Profiteering torture teachers modeled US techniques after those of Chinese Communists


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 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)