The lawsuit brought by the next of kin of a man killed in a CIA secret prison and others who were tortured was brought against two military psychologists, James Earl Mitchell and James “Bruce” Jessen. This was compensation for developing a program described by the former acting General Counsel of the CIA as “sadistic and terrifying”, and which violated the laws of war and the Convention Against Torture.
Mitchell Jessen & Associates received $81 million to develop the program, which was reverse-engineered for the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape training, where pilots and others learned to resist interrogation under torture, primarily in the forms administered by America’s enemies during the Cold War and the Second World War.
Any interrogation program developed from these techniques was certain to produce false confessions; numerous Americans--including Senator John McCain—said so. Conversely, in the early days of GITMO, FBI interrogators complained that every time they were successful in building rapport with detainees (a process that is critical to obtaining truthful confessions) “the military would step in” and derail that process.
Leaked memoranda confirmed that this was because Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld were determined to obtain confessions that implicated Iraq in the 9/11 attacks –which was entirely false. This justified the creation of an interrogation that annulled any possibility of true confessions, since they were swamped by the false confessions that detainees would constantly produce in attempts to stop the torture. It led to numerous wild goose chases that depleted the limited resources of the FBI.
Mohamedou Slahi, who was held for fourteen years at GITMO recently recounted on 60 Minutes that “they broke me. I told . . . the boss of my team, ‘You write anything and I sign it.” On that basis, Slahi confessed to a nonexistent plan to blow up the CN Tower in Toronto. This was so blatantly untrue that the man charged with prosecuting Slahi before a military tribunal chose instead to resign.
While Slahi was later released, “high-value” detainees who will never see the light of day were subjected to considerably worse treatment. Abu Zubayadah was subjected to waterboarding 83 times in a single month at black sites in Thailand supervised by Gina Haspel. This technique, which involves actual asphyxiation and not merely simulated drowning, was the basis for the prosecution of numerous Japanese war criminals tried by the American authorities after the Second World War. Zubaydah was later deemed not to have any useful intelligence.
President Bush used the outlandish confessions obtained by torture (including that an Al-Qaeda sleeper cell would detonate a nuclear bomb in Europe were Osama bin Laden to be captured) to justify the torture program that Mitchell and Jessen sold to the Pentagon. Their work was also essential to sustaining the drive for war that allowed the United States to justify the spending of trillions of dollars (the Iraq War alone cost $2.7 trillion, which is almost three million expenditures of a million dollars) and the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives.
The lawsuit brought against them is essential to ensuring that this will not happen again. Mitchell and Jessen have never served a day in prison, nor have they been forced to return the $81 million the Pentagon paid them. The CIA officials who provided the top-level oversight of torture were brought back into the Trump Administration. Haspel was also responsible for the destruction of evidence of the CIA torture program, an action condemned by the Senate Intelligence Committee.
In attempting to stop Haspel from being deposed in the lawsuit, the Trump Administration has asserted the State Secret Privilege. In effect, this is an admission that she possesses information that would put the national security of the United States at risk. Is this because she was appointed in order to revive a program designed to produce false confessions? Trump has floated the possibility of reviving torture programs, although he has yet to do so.
Trump’s appointment of Haspel to a position of great responsibility (which pleased hardliners on Syrian intervention, such as Clinton partisan and former Deputy CIA Director Michael Morell), which occurred even as her testimony was sought in the torture lawsuits, is the clearest indication yet of the possibility that the Trump Administration will continue the path of endless war on false premises in the Middle East, which led Bush to a quagmire (in Iraq) and Obama to create devastation (in Libya). Nothing would be more dangerous to the rule of law, and potentially more useful to the erection of a durable Perónist regime in the United States.