The CIA Psychologist Who Designed the Torture Program Claims It Was Not Torture


Respectfully Submitted by Lawrence E. Rafferty (rafflaw)- Weekend Contributor

We have seen and heard the claims from Donald Rumsfeld and others that the leaked Senate torture report is off base because the enhanced interrogation techniques were not only legal according to the Office of Legal Counsel, but they also produced results.  Putting aside the idea that just because an allegedly illegal act is claimed to have been successful in producing actionable intelligence, does not make it any more legal or illegal, is there a reason why we should listen to the participants who authorized the waterboarding and other torture procedures when they claim that all is well?

Now it seems that Donald Rumsfeld has company.  “In an uncompromising and wide-ranging interview with the Guardian, his first public remarks since he was linked to the program in 2007, James Mitchell was dismissive of a Senate intelligence committee report on CIA torture in which he features, and which is currently at the heart of an intense row between legislators and the agency.

The committee’s report found that the interrogation techniques devised by Mitchell, a retired air force psychologist, were far more brutal than disclosed at the time, and did not yield useful intelligence. These included waterboarding, stress positions, sleep deprivation for days at a time, confinement in a box and being slammed into walls.

But Mitchell, who was reported to have personally waterboarded accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, remains unrepentant. “The people on the ground did the best they could with the way they understood the law at the time,” he said. “You can’t ask someone to put their life on the line and think and make a decision without the benefit of hindsight and then eviscerate them in the press 10 years later.” ‘  Reader Supported News 

Mr. Mitchell makes some claims that confuse and disturb me.  He seems to link being a torturer to a field agent or a soldier or Marine who puts his/her life on the line.  While many CIA and other defense agency agents do indeed put themselves at risk, I fail to see how waterboarding someone in a secure prison or base is putting your life on the line.

Mr. Mitchell also claims that anyone or any governmental oversight agency that is reviewing the actions of these heroes of torture is merely using hindsight years after the events occurred in order to go after these agents credibility.  Of course, Mr. Mitchell chooses to ignore or has conveniently forgotten that he and his superiors kept these activities secret from Americans for years.  Can someone please remind Mitchell that waterboarding has been illegal in the United States for decades?

Has Mitchell decided to speak out because he is worried about possible legal ramifications of his allegedly heroic torture activities that may be more fully disclosed in the Senate Report if it is declassified?   If Mr. Mitchell personally waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, maybe he should be worried.  Does it surprise anyone that Rumsfeld, Mitchell and Jose Rodriguez are all going on the record in the last year or two in attempt to whitewash their involvement in allowing, authorizing and undertaking illegal torture procedures?

If you don’t remember who Jose Rodriguez is, he is the CIA supervisor who authorized the destruction of the video tapes of the torture techniques in use and could have proven who said what and what was actually done.  So why would Rodriguez destroy the video tapes if he did nothing wrong and his allegedly illegal efforts produced results?  I think Mr. Rodriguez and Mr. Mitchell protest too much.

What do you think should be done with the Senate Report?  Should it be fully declassified?  If the report does prove that agents of the government, no matter how high up, were involved in illegal activities, should they be prosecuted if the law still allows it?  If the CIA and other defense intelligence agencies are allowed to torture an accused prisoner, is any dissenter safe?  What do you think?


67 thoughts on “The CIA Psychologist Who Designed the Torture Program Claims It Was Not Torture”

  1. bigfatmike,
    Torture is also illegal. You can’t get a warrant to allow an illegal act.

  2. ” If the situation were dire, agencies should have the tool of torture available. Presumably, they would have the expertise and discretion to use it. If you don’t intend to win the war, don’t start it.”

    Unfortunately it is not always possible to decided to start or not to start – unlike Iraq.

    Others have pointed this out, but the rational argument for torture depends critically on support for the efficacy of torture to produce useful information.

    I doubt anyone here needs to be reminded that the efficacy of torture is controversial at best. And, surprisingly, those in the best position to know seem dedicated to the task of preventing a clean evaluation of the record…hmmm.

    It may not be very relevant, but it is interesting to consider the changes in conventional wisdom regarding torture. Through WWII, I am not sure there was much though given to the efficacy of torture applied to US service personal.

    The experience of ‘brain washing’ during the Korean conflict brought new consideration. I think it is fair to say the conventional wisdom was that anyone who is tortured would reveal what they know. The only reasonable strategy would be to delay and slowly give up what is know. I am pretty sure there was a change in the uniform military code of justice that allowed service people to reveal more than name, rank, and number without being charged with crimes like aiding the enemy, to reflect that new appreciation for torture.

    Now the conventional wisdom seems to have changed. The view now seems to be that torture can never produce useful information because the victim of torture will either attempt to mislead or will say what ever they believe the torturer wants to hear. Of course, it that were true the question would be, how then does information derived from torture differ form any other data derived from intelligence methods. There is always the question of the real source and reliability of the information.

    Then there are some of us who believe the question of torture cannot be reduced to the efficacy of torture. Torture is unacceptable.

  3. I think that appropriate agencies should have the tool of torture available. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Churchill believed he was justified in deliberately allowing the infliction of pain on the citizens of Coventry, through omission, to retain the intelligence of having broken the Enigma code. If the situation were dire, agencies should have the tool of torture available. Presumably, they would have the expertise and discretion to use it. If you don’t intend to win the war, don’t start it.

    1. “I think that appropriate agencies should have the tool of torture available.”

      I am too lazy to fish it out, but somebody, a few years ago, wrote a piece arguing for torture warrants.

      I am not sure how much protection a torture warrant would be – considering that the FISA courts authorize about 99% of every thing that comes before them.

      I realize the FISA courts don’t authorize torture. My point is that the FISA courts seem to be a reasonable model of how well courts protect individuals when the subject is national security and compelling state interest.

  4. John proclaims:
    “Torture would be justified and rational if there were a compelling national interest at stake such as a hypothetical nuclear bomb in a major city.”
    (this is called special pleading and is illogical)
    “That torture is effective would be intuitive.”
    To whom?
    “If you do not believe that torture obtains fact and truth”

    Ok, lets get this over with here…
    “obtains facts”? how do you know you obtained a fact from torture from a non-fact meant to get your torture to stop? Now much white noise is fed into intel systems to satisfy the torturer’s demands?

    See, you may have a wife to watches CSI but you clearly have no background in fact finding on the level of interrogation or in torture. The most you’ll get from torture is a “confession” and there is now way to know how true this confession will be. A confession isn’t the truth just because the subject tortured says it to you under demand. This is clearly in the modern terror trials alone. The intel that is juxtaposed with some subjects clearly demonstrates that THIS torture we’re talking about, the US Torture of Detained Foreign Nationals did not produce “truth” via torture.

    Case in point, Abu Zubaydah:
    Abu Zubaydah gave more information to my friend John Kiriakou and to Ali Soufan than to Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell under torture. Deuce Martinez (number cruncher) was no more capable of getting a “confession” out of Abu Zubaydah than you would be able to with your advocacy of torture.
    Why did it work for Soufan?
    Because Soufan, like Steve Kleinman and other professional gators know how to ask the question and look for the answers. They are scientists with many years qualification in getting to the truth.

    If you have to waterboard someone 89 times, if you have to subject him to physical abuse that is beyond your already allowed extremes, you aren’t doing your job very well. This is absurd TV garbage to hear that “if a nuke were” and the like. Give me a break, we don’t have to guess.

    When you are in a town in Iraq going house to house trying to find insurgent bomb makers you rely upon good intelligence without creating dangers for the local population that destroy your read on where the threat will be. Miss the info and you’ll send US troops into the wrong house, tripping off the bad guy perhaps 2 doors down.

    There is no need to guess about the art of interrogation and the ticking bomb. We have already seen the art displayed with people who have wired those bombs. “Love of family” works wonders in Iraq on men with their sons at risk. “Mutt and Jeff” works awesome for the tough guy who thinks he can play the good cop for a fool.

    You watch all the Jack Bauer nonsense you want, but in the real world, torture is a war crime sure…no problem, but is a tactical mistake on so many levels that you would be wise to correct your view quickly. It only feeds the narrative used to recruit people to be hostile to the US.

    It is wiser to have the clear message be, “Al Qaida kills Muslims without regard for their families. They torture women and children and destroy what is around them” than to have “the United States does not care if you are a good Muslim or not, you are a Muslim and they want you dead. Don’t believe me?” and play any bit of FoxNews or some of your favorites like Frank Gaffney, Peter King etc.

    I mean, John, you claim you want to be smart about this, right?
    I am no bleeding heart. Find me a man who has blown up women and children and I have no problem putting that person on trial and if found guilty, execute them. But trials matter and forced confessions (torture) does not help us get there. Torture is illegal for a reason, it is wrong.

    George Washington knew this when he issued his notice about torture to Trenton. Before then, we knew that the Brits would kill you. It helped us recruit both British fighters to our cause and Hessians who understood the clear distinction.

    Torture doesn’t work. Show me where it does and I’ll be interested to see your example. I know it doesn’t work.

  5. The infliction of pain with deliberation and aforethought is without distinction from torture. Pain, from the perspective of the experiencer, is all the same.

    1. Churchill deliberately allowed pain to be inflicted on British citizens. This was done rationally and justifiably with plausible deniability per protocol. You may wish to deny the same type of decision regarding Pearl Harbor and that Kennedy was assassinated by a conspiracy that deployed Oswald as a patsy. You may believe and perpetuate the big lie of a fuel tank explosion on Flight 800. You may have heard that you can keep your doctor. You may not know the facts. The truth may not be useful to you. The following excerpts may inform:

    Did Churchill Know About the Attack?

    Sources in this Story

    ◦The BBC: The Blitz: Sorting the Myth from the Reality
    ◦The BBC: 1940: Germans bomb Coventry to destruction
    ◦Coventry & Warwickshire News: The Coventry Blitz
    ◦The Guardian: Coventry’s ordeal
    ◦Time: Ne Plus Ultra
    ◦The Churchill Centre: Churchill Let Coventry Burn To Protect His Secret Intelligence

    By November 1940, British codebreakers at Bletchley Park had developed a system, known as Ultra, to decipher Germany’s Enigma code, allowing them to intercept German intelligence. Several authors have argued that Prime Minister Winston Churchill received an Ultra message days before Nov. 14 warning of an attack on Coventry. Churchill, they say, chose not to evacuate the city because it would have signaled to Germany that its code had been broken.

    F. W. Winterbotham, an RAF Group Captain who handled Ultra intelligence, was the first to present this theory in his 1974 book, “The Ultra Secret.” In a review of the book, Time writes, “Ultra picked up German bombing orders for a blitz of the cathedral city of Coventry, well before the attack was due. Winterbotham relayed word to Churchill, who then faced a ‘terrible decision’: whether or not to evacuate Coventry and almost certainly give Ultra’s secret to the Germans. Churchill’s choice doomed a city.”

    William Stevenson, Anthony Cave Brown and Christopher Hitchens have written similar accounts.

    2. If you do not believe that torture obtains fact and truth, the following insightful excerpts from “Torture’s Truth,” Georgetown Law, might reveal and edify:

    It is this insight that links embodied pain with confession and in- formation. What is wrong with torture is that it reminds us of some- thing that we do not want to know: that our belief in materialism and our belief in the existence of human will cannot be reconciled. More- over, torture forces us to resolve the conflict by admitting, against our “will” (if you will), that we have no will. When the pain is intense enough, we must concede that we are no more than our bodies. Elaine Scarry has made the point as eloquently as anyone. For her, “[i]ntense pain is world-destroying. In compelling confession, the torturers compel the prisoner to record and objectify the fact that in- tense pain is world-destroying. 76 This is so because “physical pain al- ways mimes death and the infliction of physical pain is always a mock execution.” Torture reminds us of death in a concrete way, and when we are so reminded, we begin “to experience the body that will end [ ] life, the body that can be killed, and which when killed will carry away the conditions that allow [a person] to exist.”” Of course, Scarry is not claiming that we do not die. It is not, then, that torture convinces us of something that is not true. Quite the con- trary, torture convinces us of a truth with which we literally cannot live. The torture victim learns that he is the slave to his body,

    – “”that all that he believes, values, and loves is, in the end, hostage to his physical well-being, that he is willing to give up everything to bring about the cessation of physical pain.”” –

    For many torture victims, this lesson is rein- forced by the sense of betrayal-of self and others-that torture pro- duces. When the torture victim speaks-revealing the location of a comrade in arms, for example, or verbally repudiating the cause he has
    75 See Strawson, Freedom and Resentment at 68 (cited in note 72) (“A sustained objectivity of inter-personal attitude, and the human isolation which that would entail, does not seem to be something of which human beings would be capable, even if some general truth were a theoreti- cal ground for it.”). 76 Scarry, The Body in Pain at 29 (cited in note 10). 77 Id at 31.
    HeinOnline — 72 U. Chi. L. Rev. 905 2005
    The University of Chicago Law Review
    fought for-the victim is often implicated in the destruction of rela- tionships and commitments that, he had previously thought, defined his essence. It turns out, the victim learns, that his essence lies elsewhere. It consists of something much baser-of the flesh and sensations he shares with animals rather than the ideas and ideals that, he had thought, linked him to something higher. How can we expect a person who has learned this lesson to continue his life? How is he again to make sense of his plans, hopes, and attachments? Even when the vic- tim’s body survives, torture is a kind of death precisely because it re- duces the victim to his body. Anyone who doubts any of this need only listen to the voice of the tortured. Consider the words of Jean Am6ry: Whoever is overcome by pain through torture experiences his body as never before. In self-negation, his flesh becomes a total reality…. [O]nly in torture does the transformation of the person into flesh become complete. Frail in the face of violence, yelling out in pain, awaiting no help, capable of no resistance, the tor- tured person is only a body, and nothing else beside that.

    “”Whoever has succumbed to torture can no longer feel at home in the world. The shame of destruction cannot be erased.””

    Trust in the world, which already collapsed in part at the first blow, but in the end, under torture, fully, will not be regained.” 8 We do not want to know what Jean Am6ry knows, and our fear of this knowledge is what explains torture’s linkage between pain on the one hand, and the extraction of information or confession on the other. Information and confession are important components of tor- ture because they can be extracted only by the exercise of will. They are not the only components of torture, however. After all, the state regularly uses various forms of coercion to commandeer the will so as to extract information and confession in circumstances that do not remotely resemble torture. I do not file my tax returns because of a perfectly free and uncoerced impulse to tell the government about my sources of income

  6. woody voinche

    The CIA and other agencies have a long history of mind control experimentation …
    They should use it on themselves to see if they can control themselves like the decent human beings around them.

  7. John,
    You apparently have a poor understanding of history, military tactics and interrogation techniques. Not to mention the psychology of gathering real intelligence, as opposed to the psychology of testosterone or psychopathy. The real world is not comic book simple, nor is it a TV drama.

    Perhaps you missed the piece I wrote on interrogations and gathering intelligence. Here is the link.

  8. “That torture is effective would be intuitive.”

    Not really.

    “I can imagine that I would say anything”

    Yes, and that’s one of the problems.

    “This latest claim will come as news to Mr. Mohammed’s prosecutors, to his fellow detainees (whom he instructed, at his arraignment, not to cooperate with the United States) and indeed to Mr. Mohammed himself. He told the International Committee of the Red Cross that “I gave a lot of false information in order to satisfy what I believed the interrogators wished to hear.””

    (That the practice of “torture” seems to satisfy the bloodlust of some is a certainly — the sadists and psychopaths of the world seem to like it. And that’s the only reason that it’s employed, IMO — it’s a tool used to satisfy primitive urges.)

  9. The subject is the morality of inflicted pain also known as torture. Torture, or inflicted pain, was approved by Churchill to protect a compelling military secret. Churchill rationalized inflicted pain. People died in the bombing. Bodies were torn asunder by shrapnel. Churchill knew this and lived with it and justified it. I would consider it torturous to have a large piece of hot shrapnel rip through my abdomen. Is it better or different if an enemy shoots you or if a torturer disembowels you?

    Pain equals torture and torture equals pain. Justify the pain. Justify the torture. Churchill saved the military secret by allowing the pain inflicted on the citizens of England during WWII.

    Torture would be justified and rational if there were a compelling national interest at stake such as a hypothetical nuclear bomb in a major city.

    That torture is effective would be intuitive. While I am not in favor of torture and would never be able to inflict it on another person or animal or insect, I can imagine that I would say anything to save an appendage or two, or worse. How about you?

    My wife watches CSI and Criminal Minds and I have to leave the room.

  10. One more thought on Churchill and Ultra. If Sir Winston had informed the public, the Germans would have changed the code. That would have rendered any further warnings moot, and also would have denied the Allies ability to monitor U-boat and other military activity.

    If the residents of Coventry and London had that information, what would they have been able to do with it? A false analogy in comparing a military tactical decision to the war crime of torture.

    The residents of New Orleans had ample warning that Katrina was coming, but what were they able to do about it? Not much.

  11. ‘Interestingly, Churchill decided not to tell citizens of incoming buzz bombs to keep the secret of the fact that the Enigma code had been broken. Churchill allowed the torture of bomb fragments ripping through the bodies of citizens to preserve a high value national secret. ‘

    I really do not see how this situation informs our understanding of torture.

    The argument seems to be that Churchill could have prevented suffering by revealing information but instead allowed ‘torture’ to occur in order to achieve a greater good.

    I would argue that Churchill faced no moral dilemma in withholding information about the V1 buzz bombs because reveling that information offered no additional alternatives for the civilian population.

    The population was already under air bombing attack. I don’t see that it makes a difference whether the explosive from a bombing raid is delivered by, for example, an HE 111 or a V1 buzz bomb.

    Is there anything actionable in knowing that the night’s air attack will be carried out by V1 buzz bombs rather than HE 111s? What exactly would a civilian do differently. After a civilian cooperates with air raid wardens, checks the black out curtains, and retires to the shelter in the basement what else is there to do?

    Churchill faced no moral dilemma when he withheld information about V1 buzz bombs because providing that information to civilians offered no additional alternatives. There was no benefit derived from revealing the information. Therefore the choice was easy – don’t spill the beans.

    If there is an analogy between Churchill’s choice not to reveal information about V1 buzz bombs and the question of torture I don’t see it.

    1. Agreed. Churchill’s decision to withold classified data had nothing to do with torture. One can certainly make the case, though it’s unpleasant, that keeping the secret of the codebreaking saved many more lives, and pain and suffering on the part of the Allies, than if he had spilled the beans.This article and thread are concerned with unethical, immorand quite probably illegal acts by senior US government officials to obtain information that, by most research, is unreliable. Churchill’s name shouldn’t even be brought up in this discussion.

    2. The example cited about Churchill is flat out wrong. The V1 was an unguided bomb which had no aim except a general area within about 50 miles or more. The person who brought this up confuses the bombing of Coventry by the Luftwaffe bombers when Churchill knew that Coventry was the target and did not warn the residents. The reason for not warning the residents was to preserve the Ultra secret that the Brits could read the German codes quickly. Of course there was nothing the civilians could do in any case as has been pointed out.

  12. It would then devolve to your personality. Type A, B or some nebulous, subsequent variant…tick, tick, tick.

    You make the call on what has been proven efficacious.

    Oops! Your time is up.

    Churchill did.

  13. John,
    in order for us to discuss your idea, please provide evidence that torture works as you are claiming.

  14. Dr. James Elmer Mitchell fraction of a human being, enabler/apologist of torture and war criminal.

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