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Contracting for Torture

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Who are James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen? Evidently the Senate Armed Service Committee is very eager to learn more about Mitchell and Jessen and the role they played in the development of torture techniques for the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency. The word is that a contract was issued out of the office of Undersecretary for Intelligence Stephen Cambone, and the charge was to study the SEALs’ SERE program and extract from it a series of interrogation techniques for use on high-value detainees. Since the SERE program was designed to train special operations personnel to resist techniques used by the Soviets, the project apparently entailed extracting and using those very techniques.

Mark Benjamin reports at Salon:

Mitchell and Jessen have worked as contractors for the CIA since 9/11. Both were previously affiliated with the military’s SERE program, which at its main school at Fort Bragg puts elite special operations forces through brutal mock interrogations, from sensory deprivation to simulated drowning. A previously classified report by the Defense Department’s inspector general, made public last month, revealed in vivid detail how the military — in flat contradiction to previous denials — used SERE as a basis for interrogating suspected al-Qaida prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, and later in Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreover, the involvement of the CIA, which was secretly granted broad authority by President Bush days after 9/11 to target terrorists worldwide, suggests that both the military and the spy agency were following a policy approved by senior Bush administration officials.

Close coordination between the CIA and the Pentagon is referred to in military lingo as “jointness.” A retired high-level military official, familiar with the detainee abuse scandals, confirmed that such “jointness” requires orchestration at the top levels of government. “This says that somebody is acting as a bridge between the CIA and the Defense Department,” he said, “because you’ve got the [CIA] side and the military side, and they are collaborating.” Human-rights expert Scott Horton, who chairs the International Law Committee at the New York City Bar Association, also says that the cross-agency coordination “reflects the fact that the decision to introduce and develop these methods was made at a very high level.”

Benjamin also notes the developing body of evidence concerning collaboration between psychologists and the torture program. A large group of psychologists have demanded the initiation of disciplinary action against R. Scott Shumate, identified as a CIA psychologist deeply involved in the torture program. A letter making this demand was delivered to the president of the American Psychological Association today.

Two major additional articles on this subject will appear in the next few days. Slowly, we’re getting to the bottom of this story. We’re learning who the torture plotters were, who made the policies that enable them, and who betrayed their oaths as health care professionals to support them. The next step will be proper legal accountability, because much of this conduct is felonious.

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