In Ongoing Court Case, Spotlight On James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, Architects of the Brutal, Pointless CIA Torture Program


Bruce Jessen (left) and James Mitchell (right), the US psychologists who were the architects of the post-9/11 torture program.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues — including the US torture program — over the next three months of the Trump administration.

Today is the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, which commemorates the entry into force, on June 26, 1987, of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which the US is a signatory).


I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

Here at “Close Guantánamo,” we have always been concerned not only with closing Guantánamo for good, and seeking justice for anyone put forward for a trial, but also with accountability.

We believe that those who authorized the defining characteristics of the “war on terror” declared after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 — a global program of kidnapping and torture, and, at Guantánamo, indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial — must one day be held accountable for their actions.

Unfortunately, even before President Obama took office, he expressed “a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards,” adding that part of his job was “to make sure that, for example, at the CIA, you’ve got extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe. I don’t want them to suddenly feel like they’ve got spend their all their time looking over their shoulders.”

True to his word, President Obama then refused to allow any efforts to seek accountability to proceed to trial. In the Jeppesen case, in which a number of former prisoners sought to sue a Boeing subsidiary for being the CIA’s “travel agent for torture,” the president invoked the little-used “state secrets doctrine” to keep the case out of court.

In another notorious example of obstruction, he allowed a Department of Justice “fixer,” David Margolis, to override the highly critical conclusion of a four-year ethics investigation into John Yee and Jay S. Bybee, who had written and approved the notorious “torture memos” in August 2002, in which they had sought to redefine torture so that it could legally be used by the CIA.

In general, because of this obstruction in the US, those seeking accountability have had to look outside the US — via the Council of Europe, for example, which produced reports about the Bush administration’s rendition program in 2006 and 2007, the United Nations, for whom I was the lead writer of a report about secret detention in 2010, and the European Court of Human Rights, which, in 2015, ordered Poland to pay compensation to two of the victims of Bush’s torture program, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, held in a secret prison operated by the CIA on Polish soil in 2002-03. Despite the compensation, both men are still held at Guantánamo, with al-Nashiri facing a military commission trial that seems to be endlessly stuck in pre-trial hearings, and Zubaydah held as a “forever prisoner,” left to rot without ever being charged.

In December 2014, there was an outbreak of hope amongst those seeking accountability when the Senate Intelligence Committee publicly released the executive summary of its four-year investigation into the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program, which was devastatingly critical. The report noted how the CIA repeatedly lied about what it was doing and what it had achieved, when the reality was that the program was a hideously brutal and counter-productive disaster, which produced no worthwhile intelligence.

However, despite the report’s damning evidence of wrongdoing (readily discernible from just the redacted executive summary that was published, and not even the entire report, which has not been publicly released), no one has been held accountable.

The lawsuit against James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen

As a result, the great hope for those seeking accountability is a case in Washington State against James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, the architects of the post-9/11 torture program, which, last May, a judge allowed to proceed. The case was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), on behalf of three victims of the torture program — Gul Rahman, who died in Afghanistan, and two survivors, Suleiman Abdullah Salim and Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud, who were held and tortured in secret prisons.

Last week, the New York Times obtained videos of the depositions made by Mitchell and Jessen in their court case, in which the two men attempted to defend their positions (the Times also obtained the depositions of two former CIA officials and Suleiman Abdullah Salim and Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud, as well as newly declassified CIA documents).

Mitchell and Jessen were psychologists who had worked for the US military’s SERE program (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape), which trains US personnel to resist torture, if captured by a hostile enemy, by subjecting them to torture techniques to prepare them to resist. After 9/11, they proposed reverse-engineering these techniques for use on prisoners seized in the “war on terror,” and were rewarded with payments of $81m.

In an accompanying article, “Psychologists Open a Window on Brutal CIA Interrogations,” Sheri Fink and James Risen wrote about the depositions, noting how “[t]heir accounts were sometimes at odds with their own correspondence at the time, as well as previous portrayals of them by officials and other interrogators as eager participants in the program.”

Jessen, for example, described how both he and Mitchell were “reluctant participants,” as the Times put it. Jessen said, “I think any normal, conscionable man would have to consider carefully doing something like this. I deliberated with great, soulful torment about this, and obviously I concluded that it could be done safely or I wouldn’t have done it.”

As the Times article described it, “For years, Dr. Mitchell, polished and assertive, has defended the two men’s actions in the press and in a recent book, while Dr. Jessen remained silent. But Dr. Jessen answered questions under oath on Jan. 20, the same day that President Trump was inaugurated.” The Times added that the two men “argue that the CIA, for which they were contractors, controlled the program,” but that “it is difficult to successfully sue agency officials because of government immunity.” As Mitchell and Jessen describe it, under the agency’s direction “they proposed the ‘enhanced interrogation’ techniques — which were then authorized by the Justice Department — applied them and trained others to do so.” They do not dispute that their business received $81 million from the agency.

However, in his deposition, Jessen “indicated that the two men had some reservations,” in the Times’ words. He stated, “Jim [Mitchell] and I didn’t want to continue doing what we were doing. We tried to get out several times and they needed us, and we — we kept going.” He proceeded to state, “Jim and I went into a cubicle. He sat down at a typewriter and together we wrote out a list.” Paraphrasing Jessen’s words the Times added that the two men “thought those techniques — including sensory and sleep deprivation, shackling for hours in uncomfortable positions and waterboarding — would be safer than others the CIA might consider to get resistant detainees to provide information that could help head off another terrorist attack … Soon after, the CIA asked them to use the techniques to interrogate a terrorism suspect, something with which they had no experience.”

As Jessen put it, “I had been in the military my whole life and — and I was committed to and used to doing what I was ordered to do. That’s the way I considered this circumstance.”

Here at “Close Guantánamo,” we are not convinced by the explanations proferred above.

The torture of Abu Zubaydah

Abu Zubaydah photographed by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross at Guantánamo in 2012. The photo was released by Mark Denbeaux, one of his attorneys, in May 2017.The first prisoner subjected to the torture program was Abu Zubaydah, and as the Times put it, accurately, the US government “believed he was a top leader of Al Qaeda, though it later abandoned that claim.”

Zubaydah, seized in Pakistan, where he was severely wounded, was flown to the CIA’s first “black site,” in Thailand, where a struggle took place between the FBI and the CIA regarding his interrogation. The FBI used traditional rapport-building, securing useful information, while, as the Times put it, the CIA, “worried that he was holding back information,” which the agency “later concluded he never had,” chose to torture him instead — or in the Times’ unnecessary dancing around the truth, chose to “use extreme physical force to break him.”

Mitchell and Jessen subjected Zubaydah to the array of torture techniques they had come up with, including waterboarding — an ancient form of water torture, consisting of controlled drowning — to which he was subjected on 83 occasions. The Senate report noted how, “at one point he was completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising from his mouth,” and the Times noted that a newly declassified August 2002 cable from the prison to headquarters stated, “At the onset of involuntary stomach and leg spasms, subject was again elevated to clear his airway, which was followed by hysterical pleas. Subject was distressed to the level that he was unable to effectively communicate or adequately engage the team.”

As the Times described it, Mitchell and Jessen claim that, “When those at the prison wanted to end the waterboarding sessions as no longer useful, CIA supervisors — including Jose Rodriguez, then the head of the agency’s Counterterrorism Center and a witness who testified under oath in the lawsuit — ordered them to continue.” Jessen stated, “They kept telling me every day a nuclear bomb was going to be exploded in the United States and that because I had told them to stop, I had lost my nerve and it was going to be my fault if I didn’t continue.”

Mitchell said that agency officials told them, “‘You guys have lost your spine.’ I think the word that was actually used is that you guys are pussies. There was going to be another attack in America and the blood of dead civilians are going to be on your hands.”

Contravening these assertions, the Times noted that an agency cable noted how “the psychologists’ interrogation team recommended using the aggressive techniques as a ‘template for future interrogations of high-value captives,’” and it is beyond dispute that two other prisoners — al-Nashiri and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged architect of the 9/11 attacks — were subsequently subjected to waterboarding, just as it is also beyond dispute that Mitchell and Jessen continued to be employed and paid for many years after their so-called doubts first allegedly emerged.

The Times article also expressed other doubts about the men’s truthfulness, noting that Mitchell tried to downplay the significance of waterboarding, saying, in response to a lawyer’s reference to the practice as painful, “It sucks, you know. I don’t know that it’s painful. I’m using the word distressing.” However, Mitchell is on record as having previously stated that “most people would prefer to have their legs broken than to be waterboarded.”

Both men also tried to reject the notion that anyone subjected to their program suffered any long-term physical or psychological damage, although Fink and Risen contrasted this position with the results of an investigation they conducted for the Times last year (with Matt Apuzzo), “in which they found a pattern of long-term psychological damage among dozens of former detainees subjected to brutal treatment by the United States,” and in which the men in question “described grappling with depression, anxiety, withdrawal and flashbacks.”

CIA prisoners Suleiman Abdullah Salim and Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud provide evidence

Suleiman Abdullah Salim and Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud, victims of the CIA's post-9/11 torture program (photos made available by the ACLU).In the depositions, Suleiman Abdullah Salim and Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud also described their torture, although the Times noted that Mitchell and Jessen “said they had not interrogated or encountered the two men.” Jessen, however, took part in the interrogation of Gul Rahman, who died in CIA custody in Afghanistan in 2002, almost certainly through hypothermia. In his deposition, he “said he had asked guards several times to provide clothes and blankets to him,” although it is not known if that is true.

Ben Soud, a Libyan, “was held by the CIA in Afghanistan and was subjected to being locked in small boxes, slammed against a wall and doused with buckets of ice water while naked and shackled,” as the Times described it. He said he “still suffered from nightmares, fear, mood swings and other psychological injuries as a result of his captivity,” stating, “It comes to me during my sleep and as if I’m still imprisoned in that horrible place and still shackled. I get the feeling of worry about my future and about the fear that this could happen again.”

Salim, a Tanzanian captured in 2003 and also held by the CIA in Afghanistan, described how he “was beaten, isolated in a dark cell for months, subjected to dousing with water and deprived of sleep.” He said he “suffered from flashbacks, headaches, sleeplessness and ringing in his ears.” As he put it, “I don’t feel like being with people, I like being with myself, and I don’t like walking around to see people. I feel like I’m so weak and I can’t do anything.”

Despite their criticism of the torture program, both Mitchell and Jessen still defend it, as can be seen from Mitchell’s recently published book, reviewed and thoroughly repudiated here by former CIA interrogator John Kiriakou, who was later imprisoned as a whistleblower, and in both men’s comments in their depositions. As the Times described it, Mitchell “asserted that the current legal limits on interrogation methods were too restrictive,” and both men “said that some of the physically harsh techniques were useful.”

Jessen stated that “walling,” in which a prisoner is repeatedly slammed against a flexible plywood wall, was “one of the most effective” techniques. “It’s discombobulating. It doesn’t hurt you, but it jostles the inner ear, it makes a really loud noise,” he said. He also defended what the Times described as “extreme sleep deprivation,” saying, “There is a tether anchored to the ceiling in the center of the detention cell. The detainee has handcuffs and they’re attached to the tether in a way that they can’t lie down or rest against a wall. They’re monitored to make sure they don’t get edema [swelling] if they hang on the cuffs too much.”

In his deposition, Mitchell also revealed how “he, along with others, urged the CIA to destroy videotapes the agency had made of some interrogations,” and claimed, describing the graphic images of waterboarding and other practices, “I thought they were ugly and they would, you know, potentially endanger our lives by putting our pictures out so that the bad guys could see us,” an explanation that, rather too neatly, it seems to me, attempts to divert attention from questions about the techniques’ lawfulness.

The Times also noted that both men, as they put it, “denied accusations that they evaluated the effectiveness of the methods they promoted,” although the newspaper added that just this week the advocacy group Physicians for Human Rights, in a report entitled, “Nuremberg Betrayed: Human Experimentation and the CIA Torture Program,” “contends that the men and the CIA engaged in unethical experimentation on detainees, which is banned by the Nuremberg Code for health professionals developed after World War II.” As the Times put it, PHR “said the explicit mention of applied research in the psychologists’ contracts with the agency, released recently through the lawsuit, and similar references in recently released CIA cables, indicate that the enhanced interrogation program ‘was itself an applied research regime and implicitly conceptualized as such by the CIA.’”

The case against Mitchell and Jessen is scheduled to go to trial on September 5. As the Times also noted, last month both sides asked Judge Justin L. Quackenbush “to rule summarily in their favor,” adding, “He declined to do so, but did grant the United States government’s request to block the deposition of two additional former CIA officials as witnesses and the release of certain documents requested by Drs. Mitchell and Jessen, on grounds it could harm national security. However, the case was permitted to continue.”

In “The Torturers Speak,” an op-ed following the publication of the article, the New York Times’ editorial board had little time for Mitchell and Jessen’s excuses.

They “strike a professional pose,” the editors wrote. “Dressed in suits and ties, speaking matter-of-factly, they describe the barbaric acts they and others inflicted on the captives, who were swept up indiscriminately and then waterboarded, slammed into walls, locked in coffins and more — all in the hunt for intelligence that few, if any, of them possessed. One died of apparent hypothermia. Many others were ultimately released without charge.”

However, the editors added, “When pushed to confront the horror and uselessness of what they had done, the psychologists fell back on one of the oldest justifications of wartime. ‘We were soldiers doing what we were instructed to do,’ Dr. Jessen said. Perhaps, but they were also soldiers whose contracting business was paid more than $81 million.”

The editors also stated, “The full story of what happened under the torture program may never be made public. Earlier this month, the Trump administration began returning copies of [the] 2014 Senate classified report on torture to Congress, where it may be locked away for good … Many people bear responsibility for the depravity of the torture program, but most will never suffer any legal consequences. The suit against Dr. Jessen and Dr. Mitchell may be the last opportunity for some accountability.”

Note: In another development relating to Abu Zubaydah, the legal organization Reprieve stated, in a press release on June 7, that his attorneys “have filed a new US federal lawsuit against the architects of the CIA torture program as part of an official investigation into US-led torture in Poland.”

Reprieve added that the lawsuit, first filed on May 22, seeks to depose James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen in Washington State, and to “compel them to turn over information relating to the torture of Mr Zubaydah at a CIA ‘black site’ in Poland.”

The press release also explained that the lawsuit “employs an American discovery law used by businesses to subpoena information needed for a proceeding overseas. The law can allow the American courts to assist foreign governments to prosecute torturers, even if the US executive branch refuses to do so. In this case, Poland’s government is seeking to hold itself accountable for US-led abuses on Polish soil, with an official inquiry into the hosting of CIA ‘black sites’ used to torture prisoners.”

Reprieve also noted that, “Separately, German prosecutors are weighing a request from the European Center for Constitutional Rights to issue an arrest warrant for Gina Haspel, the Deputy Director of the CIA. Ms Haspel oversaw a notoriously brutal CIA ‘black site’ in Thailand, where Mr Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times in a month and used as a ‘guinea pig’ for Mitchell and Jessen’s torture techniques. She subsequently helped destroy video evidence of the abuse.”

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’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), 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.

18 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    On the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, here’s my latest article, looking at efforts by the architects of the Bush administration’s post-9/11 CIA torture program, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, to justify their actions, in depositions from their ongoing court case. This is the only case seeking accountability that has been allowed to proceed in the US, and is of huge significance to anyone who believes that torture is vile and counter-productive, and that those who authorized it and implemented it must be held accountable. Cross-posted from

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Rose Ann Bellotti wrote:

    I so hope that these two brutal people end up in prison. And have to pay their victims, or the families of their victims, out of the millions of dollars in profit they received for creating the torture program America used.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, exactly, Rose. That would be entirely appropriate. Thanks for your comment.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Please check out my band The Four Fathers’ song about Mitchell and Jessen, the torture program, and the $81m they were paid:

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Also check out Larry Siems’ article in the Nation, looking in detail at the victims’ stories:

  6. Anna says...

    Thank you Andy for keeping us up to date about that vitally important trial.
    Imagine the creep hiding behind the ‘Befehl ist Befehl’ mantra, as if there never had been any Nurenberg trials … And the arrogance oozing from his picture.
    If at least they would get convicted it would still be too little too late but better than nothing at all.
    And great that Reprieve keeps fighting for Abu Zubaydah.
    This year I’ve concentrated on World Refugee Day (June 20th), next year I’ll make an effort to include World Torture Victim Day. What has our civilization come to, that we need such a day to condemn or even remember torture victims.

  7. arcticredriver says...

    Thanks Andy!

    While I would like to see Jessen and Mitchell face trial, in the Hague, Jose Rodriguez, Gina Haspel, William Haynes, Rumsfeld, Geoffrey Miller, Carolyn Wood, and a bunch of other officials should all be facing trial in the Hague.

    Why the Hague, and not a trial in the US justice system?

    I don’t think the US justice system or the US military justice system can be relied upon to be sufficiently fair, sufficiently independent.

    US judges show way too much deference to claims that National Security(TM) requires shortcuts, requires restricting questioning, requires accepting unsubstantiated claims as true.

    During the trial of Lewis Welshofer there was a CIA minder, in the court. The judge shamefully deferred to him. Portions of the trial were in-camera. It is no real secret that the CIA routinely observed, participated in, and covertly directed military interrogations. What possible justification could the judge have had to obfuscate the CIA’s role in directing Welshofer to kill General Mouwoush?

    We know that POTUS Trump told FBI director Comey he should not investigate General Flynn’s highly questionable ties to Russia, “because he is a good guy.” Comey stood up to Bush bullies, and he stood up to Trump. Many US officials fail to have the courage to stand up for what is right, or simply don’t know what is right.

    Andy, I hope you don’t mind if I repeat an observation I consider important. Americans strongly honour the individuals in their military for their bravery, and their patriotism and good intentions. I think they have a tradition of bravery, and certain kinds of bravery, including bravery in combat.

    But, in counter-insurgency wars, like Afghanistan, or Iraq, there is relatively less call for purely martial bravery, than in a “good war”, like World War 2, where a soldier in his foxhole was fighting a similarly trained, similarly equipped enemy soldier, in something like a fair fight. Most GIs were killed by hidden mines. If they were shot at, it was by a guy wearing civilian clothes, who was probably able to melt back into a crowd of civilians.

    In a “war on terror”, with a strong counter-intelligence component, what the US really needs, what Canada and the UK really need are officials, at all levels, who possess intellectual courage. You have profiled some US officials who had the right kind of courage, like Darrel Vandeveld, Stephen Abraham, Matthew Diaz, Morris Davis. Defense attorneys questioned whether Colonel Brownback could be fair, and neutral. I think when he and Allred stood up for principle, he showed he could.

    But everything I have read shows this kind of intellectual courage, the kind of courage the West really needs, is rare. Most US officials are deathly afraid that if they ever buck the group think, and call for someone to be released, they may be releasing the next 20th hijacker.

    Jessen and Mitchell’s defense that they were told if they didn’t continue to collaborate in torture they could be responsible for an atomic bomb being exploded in the continental USA? Bzzzt! This claim isn’t even credible!

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    And this year I should have done some work on Refugee Week and World Refugee Day, but instead I was caught up in the Grenfell disaster, Brexit and, on a slightly lighter note, my annual focus on the summer solstice.
    There continues to be too much wrong with the world for any individual to keep a focus on, sadly, Anna.
    I too hope this trial will go somewhere. My feeling is that somewhere along the line Mitchell and Jessen got hung out to dry. Maybe they didn’t make enough friends along the way, but it seems clear that not all CIA operatives took to them, and I imagine many people were appalled at how much they were paid. Let’s hope so.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Good to hear from you, arcticredriver, and thanks for your thoughts.
    So yes, the Hague would be appropriate, but of course the US refused to sign up to the ICC, even before the “war on terror,” so we seem to be left with Mitchell and Jessen, and as I said to Anna, I hope I’m right in thinking that they’ve been hung out to try – but if that is the case, then it may be because they’re also regarded as being unable to implicate anyone else.
    I certainly doubt the men’s claims that they were particularly pressurized, as I’ve seen no sign before that they showed any kind of unwillingness. That said, I imagine, regarding the atomic bomb threat, that this kind of threat was discussed – that there was a widespread paranoia that there would be another attack, like the “dirty bomb plot” that didn’t exist.

  10. arcticredriver says...

    With regard to the extent to which the torture program was an experiment… When DCI William Hayden finally openly acknowledged that the CIA had recorded Abu Zubaydah’s torture, he said the recordings were made, “for training purposes”

    Of course Ibrahim Al Zeidan testified at his 2004 CSR Tribunal that interrogators showed the recordings, or stills from the recordings, to some of the other captives in Guantanamo. This suggests that the CIA may have kept going in their torture of Abu Zubaydah, even if they finally concluded he had been telling FBI interrogator Ali Soufan the truth, when Soufan used rapport building interrogation on him. It suggests they may have kept going on in their torture of Abu Zubaydah so they could get footage of the use of ALL the techniques they planned to threaten other captives with.

    Andy, has the US’s continued willingness to use torture ever made you consider how you should respond if US security officials were to take you aside, and ask you questions, in an airless room?

    I’ve participated in discussions where most people have said that, for individuals like you and I, who genuinely abhor terrorism, know nothing about terrorism that isn’t on the public record, the best approach is to answer every question as fully and completely as possible.

    I’ve decided that a total willingness to answer every question is not a good approach, even for the totally innocent.

    I suggested that since US officials were (1) directed to be skeptical; (2) and their track record shows they routinely lacked the intelligence, or educational background, to appreciate when details were exculpatory, not incriminating, a willingness to answer every question would not forestall torture. I suggested that, if you were in the custody of officials who were authorized to use torture, or, who were prepared to use torture without regard to whether they had authorization, cooperation would, instead, merely postpone that torture, and guarantee when the eventual torture began it was longer than it would have been if you had remained silent.

    If you were in the hands of officials who were going to use torture, your torture, when it came, would be longer because your cooperation would have filled their dossier on you with a lot of new questions, to subject you to, when the torture began.

    With a cooperative innocent guy, the interrogator reports to his or her boss, “Boss, he is still answering every question very, very fully.” Then, finally, your interrogator says, “Boss, I think we are at the end of what he has to say, voluntarily.”

    At which point the boss says, “Good job! Now see what happens when we torture him. See if he was holding out on information, when he was volunteering information. See if he will confirm what he told you voluntarily, when he is unbalanced by tortured.”

    I considered that officials might see a lack of cooperation, on my part, as impeding their prosecution of the war on terror. While, this is likely, I think everything on the public record shows how wrong they would be. I don’t know anything that would help prosecute the war on terror, that is not already in the public domain. I am sure you don’t know anything either.

    Your article on Abdul Razzaq Hekmati, a man regarded as a heroic rescuer by the Northern Alliance, their ally when they invaded Afghanistan, shows how US intelligence officials would shoehorn strongly exculpatory information into incriminating information. US intelligence officials must have heard about his heroic rescue of Northern Alliance leaders from a Taliban prison. The allegations against him, at his CSRT and ARB hearings have an echo of this heroic act, but since it was inconsistent with the anonymous innuendo that first sent him to Guantanamo, they decided it was incorrect. Trusting the higly unreliable anonymous innuendo they concluded he had plotted to free Taliban leaders from a Northern Alliance prison.

    So, I decided that, even if it made my interrogators think I was uncooperative, and thus impeding their efforts in the war on terror, my higher responsibility to public safety required me to be as reticent as possible. Due to their tunnel vision, anything I offered would damage public safety because it would be likely to help trigger more wasteful wild goose chases.

  11. arcticredriver says...

    Returning to the idea that the military might engage in dreadful, shocking, experimentation… You may have read Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five… His hero is a young GI, who was captured during the Battle of the Bulge, and was in a POW camp in Dresden when it was subjected to a massive fire-bombing in 1945. Vonnegut was able to write about this horrible bombing with confidence, because, like his hero, he was a POW who survived the bombing.

    Dresden, in Germany, and Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and eight other Japanese cities were spared being targets during the Allies’ strategic bombing campaign in World War 2. Roosevelt and Churchill anticipated that the A-bomb would be completed. No one could know, for sure, what the effect of dropping an A bomb would be on a city. They knew it would burst into flames. What they didn’t know was how well the surviving fire stations, in the suburbs, would be able to cope with a massive fire downtown. Vonnegut wrote, and I have read confirmation elsewhere, that Dresden was spared all bombing, until its horrific firebombing, as an experiment.

    Tokyo, Hamburg, Berlin, and all kinds of other cities, that had been subjected to strategic bombing no longer had intact fire departments. Some stations and fire engines had been destroyed, in the previous bombings. And the fire mains had been broken by concussion, so, even when an intact fire engine arrived to fight a fire, the firefighters couldn’t count on having any water pressure to fight that fire.

    So, the fire-bombing of Dresden was an experiment to simulate, as close as possible the horrible conflagration of dropping an A bomb.

    Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and eight other Japanese cities were left intact, so, when the US finally had working A bombs, they could be dropped on Japanese cities that weren’t already damaged. Again, a cruel experiment, to help prepare Allied cities if they were ever targeted by Atomic bombs in a future war.

  12. Anna says...

    Watched the NYT video, sickening.
    Jessen pretending to be a victim of circumstances, Mitchell playing word games. And the victims having to once more defend themselves. Aaarrghhh !!!

    In the meantime islamophobic and xenophobic May is contorting herself in similar lies claiming she always favoured a multi-cultural Britain, not to mention today’s one billion PSTG bribe paid by her to DUP, anything to stay in power. Do I remember correctly that the recently elected Scottish conservatives were considering distancing themselves from May’s ones?
    Win on the swings loose on the merry-go-round? I’d sincerely hope for such a deadly snub, if that would definitely topple her.
    Not that I would wish another election onto you, but even that might be preferable over this coalition based on sheer corruption. I’ve seen weird ones before, but never yet one where a coalition partner was offered cash for his cooperation …
    O tempora o mores!

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi arcticredriver,
    When I first visited the US in March 2008, when Bush was still in power, several people told me to be worried, and I went armed with lots of lawyers’ phone numbers, but in the end nothing happened, and hasn’t on every successive trip. That said, a lawyer friend in New York says it’s because, although the US prides itself on its commitment to free speech, that commitment only actually exists so long as we aren’t causing them too much trouble. In other words, I’m only a minor irritant, and not worth bothering with, which is very probably true.
    I think, however, that your analysis of what happens to people unfortunate enough to be seized and questioned is disturbingly accurate, and that many people who tried to cooperate only ended up being tortured as a result of it, to a greater extent than if they had said nothing, and that is an extraordinarily powerful condemnation of the US’s behavior post-9/11. Plus, as you note so well with the reference to Abdul Razzaq Hakmati, whether torture was used or not at Guantanamo, the same twisted attitude to facts was absolutely central to the prison’s operations, and to holding innocent men for years – or even until they died – because of a refusal, or inability to recognise that Guantanamo was, in many ways, a dangerously deluded fact-twisting operation, where the presumpton of guilt was central. Very much like the witch-hunts, I believe, in which the US also excelled.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    To my mild shame, arcticredriver, I haven’t read the Slaughterhouse Five – or any of Kurt Vonnegut’s books. Perhaps I will finally get round to doing so if I start reading again to any significant extent. I am rather sorry to recognize in myself a severe downturn in the amount I read, due to my life generally consisting of some admin, cycling with my camera photographing London, writing articles based, generally, on small amounts of research, and spending many hours a day on social media – working, but taking that time away from other, more constructive pursuits. I feel slightly damaged by the times we are currently living in.
    Anyway, as for Vonnegut’s observations, that is a powerful analysis of the situation that I hadn’t heard before. I remember seeing a programme some years ago explaining the horrific extent of the destruction of Tokyo by conventional weapons, but I didn’t know that eight Japanese cities were spared destruction – presumably with the intention being that all eight would be the object of atomic bombs if Japan didn’t surrender. The Dresden explanation makes sense – although it does rather tend to counter the impression I’ve carried since I first heard about it, as a teenager, that it was a calculated act of vengeance. But why not? The bomb test scenario is colder and less vengeful, but it would make sense as a simulation. What wretched creatures human beings can be, eh?

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your comments, Anna. Yes, Mitchell and Jessen don’t come out of this well, do they? And of course it’s terrible for the victims to have to relive their torture, so many years since it first happened, and with no justice in all that time.
    As for Theresa May, well, yes, it’s an absolute disgrace, but this is what you get with the Tories when they see only one way to cling onto power. Significant pressure will be being exerted on Ruth Davidson and the Scottish Tories to tow the line, but I don’t know how long the impression of a united front can hold. May herself must feel the dagger points brushing her back almost every time she’s in a room with any of her colleagues (as she evidently has very few real friends), but they won’t get rid of her while they think there’s still a slim chance that they can cling on with her in charge until they can find a suitable replacement. However, I don’t doubt that they want rid of her, because she has lost so much for them, and they absolutely despise weakness and failure.
    The good news is that Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity continues to increase; the bad news is that, if the Tories’ Frankenstein-like alliance were to break down and another election were held in which Corbyn won, he’d be the one stuck with Brexit, and he still doesn’t show sufficient recognition of what an absolute disaster that would be. He needs to work out that his vote share increase came almost entirely from passionate Remain voters – or young people who would have voted Remain if they’d been old enough or engaged enough last year – and to start shifting the party’s position accordingly, towards a program of education, to make it clear how disastrous Brexit would be to the UK, and a second vote, in some form – whether through Parliament alone, or a second referendum, or yet another election – intended to stop the whole thing. Still no one is talking enough about this problem, but I have no doubt that if Brexit takes place it will kill whoever implemented it as a political party for decades to come.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Interesting. I just found this via a link on Twitter – thanks, Jeffrey Kaye. It’s from Business Outsider in December 2014, just after the publication of the executive summary of the Senate torture report, looking at the fact that there were seven co-owners of Mitchell, Jessen & Associates, the firm that received $81m for the torture program: in addition to Mitchell and Jessen, David Ayers, Randall Spivey, James Sporleder, Joseph Matarazzo, and Roger Aldrich. The article states, “Records show Mitchell, Jessen & Associates became inactive in October 2009. However, four of the company’s owners appear to work at other firms that currently consult with the US government. Three of them — Spivey, Sporleder, and Aldrich — are still working together at a company called the Center For Personal Protection & Safety, which counts both the Department of Defense and the FBI among its clients.”

  17. Barbara Melamed says...

    I took part in the American Psychological Associations protest in Toronto 2015 PSYCHOLOGISTS DO NO HARM…. and we rid our reputation scandal by firing our CEO Norman Anderson, a respected colleague but one who did not call out those in APA who continued to support the Jessen and Mitchell justification for torture of persons suspected of but not entitled to trial or hearing. We also rid ourselves of the ethics chair and the council voted to change the bylaws to prohibit psychologists from taking part in CIA enhanced interrogations.

    So I am concerned with all that Trump is distracting us that the early September trial of these two corrupt former APA members who earned 85 million dollars for themselves…will be overshadowed and Andy we need to start a campaign whether or through our APA to assure that these trials are attended, available to membership to clean our sordid association, when the Anthropology assn and the Amer. Psychiatric Assn rightly refused to participate. So what can we do to make sure that Jessen’s excuse “following orders by the military” can not be used to excuse gross, unacceptable behavior which violated every Human Rights and International Court of Justice rules to protect those held without charge or trial. Let me know where to begin. I am attending the Hague Peace Conference in early October and would be honored to discuss this with the over 200 attendees. Hopefully, charges will be imposed and apologies heard. Yes, I lost students and friends when the towers came down on 9/11 (no accident 9-1-1) but we need to make what is right heard. Call on Roy Eidelson’s company to help us organize.

    Barbara Melamed, Ph.D. ABPP

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your comments, Barbara. Very good to hear from you. I agree that the trial must be covered thoroughly, and I’m wondering, like you, about what’s the best way to make sure that happens.
    Contacting Roy may well be a good start. I’ll drop him a line:

Leave a Reply

Back to the top

Back to home page

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).
Email Andy Worthington

CD: Love and War

The Four Fathers on Bandcamp

The Guantánamo Files book cover

The Guantánamo Files

The Battle of the Beanfield book cover

The Battle of the Beanfield

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion book cover

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion

Outside The Law DVD cover

Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo


Posts & Comments

World Wide Web Consortium



Powered by WordPress

Designed by Josh King-Farlow

Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist:


In Touch

Follow me on Facebook

Become a fan on Facebook

Subscribe to me on YouTubeSubscribe to me on YouTube

The State of London

The State of London. 16 photos of London

Andy's Flickr photos



Tag Cloud

Abu Zubaydah Al-Qaeda Andy Worthington British prisoners Center for Constitutional Rights CIA torture prisons Close Guantanamo Donald Trump Four Fathers Guantanamo Housing crisis Hunger strikes London Military Commission NHS NHS privatisation Periodic Review Boards Photos President Obama Reprieve Shaker Aamer The Four Fathers Torture UK austerity UK protest US courts Video We Stand With Shaker WikiLeaks Yemenis in Guantanamo