The Complicity of Psychologists in CIA Torture

No-Torture-No-Collaboration by self

by Roy Eidelson and Trudy Bond

Earlier this week the Senate Intelligence Committee released the long-awaited
executive summary of its 6,000-page classified report on the CIA's brutal post-9/11 detention
and interrogation program. The report provides gruesome details of the abuse
that took place in several "black site" prisons -- waterboarding, confinement in
a coffin-sized box, threatened harm to family members, forced nudity, freezing
temperatures, "rectal feeding" without medical need, stress positions,
diapering, days of sleep deprivation, and more. The report also found that the "enhanced
interrogation techniques" were ineffective; that the CIA misrepresented their
effectiveness; and that the program damaged the standing of the United States
around the world.

names appear dozens of times in the committee's summary: Grayson Swigert and
Hammond Dunbar. These are the pseudonyms that were given to James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. It has been known for several years that these two contract
psychologists played central roles in designing and implementing the CIA's
torture program. Now we also know how lucrative that work was for Mitchell and
Jessen: their company was paid over $80 million by the CIA.

Prior to their CIA contract work, Mitchell and Jessen
were psychologists in the military's Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape
(SERE) training program. Even though they had no experience as interrogators,
spoke no Arabic, and had no expert knowledge of al-Qaeda, they were hired by the
CIA in late 2001 to reverse-engineer SERE principles and transform them into a
set of new and more aggressive interrogation techniques. Mitchell and Jessen
arrived at the CIA black site in Thailand in April 2002 and applied those harsh
techniques for the first time in their interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, a
Palestinian national thought to be a high-ranking member of al-Qaeda. They kept
Zubaydah naked for almost two months, with his clothes provided or removed
depending on how cooperative he was judged to be. They deprived him of
sleep for weeks at a time by painful shackling of his wrists and feet. And in August 2002 they waterboarded him at least 83

to the new Senate report, the American Psychological Association (APA) was
quick to issue a press release distancing itself from Mitchell and Jessen.
The statement emphasized that the two psychologists are not APA members -- although
Mitchell was a member until 2006 -- and that they are therefore "outside the reach of the
association's ethics adjudication process." But there is much more to this
story. After years of stonewalling and denials, last month the APA Board appointed an investigator to examine allegations that the APA colluded with
the CIA and Pentagon in supporting the Bush Administration's abusive "war on
terror" detention and interrogation practices.

latest evidence of that collusion comes from the publication earlier this fall
of James Risen's Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and
Endless War
. With
access to hundreds of previously undisclosed emails involving senior APA staff,
the Pulitzer-prize winning reporter concludes that the APA "worked assiduously to protect the
psychologists"involved in the torture program." The book also provides several new
details pointing to the likelihood that Mitchell and Jessen were not so far
removed from the APA after all.

after the 9/11 attacks, APA member and CIA head of behavioral research Kirk
Hubbard first introduced Mitchell and Jessen to the CIA as "potential assets." A few
months later, in mid-2002, Hubbard arranged for former APA president Martin Seligman to present a lecture on his
theories of "learned helplessness" to a group that included Mitchell and Jessen
at the Navy SERE School in San Diego. And in 2003 Hubbard worked closely with
APA senior staff in developing an invitation-only workshop -- co-sponsored by the APA and the CIA -- on the science of
deception and other interrogation-related topics. Mitchell and Jessen were both
participants (having returned from overseas where they were involved in the
waterboarding of detainees Abu Zabaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed).

Then, in mid-2004, shortly after the horrific Abu Ghraib photos were
released, Hubbard was among a small group of senior CIA and Pentagon officials
who received an invitation
to a private meeting from APA Ethics Office Director Stephen Behnke. According
to emails obtained by Risen, one key reason for the gathering was to "sort out appropriate from
inappropriate uses of psychology" in
national security settings. In extending the invitation, Behnke assured Hubbard
and the other attendees that their names and the substance of their discussions
would never be made public, and that "in the meeting we will neither assess nor
investigate the behavior of any specific individual or group" (presumably including
the activities of Mitchell and Jessen).

That private meeting was the springboard
that led to the creation of the APA's controversial
2005 Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security
(PENS). The PENS task force was dominated by representatives
from the military and intelligence community, several of whom were drawn from
chains of command where detainee abuses reportedly took place. The task force
held a single weekend meeting and then issued a report asserting that it was ethical
for psychologists to serve in various national security-related roles,
including as consultants to detainee interrogations.

Although Hubbard was not a member of the PENS task
force, he played an influential role. Indeed, according to Risen, within days
of the release of the PENS report in July 2005, Hubbard received an email from Geoff
Mumford, APA's Science Policy Director. In that letter Mumford thanked Hubbard
for his "personal contribution"in getting this effort off the ground" and
assured him that his views "were well represented by very carefully selected [PENS]
task force members." A month before receiving that note of appreciation, Hubbard
had emailed Mumford and other colleagues to let them know that he had retired
from the CIA. In the same message Hubbard also told them about his new job: "Now
I do some consulting work for Mitchell and Jessen Associates."

These troubling connections -- between Mitchell and
Jessen, Hubbard, and the APA -- represent only a single trail in what must be a broad
and thorough investigation of possible collusion and corruption within the
world's largest organization of psychologists. Other evidence
suggests that the abhorrent actions of two highly paid CIA contractors were by
no means the only instances in which the profession's do-no-harm principles were
tragically abandoned. So
while this week's grim Senate report provides important answers to crucial
questions, for the psychology profession there is much more yet to be

Note: This essay first appeared in Counterpunch.

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