resistance to terrorist exploitation.”

The course, known as SV-91, was developed for the Survival Evasion Resistance Escape (SERE) branch of the US Air Force Intelligence Agency, which acted as the Executive Agent Action Office for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Jessen’s notes formed the basis for one part of SV-91, “Psychological Aspects of Detention.”

Special mission units fall under the guise of the DoD’s clandestine Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and engage in a wide-range of highly classified counterterrorist and covert operations, or “special missions,” around the world, hundreds of whom were personally trained by Kearns. The SV-91 course Jessen and Kearns were developing back in 1989 would later become known as “Special Survival for Special Mission Units.”

Before the inception of SV-91, the primary SERE course was SV-80, or Basic Combat Survival School for Resistance to Interrogation, which is where Jessen formerly worked. When Jessen was hired to work on SV-91, the vacancy at SV-80 was filled by psychologist Dr. James Mitchell, who was also contracted by the CIA to work at the agency’s top-secret black site prisons in Europe employing SERE torture techniques, such as the controlled drowning technique know as waterboarding, against detainees.

While they were still under contract to the CIA, the two men formed the “consulting” firm Mitchell, Jessen & Associates in March 2005. The “governing persons” of the company included Kearns’ former boss, Aldrich, SERE contractor David Tate, Joseph Matarazzo, a former president of the American Psychological Association and Randall Spivey, the ex-chief of Operations, Policy and Oversight Division of JPRA.

Mitchell, Jessen & Associates’ articles of incorporation have been “inactive” since October 22, 2009 and the business is now listed as “dissolved,” according to Washington state’s Secretary of State website.

Lifting the “Veil of Secrecy”

Kearns was one of only two officers within DoD qualified to teach all three SERE-related courses within SSTP on a worldwide basis, according to a copy of a 1989 letter written by Aldrich, who nominated Kearns officer of the year.

He said he decided to come forward because he is outraged that Jessen used their work to help design the Bush administration’s torture program.

“I think it’s about time for SERE to come out from behind the veil of secrecy if we are to progress as a moral nation of laws,” Kearns said during a wide-ranging interview with Truthout. “To take this survival training program and turn it into some form of nationally sanctioned, purposeful program for the extraction of information, or to apply exploitation, is in total contradiction to human morality, and defies basic logic. When I first learned about interrogation, at basic intelligence training school, I read about Hans Scharff, a Nazi interrogator who later wrote an article for Argosy Magazine titled ‘Without Torture.’ That’s what I was taught — torture doesn’t work.”

What stands out in Jessen’s notes is that he believed torture was often used to produce false confessions. That was the end result after one high-value detainee who was tortured in early 2002 confessed to having information proving a link between the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, according to one former Bush administration official.

It was later revealed, however, that the prisoner, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, had simply provided his captors a false confession so they would stop torturing him. Jessen appeared to be concerned with protecting the US military against falling victim to this exact kind of physical and psychological pressure in a hostile detention environment, recognizing that it would lead to, among other things, false confessions.

In a paper Jessen wrote accompanying his notes, “Psychological Advances in Training to Survive Captivity, Interrogation and Torture,” which was prepared for the symposium: “Advances in Clinical Psychological Support of National Security Affairs, Operational Problems in the Behavioral Sciences Course,” he suggested that additional “research” should be undertaken to determine “the measurability of optimum stress levels in training students to resist captivity.”

“The avenues appear inexhaustible” for further research in human exploitation, Jessen wrote.

Such “research” appears to have been the main underpinning of the Bush administration’s torture program. The experimental nature of these interrogation methods used on detainees held at Guantánamo and at CIA black site prisons have been noted by military and intelligence officials. The Armed Services Committee report cited a statement from Col. Britt Mallow, the commander of the Criminal Investigative Task Force (CITF), who noted that Guantánamo officials Maj. Gen. Mike Dunleavy and Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller used the term “battle lab” to describe the facility, meaning “that interrogations and other procedures there were to some degree experimental, and their lessons would benefit [the Department of Defense] in other places.”

What remains a mystery is why Jessen took a defensive survival training course and helped turn it into an offensive torture program.

Truthout attempted to reach Jessen over the past two months for comment, but we were unable to track him down. Messages left for him at a security firm in Alexandria, Virginia he has been affiliated with were not returned and phone numbers listed for him in Spokane were disconnected.

A New Emphasis on Terrorism

SV-91 was developed to place a new emphasis on terrorism as SERE-related courses pertaining to the cold war, such as SV-83, Special Survival for Sensitive Reconnaissance Operations (SRO), whose students flew secret missions over the Soviet Union, Eastern Bloc, and other communist countries, were being scaled back.

SSTP evolved into the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), the DoD’s executive agency for SERE training, and was tapped by DoD General Counsel William “Jim” Haynes in 2002 to provide the agency with a list of interrogation techniques and the psychological impact those methods had on SERE trainees, with the aim of utilizing the same methods for use on detainees. Aldrich was working in a senior capacity at JPRA when Haynes contacted the agency to inquire about SERE.

The Army also runs a SERE school as does the Navy, which had utilized waterboarding as a training exercise on Navy SERE students that JPRA recommended to DoD as one of the torture techniques to use on high-value detainees.

Kearns said the value of Jessen’s notes, particularly as they relate to the psychological aspects of the Bush administration’s torture program, cannot be overstated.

“The Jessen notes clearly state the totality of what was being reverse-engineered — not just ‘enhanced interrogation techniques,’ but an entire program of exploitation of prisoners using torture as a central pillar,” he said. “What I think is important to note, as an ex-SERE Resistance to Interrogation instructor, is the focus of Jessen’s instruction. It is exploitation, not specifically interrogation.

“And this is not a picayune issue, because if one were to ‘reverse-engineer’ a course on resistance to exploitation then what one would get is a plan to exploit prisoners, not interrogate them. The CIA/DoD torture program appears to have the same goals as the terrorist organizations or enemy governments for which SV-91 and other SERE courses were created to defend against: the full exploitation of the prisoner in his intelligence, propaganda, or other needs held by the detaining power, such as the recruitment of informers and double agents. Those aspects of the US detainee program have not generally been discussed as part of the torture story in the American press.”

Ironically, in late 2001, while the DoD started to make inquiries about adapting SERE methods for the government’s interrogation program, Kearns received special permission from the US government to work as an intelligence officer for the Australian Department of Defence to teach the Australian Special Air Service (SAS) how to use SERE techniques to resist interrogation and torture if they were captured by terrorists. Australia had been a staunch supporter of the invasion of Afghanistan and sent troops there in late 2001.

Kearns, who recently waged an unsuccessful Congressional campaign in Colorado, was working on a spy novel two years ago and dug through boxes of “unclassified historical materials on intelligence” as part of his research when he happened to stumble upon Jessen’s notes for SV-91. He said he was “deeply shocked and surprised to see I’d kept a copy of these handwritten notes as certainly the originals would have been destroyed (shredded)” once they were typed up and made into proper course materials.

“I hadn’t seen these notes for over twenty years,” he said. “However, I’ll never forget that day in September 2009 when I discovered them. I instantly felt sick, and eventually vomited because I felt so badly physically and emotionally that day knowing that I worked with this person and this was the material that I believe was ‘reverse-engineered’ and used in part to design the torture program. When I found the Jessen papers, I made several copies and sent them to my friends as I thought this could be the smoking gun, which proves who knew what and when and possibly who sold a bag of rotten apples to the Bush administration.”

Kearns was, however, aware of the role SERE played in the torture program before he found Jessen’s notes, and in July 2008, he sent an email to the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Sen. Carl Levin, who was investigating the issue and offered to share information with Levin about Jessen and the SERE program in general. The Michigan Democrat responded to Kearns saying he was “concerned about this issue” and that he “needed more information on the subject,” but Levin never followed up when Kearns offered to help.

“I don’t know how it went off the tracks, but the names of the people who testified at the Senate Armed Services, Senate Judiciary, and Select Intelligence committees were people I worked with, and several I supervised,” Kearns said. “It makes me sick to know people who knew better allowed this to happen.”

Levin’s office did not return phone calls or emails for comment. However, the report he released in April 2009, “Inquiry Into the Treatment of Detainees in US Custody,” refers to SV-91. The report includes a list of acronyms used throughout the report, one of which is “S-V91,” identified as “the Department of Defense High Risk Survival Training” course. But there is no other mention throughout the report of SV-91 or the term “High Risk Survival Training,” possibly due to the fact that sections of the report where it is discussed remain classified. Still, the failure by Levin and his staff to follow up with Kearns — the key military official who had retained Jessen’s notes and helped develop the very course those notes were based upon that was cited in the report — suggests Levin’s investigation is somewhat incomplete.

Control and Dependence

A copy of the syllabus for SV-91, obtained by Truthout from another source who requested anonymity, states that the class was created “to provide special training for selected individuals that will enable them to withstand exploitation methods in the event of capture during peacetime operations … to cope with such exploitation and deny their detainers useable information or propaganda.”

Although the syllabus focuses on propaganda and interrogation for information as the primary means of exploiting prisoners, Jessen’s notes amplify what was taught to SERE students and later used against detainees captured after 9/11 . He wrote that a prisoner’s captors seek to “exploit” the prisoner through control and dependence.

“From the moment you are detained (if some kind of exploitation is your Detainer’s goal) everything your Detainer does will be contrived to bring about these factors: CONTROL, DEPENDENCY, COMPLIANCE AND COOPERATION,” Jessen wrote. “Your detainer will work to take away your sense of control. This will be done mostly by removing external control (i.e., sleep, food, communication, personal routines etc.) … Your detainer wants you to feel ‘EVERYTHING’ is dependent on him, from the smallest detail, (food, sleep, human interaction), to your release or your very life … Your detainer wants you to comply with everything he wishes. He will attempt to make everything from personal comfort to your release unavoidably connected to compliance in your mind.”

Jessen wrote that cooperation is the “end goal” of the detainer, who wants the detainee “to see that [the detainer] has ‘total’ control of you because you are completely dependent on him, and thus you must comply with his wishes. Therefore, it is absolutely inevitable that you must cooperate with him in some way (propaganda, special favors, confession, etc.).”

Jessen described the kinds of pressures that would be exerted on the prisoner to achieve this goal, including “fear of the unknown, loss of control, dehumanization, isolation,” and use of sensory deprivation and sensory “flooding.” He also included “physical” deprivations in his list of detainer “pressures.”

“Unlike everyday experiences, however, as a detainee we could be subjected to stressors/coercive pressures which we cannot completely control,” he wrote. “If these stressors are manipulated and increased against us, the cumulative effect can push us out of the optimum range of functioning. This is what the detainer wants, to get us ‘off balance.'”

“The Detainer wants us to experience a loss of composure in hopes we can be manipulated into some kind of collaboration …” Jessen wrote. “This is where you are most vulnerable to exploitation. This is where you are most likely to make mistakes, show emotions, act impulsively, become discouraged, etc. You are still close enough to being intact that you would appear convincing and your behavior would appear ‘uncoerced.'”

Kearns said, based on what he has read in declassified government documents and news reports about the role SERE played in the  Bush administration’s torture program, Jessen clearly “reverse-engieered” his lesson plan and used resistance methods to abuse “war on terror” detainees.

The SSTP course was “specifically and intentionally designed to assist American personnel held in hostile detention,” Kearns said. It was “not designed for interrogation, and certainly not torture. We were not interrogators; we were ‘role-players’ who introduced enemy exploitation techniques into survival scenarios as student learning objectives in what could be called Socratic-style dilemma settings. More specifically, resistance techniques were learned via significant emotional experiences, which were intended to inculcate long-term valid and reliable survival routines in the student’s memory. The one rule we had was ‘hands off.’ No (human intelligence) operator could lay hands on a student in a ‘role play scenario’ because we knew they could never ‘go there’ in the real world.”

But after Jessen was hired, Kearns contends, Aldrich immediately trained him to become a mock interrogator using “SERE harsh resistance to interrogation methods even though medical services officers were explicitly excluded from the ‘laying on’ of hands in [resistance] ‘role-play’ scenarios.”

Aldrich, who now works with the Center for Personal Protection & Safety in Spokane, did not return calls for comment.

“Torture Paper”

The companion paper Jessen included with his notes, which was also provided to Truthout by Kearns, eerily describes the same torturous interrogation methods US military personnel would face during detention that Jessen and Mitchell “reverse engineered” a little more than a decade later and that the CIA and DoD used against detainees.

Indeed, in a subsection of the paper, “Understanding the Prisoner of War Environment,” Jessen notes how a prisoner will be broken down in an attempt to get him to “collaborate” with his “detainer.”

“This issue of collaboration is ‘the most prominent deliberately controlled force against the (prisoner of war),” Jessen wrote. “The ability of the (prisoner of war) to successfully resist collaboration and cope with the obviously severe approach-avoidance conflict is complicated in a systematic and calculated way by his captors.

“These complications include: Threats of death, physical pressures including torture which result in psychological disturbances or deterioration, inadequate diet and sanitary facilities with constant debilitation and illness, attacks on the mental health via isolation, reinforcement of anxieties, sleeplessness, stimulus deprivation or flooding, disorientation, loss of control both internal and external locus, direct and indirect attack on the (prisoner of war’s) standards of honor, faith in himself, his organization, family, country, religion, or political beliefs … Few seem to be able to hold themselves completely immune to such rigorous behavior throughout all the vicissitudes of long captivity. Confronted with these conditions, the unprepared prisoner of war experiences unmanageable levels of fear and despair.”

“Specific (torture resistance) techniques,” Jessen wrote, “taught to and implemented by the military member in the prisoner of war setting are classified” and were not discussed in the paper he wrote. He added, “Resistance Training students must leave training with useful resistance skills and a clear understanding that they can successfully resist captivity, interrogation or torture.”

Kearns also declined to cite the specific interrogation techniques used during SERE training exercises because that information is still classified. Nor would he comment as to whether the interrogations used methods that matched or were similar to those identified in the August 2002 torture memo prepared by former Justice Department attorneys John Yoo and Jay Bybee.

However, according to the Senate Armed Services Committee report, “SERE resistance training … was used to inform” Yoo and Bybee’s torture memo, specifically, nearly a dozen of the brutal techniques detainees were subjected to, which included waterboarding, sleep deprivation, painful stress positions, wall slamming and placing detainees in a confined space, such as a container, where his movement is restricted. The CIA’s Office of Technical Services told Yoo and Bybee the SERE techniques used to inform the torture memo were not harmful, according to declassified government documents.

Many of the “complications,” or torture techniques Jessen wrote about, declassified government documents show, became a standard method of interrogation and torture used against all of the high-value detainees in custody of the CIA in early 2002, including Abu Zubaydah and self-professed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, as well as detainees held at Guantánamo and prison facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The issue of “collaborating” with one’s detainer, which Jessen noted was the most important in terms of controlling a prisoner, is a common theme among the stories of detainees who were tortured and later released from Guantánamo.

For example, Mamdouh Habib, an Australian citizen who was rendered to Egypt and other countries where he was tortured before being sent to Guantánamo, wrote in his memoir, My Story: the Tale of a Terrorist Who Wasn’t, after he was released without charge, that interrogators at Guantánamo “tried to make detainees mistrust one another so that they would inform on each other during interrogation.”

Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian-born British citizen, who the US rendered to a black site prison in Morocco, said that a British intelligence informant, a person he knew and who was recurited, came to him in his Moroccan cell and told him that if he became an intelligence asset for the British, his torture, which included scalpel cuts to his penis, would end. In [February 2010], British government officials released documents that show Mohamed was subjected to SERE torture techniques during his captivity in the spring of 2002.

Abdul Aziz Naji, an Algerian prisoner at Guantánamo until he was forcibly repatriated against his wishes to Algeria in July 2010, told an Algerian newspaper that “some detainees had been promised to be granted political asylum opportunity in exchange of [sic] a spying role within the detention camp.”

Mohamedou Ould Salahi, whose surname is sometimes spelled “Slahi,” is a Mauritanian who was tortured in Jordan and Guantánamo. Investigative journalist Andy Worthington reported that Salahi was subjected to “prolonged isolation, prolonged sleep deprivation, beatings, death threats, and threats that his mother would be brought to Guantánamo and gang-raped” unless he collaborated with his interrogators. Salahi finally decided to become an informant for the US in 2003. As a result, Salahi was allowed to live in a special fenced-in compound, with television and refrigerator, allowed to garden, write and paint, “separated from other detainees in a cocoon designed to reward and protect.”

Still, despite collaborating with his detainers, the US government mounted a vigorous defense against Salahi’s petition for habeas corpus. His case continues to hang in legal limbo. Salahi’s fate speaks to the lesson Habib said he learned at Guantánamo: “you could never satisfy your interrogator.” Habib felt informants were never released “because the Americans used them against the other detainees.”

Jessen’s and Mitchell’s mutimillion dollar government contract was terminated by CIA Director Leon Panetta in 2009. According to an Associated Press report, the CIA agreed to pay — to the tune of $5 million — the legal bills incurred by their consulting firm.

Recently a complaint filed against Mitchell with the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists by a San Antonio-based psychologist, an attorney who defended three suspected terrorists imprisoned at Guantánamo and by Zubaydah’s attorney Joseph Margulies. Their complaint sought to strip Mitchell of his license to practice psychology for violating the board’s rules as a result of the hands-on role he played in torturing detainees, was dismissed due to what the board said was a lack of evidence. Mitchell, who lives in Florida, is licensed in Texas. A similar complaint against Jessen may soon be filed in Idaho, where he is licensed to practice psychology.

Kearns, who took a graduate course in cognitive psychotherapy in 1988 taught by Jessen, still can’t comprehend what motivated his former colleague to turn to the “dark side.”

“Bruce Jessen knew better,” Kearns said, who retired in 1991 and is now working on his Ph.D in educational psychology. “His duplicitous act is appalling to me and shall haunt me for the rest of my life.”

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, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, and available on DVD here — or here for the US), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

44 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    I read about this somewhere last week, perhaps on your page. I’ll share it. Hope you are at home and well. Take care.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Marilyn Lamb wrote:

    Holy Smoregesbord, Batman!!!

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Aram ChickenMan Sohigian wrote:

    So glad that Obama and AG Holder aren’t doing anything about this. Change you can believe in as long as you are rich and powerful.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Rima Isam Anabtawi wrote:

    Andy .. thanks ,,,, this is excellent ! a Must read. keep strong Andy and keep up your work, I will always be grateful for all you do..

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Mezentian Gate wrote:

    So is Obama continuing this sadism ?

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    Yep. I read the piece on Truthout several days ago. It’s good that you are publishing it.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, everyone.
    George, I’m not home yet. Tomorrow, hopefully. I certainly need to get back home now, as I’m becoming institutionalized. and cannot really remember my home life with any clarity. That’ll be the drugs …
    And Mezentian, Obama is only keeping up this sadism in the sense that he presides over a situation in Afghanistan where there are disturbing and disturbingly regular reports of a secret prison at Bagram — the Tor jail — where sleep derivation and isolation are used, and he also presides over the ongoing detention at Bagram/Parwan of foreign prisoners seized in other countries as long ago as 2002 who had habeas corpus rights granted by a US court in March 2009, on the basis that they were essentially the same as the Guantanamo prisoners, but had those rights removed on appeal, at Obama’s request.
    There is no longer a network of secret CIA torture prisons, but there’s still Guantanamo, where many — most? — of those held were tortured, and where, to my mind, the sadism comes from refusing to release anyone, even if they’ve been cleared for release by a judge, or by Obama’s own Guantanamo Review Task Force, as is the case with 89 of the remaining 172 prisoners.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Viola Wilkins wrote:

    ‎”we don’t torture – we’re a civlised nation.”

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    I hope you get home tomorrow, Andy. BTW, judicial torture was abolished in Fredrik the Great’s Prussia in the 18th century. I wonder what counts as progress.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Lee Wood wrote:


  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Chenae Meneely wrote:


  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Susan Hall wrote:

    It makes you wonder what God was thinking when he made humans with brains to create all manner of evil and violence.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, George, Lee, Chenae and Susan.

    George, I have no idea what can possibly count as progress when, as you say, judicial torture was outlawed in the 18th century, and, in our era, after the horrors of WWII, an abhorrence of torture was enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and it was then, supposedly, considered a crime so heinous that prosecution had to be promised for those found to have ordered it or tolerated it — in the European Convention on Human Rights in 1950 and finally, in 1987, in the UN Convention Against Torture.

    It’s why, in my introduction to this article, I made a point of painting a picture of what happens to a country when the torturers go unpunished, which is what I see as one of the key elements of the dangerous rightward drift of the already dangerously rightwing Republican party.

    And Susan, some would say that God doesn’t exist, and others would say that their God endorses certain types of violence because he’s on their side against others who are unbelievers, which I’m sad to say, strikes me as one of religion’s two main contributions to human existence.

    The other, fortunately, is charity — or caring for others, or actually giving a damn about someone other than you and your immediate self, family, organization or nation, or other followers of your religion, and for me this impulse is bigger than individual religions, as it appears to be shared by all, and is, moreover, in a more functional reading of history, the balance needed to offset the competitive, survival of the fittest model. This model, favored in particular for the production of “successful” i.e. borderline psycho,pathic males ignores that, although competition has led to many great achievements, we as a race would be nowhere without cooperation, without which our babies would not survive, civil society would not exist, and life really would be nothing more than “red in tooth and nail.”

    I am a great advocate of cooperation being the key to humanity’s achievements, and competitiveness — as generally considered — being wrongly and dangerously endorsed. Instead of encouraging mindless competition, we should be recognizing that truly beneficial competition actually involves individuals setting themselves targets on their own terms, rather than endlessly showing off, and endlessly performing the equivalent of fighting and scrabbling for the attention of the opposite sex. Not that there’s not a place or that, but it’s not why we have telephones, or bicycles, or trains, or wellington boots, or penicillin, or condoms, or the worldwide web, or whatever else you regard as the great achievements of some exceptional human beings.

  14. Jeffrey Kaye says...

    Thanks, Andy, for reprinting this article, and for your incisive introduction. This is a topic I am very adamant about, as the torturers’ need to gain “compliance” and “cooperation”, and to discern “deception”, or the fine-line between breaking down someone psychologically enough to “exploit” them, and breaking down some one until they are thoroughly psychologically disabled, or even dead, is a very fine line.

    The “exploitation” program leads logically, and historically, to the mind control and experimentation programs run in the past by the U.S. under MKULTRA, Operation Artichoke, Operation Bluebird, etc. I am convinced these programs still exist in some form, but blacker than black, we have no access to documents that would prove it. My strong inference could be incorrect, but the farther one looks, the farther one comes to an overwhelming conclusion. Not only did the U.S. torture, but they deliberately set out to reconstitute the “mind control” programs of the past.

    The last missing link is the use of drugs on the detainees. We know a little about this from detainee testimony, and from the fact Yoo and Bybee spent some time speaking to use of drugs in the OLC torture memos. The Pentagon IG report on use of drugs on detainees, completed in 2009, but unannounced for almost a year, remains completely classified.

    But in time, a rough picture of the entire program will emerge, and I’m glad that I could help contribute to our understanding of this terrible episode in modern history, an episode we are, unfortunately, still living through.

    I hope you’re out of the hospital when you read this, Andy, and that your recovery is full, quick, and painless.

    Ah, but that was a great view, though. But better I’m sure at home.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Jeff, cross-posting in the hope of getting you, Jason and Kearnsey a bigger audience is the least I can do. I’m so grateful for the work you’ve been doing on this, as you know, and it always amazes me that (a) you do it while holding down a very busy full-time job (unlike full-time hacks like me and Jason — ha!) and also that (b) these stories are published on Truthout — with other parts of the jigsaw puzzle on FireDogLake and your blog, Invictus — and not in the Washington Post or the New York Times, where they belong.

    It’s a sign, of course, of the dislocated times in which we live, where old trusts are failing, and many of the the best voices are now to be heard outside of the mainstream, in what I have grown reasonably comfortable referring to as the new media. That said, it remains shocking to me that the world has indeed changed so much that the story you’re working on – exposing the Bush administration’s torture program as part of a bigger picture — is not center stage.

    Anyway, it’s an honor to know you, my friend, and although I’m not yet at home, I’ve just been assured that everything appears to be on track for getting me de-institutionlized by the end of today — on what is now my 12th day in hospital …

    Big Ben has just rung 9, you’ll be pleased to know.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Back on Facebook, Harold Helm wrote:


  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Tom Baxter wrote:

    ‎”Barack “I’d kill for a peace prize” Obama
    Is anyone keeping count?
    I am. Libya makes six.”
    The Anti-Empire Report, March 28th, 2011, by William Blum
    Libya and The Holy Triumvirate

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Susan Hall wrote:

    You are so wise Andy. I too believe cooperation is the means that humans survive & in fact they are pack animals, but it still seems to me that for every gain in greatness there is 2x that in destructiveness and that is every area. Perhaps the worst in this era are poisoning their environment and then in respecting their own species. As humans we do fairly well within our families, but relating to diverse groups it is not so good.

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Lance Ciepiela wrote:


  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Jason Leopold wrote:

    Andy, you’re incredible! Thank you so much for your incredible support and for the kind and insightful introduction. You are a great friend! The beginning of this story started back in October in Berkeley where we met and drank mass quantities of caffeine. Please tell me you are at least out of your hospital bed and back at home.

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Jason, I’m so glad to hear that the story began when we all met during that very valuable week in Berkeley, when we met for the first time. Kearnsey’s in regular touch, so I think it’s my turn to do something with him next!

    And yes, my friend, I am finally back at home — just back in, actually, with a sack full of pharmaceuticals, and hopes that all will be OK with the still dubious toes. It’s good to be back. 12 days in hospital and you start to get institutionalized!

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    Ann Alexander wrote:

    Good to know you’re home Andy. Take it easy and chillll out.

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    Michael Tuck wrote:

    We’ve got all kinds of info on Bruce Jessen on the History Commons (though Andy’s revealed lots of info we haven’t covered). He is truly a dark and twisted soul.

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    Frank LeFever wrote:


  25. Andy Worthington says...

    Tony Smith wrote:

    Thanks Andy – Shared

  26. Andy Worthington says...

    Jason Leopold wrote:

    Hey Andy, that’s awesome that you posted the photo of all of us! Good times!

  27. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Michael. And here’s that History Commons ink:

    Ann, I’m back and enjoying being in the house with family. Chilling a bit, also sorting out drug timetable (and coping with some unfortunate pain), and getting today’s post published. It’s my new, calm target — one post a day, whether an original article or a cross-post, but no self-exerted pressure if I miss a deadline. We’ll see how long that lasts — responses to breaking stories may be a real test …! I can’t help it — I love writing, and I love the buzz of blogging!

    And Jason, yes, good times indeed. That really was an extraordinary week of events, and such a great meeting of minds.

  28. Andy Worthington says...

    Michael Tuck wrote:

    Thanks, Andy. We need more on Jessen and his partner in crime, James Mitchell. Hope you’re doing better!

  29. Andy Worthington says...

    Getting there, Michael. I doubt I’ll be moving much for many weeks, but I can live with that. Just as long as I have an Internet connection …!

  30. Andy Worthington says...

    Maggie Hansen wrote:

    Good to hear you are back home Andy and on the mend. I only wish there were much more noise coming from the professional associations about these modern day Dr Mengeles. There needs to be some very strong peer pressure on these guys and de-registration. They cannot call themselves psychologists/psychiatrists/doctors without bringing the whole of the profession into disrepute.

  31. Andy Worthington says...

    Agreed, Maggie, but the problem is that major professional bodies are deeply implicated in the crimes of the “War on Terror.” as the whole story of the APA’s involvement with the “War on Terror” reveals — another story that Jeff Kaye has been involved in exposing. See, for example:
    How APA Made a Pact with DoD & CIA over Torture Interrogations (Apr 09)
    UN Special Rapporteur Calls on APA, US to Remove Psychologists from Torture Sites (Aug 09)
    Who Will Investigate CIA/RAND/APA Torture “Workshop”? (Nov 09)
    APA Scrubs Pages Linking It to CIA Torture Workshops (Apr 10)
    Psychological Group Charges APA with Complicity in Bush-era Torture Interrogations (Aug 10)

  32. Andy Worthington says...

    Michael Tuck wrote:

    Andy, I’m down for the count also, though I only spent one evening in the hospital, not 12 days. !! Think you have me beat on that one. But I’m chowing on the pharmaceuticals as well. Is it just me or does that seem to be half of what US health care is nowadays, ramming pills down people’s throats?

  33. Andy Worthington says...

    I had pretty good care, Michael — even though there were a lot of pills — but then I was in the UK, where the view of the Houses of Parliament, the care, the drugs, the transport, the diagnoses, were all free at the point of entry and exit, and forever after, amen — all paid for by our collective pooling of the resources needed through common taxation. It still bowls me over what a wonderful idea it was, and how generally successfully it still works. Hands off, Tories!

    My apologies if that was a digression, Michael, but I am passionate in my defence of the NHS.

  34. Andy Worthington says...

    Vicki S. Nikolaidis wrote:


  35. Andy Worthington says...

    Michael Tuck wrote:

    I’d defend NHS too, if we had it. Unfortunately, we have GOPCare, which boils down to “Get your own, peasant!”

  36. Andy Worthington and the connections: James Mitchel, Bruce James, CIA architects of the torture program, propaganda and more | SpyBlog says...

    […]… Tags: Andy, architects, Bruce, connections, James, Mitchel, more, PROGRAM, propaganda, Torture, Worthington […]

  37. Michael Kearns says...

    Thanks Andy for your kind mateship during 2011 (and before)… let’s make 2012 an extraordinary year for human consilience!

  38. Andy Worthington says...

    I had to look that up, Kearnsey — from the Greek, meaning the bringing together of knowledge — but yes, let’s do that indeed!

  39. The 4th Media » Torture: Bush Administration on Trial says...

    […] 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 personnel to […]

  40. Mohamedou Ould Slahi (Salahi) [ISN 760] – (Mauritania) | Be in this world as a wayfarer says...

    […] Source: The Dark Desires of Bruce Jessen, the Architect of Bush’s Torture Program, As Revealed by His Form… […]

  41. Resistance to Authority - Daily Anarchist says...

    […] Of a deeper context than need be explored here, there are many ties linking SERE training and the developers of its curriculum to torture procedures implemented at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. As such however, […]

  42. Shane Leiser says...

    Michael Kearns is a misguided fool…..

  43. Kearnsey says...

    All, here’s a link to the novel BROKEN! that was published in late 2015. It seems to have been found to be insightful; as it details many goals of SERE Training never discussed until now.

  44. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Kearnsey. Good to hear from you. Hope you’re well.

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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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