Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Torture's Synopsis

The New York Times has published on today's front page a concise, clear article on Spokane's most recent claim to infamy: the two psychologists - Jim Mitchell and Bruce Jessen - who got the CIA to hire them to head up the torture program back in 2002. I think these guys are headed for an indictment. Couldn't happen to a nicer bunch.

The article is interesting in that, as a latecomer to the topic, it looks backwards in time at events that have unfolded from 2002 to a couple of months ago, and gives perspective to them. It adds nice color too. There's an interview with Mark Mays, who was the first psychologist to manage the SERE program (a survival training program for our military personnel that Mitchell and Jessen twisted into an aggressive torture program). Mark - a local psychologist and lawyer here in Spokane - explains how the SERE facility was set up like interrogation camps based on American POW recollections, then says, "It was clear that this is what we’d expect from our enemies. It was not something I could ever imagine Americans would do."

Until now.

One interesting quote comes from psychologist Martin Seligman, who wrote on a theory called "learned helplessness." Seligman discovered in the 1960s that dogs that learned they could do nothing to avoid small electric shocks would become listless and simply whine and endure the shocks even after being given a chance to escape. He termed this "learned helplessness." Lenore Walker used this theory to help describe what happens to battered women who are so beaten down that they cannot leave the abusive relationship. Apparently SERE instructors used it to describe what can happen to military personnel - according to the NYT article, SERE instructors would stop short of creating a "learned helplessness" state. In his torture outings in 2002, Mitchell cited the "learned helplessness" state as one to attain, to force the tortured to give in to the torturer's commands. Problem with theory - all it will do is get the tortured to say whatever the torturer wants him to say - even if it's false.

In the article, Seligman is quoted as having met Mitchell, and that Mitchell praised his work on learned helplessness to such an extent that he mentioned to his wife that night. "Later, [Seligman] said, he was 'grieved and horrified' to learn that his work had been cited to justify brutal interrogations."

Keep in mind, these two psychologists had never interrogated a prisoner before becoming the head of this torture program. The article highlights the opportunistic nature of these guys, and the slobbering desire of the CIA (the people in charge) to have someone - anyone - who would justify torture under the guise of a psychologist's title.

The article also discusses how Mitchell and Jessen closed down their offices abruptly just a couple months ago. This I know - I wrote an entry about it. That entry prompted a phone call from someone purporting to be a BBC reporter, even though BBC had no idea who he was. (I returned the guy's voice mail by calling back the BBC directly rather than his cell phone.) This shall remain suspicious in my mind. Why would someone pose as a reporter to get information from me about the Torture Building and lack of offices? Especially someone who is listed in the New York business pages as a lawyer and architect? This is a mystery that remains unsolved. But it sounds right up the alley of Jim Mitchell and Bruce Jessen.

One of the article's comments: "'We have met the enemy, and he is us.' Pogo."

And here is a comment by someone named John, in D.C.:

As a former interrogator, I know from experience that you MUST put aside what you feel a suspect deserves in terms of punishment and focus on what most effectively produces reliable intelligence. That is the #1 goal of interrogation. It is not punishment, it is intelligence collection. Readers like Matt from NY and TN from Texas would do well to remember that distinction. There are NO PROVEN INTELLIGENCE results from interrogation. The only proven results are an increase in hostility from local populations, increased recruiting of extremist groups and increased attacks on US military service members. The fact that torture does not produce reliable intelligence is not news to well-trained, experienced interrogators and intelligence professionals. Over and over again, we see how the former administration employed AMATEURS with NO TRAINING or EXPERIENCE to do what trained professionals were unwilling to sanction. And THOSE who ordered and conducted that activity DO deserve to be punished.

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