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15 June, 2009

The CIA’s Torture Teachers

Two Psychologists – James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen -- Helped the CIA Exploit a Secret Military Program to Develop Brutal Interrogation Tactics

Mark Benjamin is a national correspondent for He joins us from Washington, D.C. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Mark.

MARK BENJAMIN: Thank you so much for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what you have discovered.

MARK BENJAMIN: Well, what we’ve learned is that there is a special school, a secretive school, called Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape. And that’s where we train elite troops to resist, if captured by an enemy who ignores the Geneva Conventions, things like waterboarding, stress positions, sexual humiliation, isolation, that sort of thing. And reporters, including myself, have been working for years now to try to show that it looks like the Pentagon sort of reverse-engineered those tactics to use to interrogate real prisoners. The Pentagon said, “No, no, no,” until last month. You mentioned an Inspector General report that came out and said, well, yes, in fact, the Pentagon did do that. What we’ve learned now is that it appears that the CIA, working very closely with the Pentagon, did the same thing very early in the war on terror, relying on psychologists very close to this program. And because both agencies turned to this program they call the SERE program early in the war on terror, it suggests very high-level coordination in the Bush administration.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain just what the SERE program is.

MARK BENJAMIN: The SERE program is a Cold War era program, where we literally set up mock prisons at places like Fort Bragg, North Carolina, which is where we have sort of the flagship program, where elite soldiers—for example, Special Forces soldiers—are subject to brutal mock interrogations. As I mentioned, waterboarding is just one of the things that they face—isolation in very, very small pens, hooding, that kind of thing, stress positions. And it is intended to teach those soldiers to resist those illegal tactics if they are captured.

And that raises an obvious problem. If you’re going to take that training, which is designed to get people to resist illegal interrogations, and flip it around to interrogation tactics, which is now what we’re learning the Pentagon and the CIA both did, you’re very likely, obviously, to come up with tactics that are violations of the Geneva Conventions. That’s a problem for the Bush administration, which has been saying that their tactics are safe, effective and legal. SERE training is not designed to be safe, effective or legal.

AMY GOODMAN: You talk about two CIA-employed psychologists who are under investigation right now. Explain who they are.

MARK BENJAMIN: The two psychologists are named James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, and these are psychologists who have been affiliated with this training program—again, called the SERE program—for years. What we have learned is that the Senate Armed Services Committee—this is a committee run by Carl Levin, a Democrat from Michigan—is now looking into the activities of these two psychologists, in particular.

What our sources on Capitol Hill and, in fact, some of Mitchell and Jessen’s own colleagues say is that these guys, these psychologists who are affiliated with the military’s SERE training, were then employed by the CIA as contractors to do the same thing that the military was doing, which was to flip these tactics around and use them on real terrorists. And, in fact, Jane Mayer from the New Yorker, who’s done some wonderful reporting also on this issue, put one of these guys, James Mitchell, in the room with a high-level CIA detainee in early 2002, and, according to Mayer, he was urging some very rough stuff.

AMY GOODMAN: Who is investigating them?

MARK BENJAMIN: The Senate Armed Services Committee is looking into these guys, and, in fact, based on Carl Levin’s request, the Department of Defense has ordered anybody associated with the Department of Defense, in a memo to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and others, that any document that has the name of these two guys, Bruce Jessen or James Mitchell, has to be preserved, and nobody can destroy documents associated with those two guys, because they’re part of this Senate investigation.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the letter that psychologists have written to the American Psychological Association and the controversy that’s brewing within this organization of close to 150,000 psychologists?

MARK BENJAMIN: There is a major rift in the American Psychological Association, a professional association for psychologists. In 2005, the American Psychological Association came up with ethics guidelines that essentially say that a psychologist can help participate in a military interrogation. This is a big deal, because the American Psychiatric Association for psychiatrists said no, we won’t have any part of it. It turns out that six of the ten individual psychologists who helped draft those ethics guidelines for the American Psychological Association were affiliated with the military. And, in fact, several of them were affiliated with this SERE school.

This issue has been really tearing apart the American Psychological Association for years now, and there is an expanding group of psychologists who are very, very concerned that the American Psychological Association’s own ethical guidelines are allowing psychologists, like these guys Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell, to reverse-engineer training tactics into really brutal interrogation techniques. And there’s a bunch of letter-writing back and forth, frankly, to the head of—the president of the American Psychological Association, objecting to these ethic guidelines and perhaps the use of these tactics.

AMY GOODMAN: You write about the dozens of psychologists who made public a joint letter to the American Psychological Association President Sharon Brehm, fingering another CIA-employed psychologist. He was one of the ten on that committee in 2005 that was convened to look at psychologists’ involvement in these interrogations. Explain who he is.

MARK BENJAMIN: That’s a guy whose last name is Shumate. He’s a psychologist for the Counter Terrorism Center at the CIA. This is the center that reported—at the time of 9/11 was a guy named Cofer Black was in charge of that unit. You may recall Cofer Black is very well known for going up to Congress early in the war on terror and saying, you know, “There’s a before-after-9/11 and there’s an after-9/11; after 9/11 the gloves come off.”

What the psychologists are concerned about is that their fellow psychologists who are associated with that center, the Counter Terrorism Center, seem to be also, you know, crucial in reverse-engineering these tactics, these training tactics in the brutal interrogation techniques, or at least that’s the concern among these psychologists. And what they’re doing is alerting their organization that there could be a real problem here.

AMY GOODMAN: Of course, Cofer Black now involved with Blackwater, the private security company based in North Carolina, and an offshoot of that around intelligence. Now, R. Scott Shumate was one of the ten people involved in this PENS Task Force, this advisory task force that ultimately advised that the psychologists could continue in these military interrogations, despite the fact that three of the members—we had two of them on on Democracy Now!—have expressed great concern about them, one of these members handing over all of her notes leading up to the meeting and afterwards, the email listservs, over to the Senate Armed Services Committee, as they conduct their investigation.

MARK BENJAMIN: That’s right. And some of the psychologists, as you mentioned, these civilian psychologists, sort of feel like they were railroaded or misled or, you know, in other words, the military folks who were on that panel which came up with these ethics guidelines sort of ran the show. I think that’s sort of what you’re referring to there. And, yes, there’s very serious concern about these psychologists, that their own fellow professionals may have played a vital role in flipping these techniques around, both at the Pentagon and, now we’ve learned, also at the CIA, into some really brutal interrogation techniques.

Continue reading:

See this article which states that the two are Mormons.

Dr Mengele Award Goes To James Mitchell & Bruce Jessen

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