An obscure paper called The Spokesman Review has an excellent article charting the role of psychologists in developing America’s ‘war on terror’ enhanced interrogation programme – widely condemned as torture.
The piece is fascinating because it outlines the competing tensions between those who championed the controversial physical interrogation techniques – created by reverse engineering the SERE resistance training – and those who preferred the rapport building methods.
It turns out that the division fell along inter-agency lines. The CIA used the harsh approach, the FBI relationship-based interrogation.
As is now well-known, the ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ were developed by two formed Air Force psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen.
The article finishes with a curious snippet of information “Jessen remains [in Spokane] and was recently made the bishop of his ward in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”.
That, my friend, is a novel in the making.
Link to Spokesman Review on ‘war on terror’ torture.
6 thoughts on “The road to ‘war on terror’ torture”
Great find!! (But I wouldn’t call the Spokesman Review obscure. It’s one of the major papers in Washington State. Of course, that’s probably obscure to most Brits 😉
Mitchell and Jessen have some interesting links to the American Psychological Association and Martin Seligman – APA people showing up on the board of the company Mitchell and Jessen ran, bumping into Seligman at house parties. Seligman’s learned helplessness, as much as reversed SERE, seems to have been a guidling light in Mitchell’s thinking.
What kind of torture is it where there is absolutely no physical injury inflicted and the subject being interrogated can elect not to be “tortured” at all or stop the so-called torture at any time by simply cooperating? A far cry I would say from what most would consider real torture. In fact, given the circumstances, one could consider a detainee undergoing enhanced interrogation as actually a voluntary act on his part.
Um, that’s true of “physical” torture as well and an absurd comment to make because the reality is that if you are innocent, you don’t have anything to confess to so you can’t make it stop without making stuff up. That’s why, beyond being unethical, this stuff is ineffective. If you already know the truth, you don’t need to torture it out of people: if you don’t know, you’re not going to find out by torturing the wrong person and you can’t tell if you are doing that via torture!!!
The reasons it’s ineffective is that coercive interrogations are highly likely to produce false confessions/information. It’s why the UK police forced scrapped coercive techniques years ago and it’s why the Abu Qatada Jordan extradition’s hit the wall: once coersion takes place you simply can’t know what’s true and reliable anymore.
More so than that there’s the negative publicity implications; in Costanzo and Gerrity (2009) article on torture here’s a good quote from an Iraqi after Abu Ghraib: “It is a shame for foreigners to put a bag over their heads, to make a man lie on the ground
with your shoe on his neck . . . This is a great shame for the whole tribe. It is the duty of
that man, and of our tribe, to get revenge on that soldier—to kill that man. Their duty is to
attack them, to wash the shame. The shame is a stain, a dirty thing—they have to wash it.
We cannot sleep until we have revenge (Danner, 2005, p. 12).