Degradation and manhandling: Document reveals US interrogation techniques

Raw Story
Wednesday July 18, 2007

After conducting a 10-month investigation that consisted of more than 70 interviews, as well as a detailed review of public and classified documents, Vanity Fair writer Katherine Eban delivers the fullest portrait yet of James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, the C.I.A.-contracted psychologists who were put in charge of designing the aggressive interrogation methods known as 'SERE school' techniques (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) that came to be used during the Iraq war," states a press release sent to RAW STORY. "Eban also reveals a never-before-seen memo that details how the U.S. military sought to treat detainees at Guantanamo Bay."

Eban writes of the memo, "In a bizarre mixture of solicitude and sadism, the memo details how to calibrate the infliction of harm. It dictates that the '[insult] slap will be initiated no more than 12–14 inches (or one shoulder width) from the detainee's face … to preclude any tendency to wind up or uppercut.' And interrogators are advised that, when stripping off a prisoner's clothes, 'tearing motions shall be downward to prevent pulling the detainee off balance.' In short, the sere-inspired interrogations would be violent. And therefore, psychologists were needed to help make these more dangerous interrogations safer."

The press release continues:

According to colleagues, Mitchell and Jessen, who were placed in charge of interrogations on the C.I.A.’s network of “black sites,” had no real-world experience in questioning prisoners. Their expertise was in training U.S. soldiers to endure Communist-style torture techniques—the same tactics they are accused of reverse-engineering for use on detainees.

In response to a detailed list of questions regarding their involvement with the C.I.A. and their interrogation qualifications, Mitchell and Jessen responded: “We are proud of the work we have done for our country. The advice we have provided, and the actions we have taken have been legal and ethical. We resolutely oppose torture. Under no circumstances have we ever endorsed, nor would we endorse, the use of interrogation methods designed to do physical or psychological harm. We were not in any way involved with the scandal at Abu Ghraib or with the abuses alleged at Guantanamo. We were appalled by reports from both places.”

Eban reports on the interrogation of al-Qaeda lieutenant Abu Zubaydah, and asserts that contrary to George Bush’s claim that it was "tough" interrogation that forced Zubaydah to reveal Khalid Shaikh Mohammed as the mastermind behind 9/11, it was actually humane treatment at the hands of the F.B.I.—they nursed his gunshot wounds and cleaned up after him—that prompted his sharing of information.

Eban reports that when Mitchell and other members of the C.I.A. team got to Zubaydah in Thailand (at the request of then C.I.A. director George Tenet, who was furious to learn of the F.B.I.’s breakthroughs), they put a stop to the efforts at rapport building (which also yielded the name of José Padilla, the accused al-Qaeda operative), and began using “SERE school” tactics.

According to Eban, the team explained that they were going to become Zubaydah’s “God” and that if he refused to cooperate he would lose his clothes and comforts one by one. He was isolated and the interrogators would enter his room just once a day to say, “You know what I want,” then leave again.

Eban reports that as Zubaydah clammed up, Mitchell seemed to conclude that he would talk only when he had been reduced to complete helplessness and dependence, so the C.I.A. team began building a coffin in which they planned to bury the detainee alive. Eban concludes that they probably did not put Zubaydah in the coffin, but soon after (as was reported last year) they employed more “SERE school” techniques, which included stripping Zubaydah naked and making his room so cold that his body turned blue.

Eban reveals a five-page, typo-ridden document, titled “JTF GTMO ‘SERE’ Interrogation Standard Operating Procedure,” that outlines how detainees should be treated. “The premise behind this is that the interrogation tactics used at military SERE schools are appropriate for use in real-world interrogations,” it states, and “can be used to break real detainees.”

Eban reports that the document is divided into four categories: “Degradation,” “Physical Debilitation,” Isolation and Monopoliztion [sic] of Perception,” and “Demonstrated Omnipotence.” The tactics include “slaps,” “forceful removal of detainees’ clothing,” “stress positions,” “hooding,” “manhandling,” and “walling,” which entails grabbing the detainee by his shirt and hoisting him against a specially constructed wall.

It is not clear whether the guidelines were ever formally adopted, Eban reports, but the instructions suggest that the military command wanted psychologists involved so they could lead interrogators up to the line, then stop them from crossing it.

Michael Rolince, section chief of the F.B.I.’s International Terrorism Operations, tells Eban that what Mitchell and Jessen practice is “voodoo science,” and Steve Kleinman, an Air Force Reserve colonel and expert in human-intelligence operations, says he finds it astonishing that the C.I.A. “chose two clinical psychologists who had no intelligence background whatsoever, who had never conducted an interrogation ... to do something that had never been proven in the real world.”

Despite their questionable credentials, Eban reports that the principals at Mitchell, Jessen & Associates are raking in money. According to people familiar with their compensation, they get paid more than $1,000 per day plus expenses, tax-free, for their overseas work. “Taxpayers are paying at least half a million dollars a year for these two knuckleheads to do voodoo,” says one of the people familiar with their pay arrangements.



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