By GREGORY N. HEIRES
The U.S. Senate report on torture tells a tale of contracting out run-a-muck.
Two psychologists were awarded a no-bid contract to design the Central Intelligence Agency’s torture program set up after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, according to the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee report.
Their company, Mitchell, Jessen & Associates, ran the CIA’s clandestine overseas “black sites” in such countries as Poland, Romania, Afghanistan and Thailand.
The Senate report did not name the owners. But press reports have identified them as James E. Mitchell and Bruce Jessen.
The CIA’s reliance their company reflects the classic pitfalls of farming out government responsibilities—in this instance interrogation—to contractors:
Wastefulness: Mitchell, Jessen & Associates enjoyed a no-bid contract worth more than $80 million from 2001 to 2009. Its employees included psychologists, interrogators, debriefers and security officers.
The contract workers were paid excessively, which is so often the case when government doles out work to the private sector.
Interrogators earned $1,800 a day for waterboarding, four times the amount of interrogators who did not waterboard detainees, according to the report. The contractors could earn up to $700,000 a year in tax-free retainers.
Inefficiency: The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee report concluded that the torture didn’t work as advertised. FBI interrogation methods—based on building up a relationship with prisoners without physical coercion—is much more effective.
The Senate report disputed the CIA’s assertion that information gathered through torture helped significantly with the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
The Senate report described 26 prisoners as wrongfully held. One detainee froze to death.
A lack of accountability: The torturers are protected from lawsuits stemming from their brutal interrogation of alleged terrorists.
“No one has been held to account,” Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), a member of the committee, said.
The CIA will provide the interrogation company up to $5 million for legal expenses related to investigations and lawsuits until 2021. The agency has already provided the firm with $1.1 million for legal expenses that were mostly related to U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee hearings.
Corruption: The contract workers had a conflict of interest. They were responsible for carrying out torture while also determining whether it was effective and safe.
In an email message, a CIA officer said Mitchell and Jessen had a “vested interest” in waterboarding.
Waterboarding, Sleep Deprivation, and Shackled Wrists and Feet
“You have a program where 80 percent—more than 80 percent of the people involved in it–were outside contractors, were not agency people,” said Ali H. Soufan, a former FBI special agent and critic of the CIA’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” on the Rachel Maddow Show on Dec. 11. He is the author of “The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda.”
Soufan took part in the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, believed to be the first major al-Qaeda figure captured. The contractors waterboarded Zubaydah at least 83 times. He was deprived of sleep for weeks as he was held with painful shackles on his wrists and feet.
“It’s not a CIA program,” Soufan said. “It’s a few CIA people with a few contractors that they brought to run the most sensitive program in U.S. history basically after 9/11. So they came over and decided to outsource the most important thing we have—getting information from detainees.”
Mitchell and Jessen had worked for the U.S. Air Force’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape school, which trains military personnel how to resist torture. The psychologists borrowed from the plate of torture techniques of SERE to establish the CIA interrogation program.
The government hastily sought their services after the 9/11 attacks. The CIA turned to them even though they lacked extensive knowledge of al-Qaeda, were not experienced in interrogation and didn’t speak Arabic.
Besides waterboarding, Mitchell and Jessen’s torture methods included sleep deprivation, cramped confinement, stress positions, stress positions, forced rectal feeding, beatings, mock burials, forced nudity and hypothermia.
Controversy over Professional Ethics
For years, the involvement of psychologists in the torture program has been the subject of sharp debate within the health-care community.
A past candidate for president of the American Psychological Association, Steven Reisner has questioned the group’s leadership over its unwillingness to make torture work a violation of the group’s code of ethics.
“The Bush administration’s Justice Department created a legal rationale for torture that required the presence of psychologists and medical professionals,” Reisner said on the Democracy Now! radio show. “And so, on the one hand, for legal cover, there had to be psychologists present. On the other hand—and even more horrifying for members of my profession—the torture regime itself was created at the CIA by these two psychologists, Mitchell and Jessen, and in the Department of Defense psychologists were involved in creating the torture program and in overseeing it from the beginning to the end.”
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist James Risen, in a recent book, “Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War,” charges that the APA colluded with the White House, Pentagon, and national security psychologists to ensure that its ethics policy would not prohibit psychologists from doing interrogation work. The association has now agreed to an independent investigation into the controversy surrounding the charges that it colluded with the Bush administration to provide an ethical justification for psychologists to participate in the torture program.
“Health professionals played a pivotal role in the abuse and brutality exposed in the CIA torture report and they must be held accountable,” said Dr. Vincent Iacopin, who is the senior medical advisor of Physicians for Human Rights. “They were complicit at every step, including designing the torture techniques, monitoring the infliction of severe physical and mental pain, and failing to document clear evidence of harm. What happened was unethical, unlawful, and immoral, and we must ensure it never happens again.”
The employment of doctors and psychologists in the interrogation program helped the government justify torture as safe, legal and effective, according to PHR. The “health professionals who were involved betrayed their ethical duties and profoundly harmed the people they should have been protecting,” PHR said in a written statement.
“For more than a decade, the U.S. government has been lying about the use of torture,” said Donna McKay, PHR’s executive director.
“The report confirms that health professionals used their skills to break the minds and bodies of detainees. Their actions destroyed trust in clinicians, undermined the integrity of their professions, and damaged the United States’ human rights record, which can only be corrected through accountability.”