Profiteering torture teachers modeled US techniques after those of Chinese Communists

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In today's New York Times, an article about psychologists Bruce Jessen (L) and Jim Mitchell (R) -- two military retirees with no Al Qaeda expertise, foreign language skills, or experience in conducting interrogations. Their lack of experience didn't stop them from pawning themselves off as top architects of America's "war on terror." They sold their psychological credentials and familiarity with the brutal tactics used decades ago by Chinese Communists to the CIA, which in turn paid them millions of dollars as contractors.

The NYT story details how Mitchell and Jessen directed the torture and interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, who was at the time described as "Al Qaeda's No. 3."

In late July 2002, Dr. Jessen joined [Dr. Mitchell] in Thailand. On Aug. 1, the Justice Department completed a formal legal opinion authorizing the SERE methods, and the psychologists turned up the pressure. Over about two weeks, Mr. Zubaydah was confined in a box, slammed into the wall and waterboarded 83 times.

The brutal treatment stopped only after Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen themselves decided that Mr. Zubaydah had no more information to give up. Higher-ups from headquarters arrived and watched one more waterboarding before agreeing that the treatment could stop, according to a Justice Department legal opinion.

The torture biz worked out pretty well for these guys. Million dollar homes, $1,000-2,000 per person per day from the CIA, even spinoff startups -- one bizarrely named "Wizard Shop." As one person familiar with their pay arrangements told Vanity Fair in 2007, "Taxpayers [were] paying at least half a million dollars a year for these two knuckleheads to do voodoo." More from today's NYT story:
Dr. Mitchell could keep working outside the C.I.A. as well. At the Ritz-Carlton in Maui in October 2003, he was featured at a high-priced seminar for corporations on how to behave if kidnapped. He created new companies, called Wizard Shop, later renamed Mind Science, and What If. His first company, Knowledge Works, was certified by the American Psychological Association in 2004 as a sponsor of continuing professional education. (A.P.A. dropped the certification last year.)
2 U.S. Architects of Harsh Tactics in 9/11's Wake (Scott Shane / NYT)

Related research: "Educing Information,"a 2006 report by top interrogation experts that examined which methods work in interrogations. The report effectively debunks Mitchell and Jessen's credentials and torture techniques. PDF of report, and FAS.org post about the document.

Related news items:
* Waterboarding, Interrogations: The CIA's $1,000 a Day Specialists (ABC News)
* Rorschach and Awe (Vanity Fair)
* The CIA's torture teachers (Salon)
* Senate probe focuses on Spokane men (Spokesman Review / WA)
* The Story of Mitchell Jessen & Associates: How a Team of Psychologists in Spokane, WA, Helped Develop the CIA's Torture Techniques (Democracy Now)

(Images courtesy ABC News)

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  1. Their lack of experience didn’t stop them from pawning themselves off as top architects of America’s “war on terror.”

    You wouldn’t want to introduce competence that late in the game, the whole thing might tip over.

  2. Evil psychologists sure do exist, like the ones who design slot machines. I decided early in my training to use my psychological powers only for good, not evil.

  3. The interesting bit here isn’t that some people can bluff their way into anything and make money from it. The really, really interesting thing is that the CIA somehow didn’t have the knowledge internally to do these interrogations themselves.

    You would expect the CIA after years of being in the spook business to know how to do interrogations in every possible style. If they had, they would have seen these guys were frauds and/or would never have hired them in the first place.

    Oh well, maybe it’s just ordinary people working at the CIA and isn’t the James Bond/Black Helicopter/Contrail hype not all that it is played up to be

  4. @1 MB- Why would they want a place in polite society? Apparently violently impolite society pays a lot better…

  5. They’ll go unpunished. That is something I have no doubt about. I understand the reasons why that is the way things are, but I cannot stomach it. Why don’t people seem to care?

  6. Their lack of experience didn’t stop them from pawning themselves off as top architects of America’s “war on terror.”

    Sounds just like an ex-president we all know! (George W. Bush, in case you’d forgotten)

  7. Oh okay, so these two guys are to blame for all the torture and stuff?! Well that settles it then.

    Pfew! What a relief! Here I was thinking there was a whole system behind it and that blame was shared across the board. Turns out these two very cunning deceitful characters somehow managed to convince your Central Intelligence Agency through trickery and sleight of hand, that torture is a good, clean, wholesome manner to extract information.

    So the CIA fell victim to these two scoundrels. I am happy we cleared this up, so we can now close the book on this nastiness.

  8. War crimes trials. The only reason not to (and not just for these two dipsticks, for ALL involved, including Bush and Cheney) is because we want to have the option to do again all the things that have been done.

  9. War Criminals. Send them, plus Cheney, Yoo, Addington and Bybee to the Hague for prosecution–if America wants to regain what its propaganda says it is. The world was behind us after 9/11, only to watch as the US govt. shredded the Geneva Conventions. How quaint, after all.

  10. are they still doctors? I was hoping the APA has stripped them of their licences to practice

  11. @4 “The interesting bit here isn’t that some people can bluff their way into anything and make money from it. The really, really interesting thing is that the CIA somehow didn’t have the knowledge internally to do these interrogations themselves.

    You would expect the CIA after years of being in the spook business to know how to do interrogations in every possible style. If they had, they would have seen these guys were frauds and/or would never have hired them in the first place.”

    Once you get your war started and trillons in funding secured – there’s no money to be made squandering it internaly with rank-and-file shlubs locked into a govt pay grade. You must outsource everything to hide the even larger amount of war budget that DIDN’T go to these guys, but rather to somewhere (or someone) else.

  12. #18 RTRESCO

    You would expect the CIA after years of being in the spook business to know how to do interrogations in every possible style. If they had, they would have seen these guys were frauds and/or would never have hired them in the first place.”

    Ah yes, but then the CIA is an organisation based on trust in human nature, and goes from the assumption that people have good intentions.

    So, assuming that nu human rights were ever violated in any way whatsoever, they put these two people in charge of personally conducting every single harsh interrogation since 9/11.

    The CIA as an organisation can stand proud with its head held high, and say in al ernest and honesty:
    Wir haben es nicht gewusst!

    /extremely bitter cynism

  13. Is the issue that we feel cheated because they didn’t have actual, hands-on expereience torturing hundreds of prisoners? Would that really be better?

    You can either learn a subject by doing it, or by studying it – these fellows choose the latter, and it paid them hansomely…

  14. @#8- Try answering it from the flipside–what made you care? Or, what made you think people are more important than money? What if that had gone another way?

  15. I see this as part of the ongoing death rattle that has gripped the United States. What was once a world power, is now corroding and falling apart. The health of it’s people, and their education is on par with that of a third-world nation. It’s economy is shattered, it’s roads and cities decaying.

    Among all these things they have adopted, they have also adopted the ethics of many third-world countries. They have reframed torture into “harsh interrogation”. The country is ravaged by madness like it were an infectious plague. America makes nothing, creates nothing – it only consumes.

    Weep for your country, gentlemen. You have lost nearly all cause for pride in it.

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