Monday, August 17, 2009

Doctors cash in on CIA torture

CIA torture for fun and profit?

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There's an article in today's New York Times about Bruce Jessen and Jim Mitchell, two military retirees and psychologists with no expertise on al-Qaeda, no foreign language skills, no experience in real interrogations, and with no relevant degrees ("...their Ph.D. dissertations were on high blood pressure and family therapy").

Nevertheless, these two seemingly managed to cash in on America's "global war on terror."

With little more than their psychology credentials and "an intimate knowledge of a brutal treatment regimen used decades ago by Chinese Communists," the pair, known as "Doc Mitchell" and "Doc Jessen" built "a thriving business that made millions of dollars selling interrogation and training services to the CIA," per the Times piece.

The article details the torture and interrogation of terror suspect Abu Zubaydah, described at the time as al-Qaeda's No. 3, by Doc Mitchell and Doc Jessen:

In late July 2002, Dr. Jessen joined [Dr. Mitchell] in Thailand. On Aug. 1, the Justice Department completed a formal legal opinion authorizing the SERE methods, and the psychologists turned up the pressure. Over about two weeks, Mr. Zubaydah was confined in a box, slammed into the wall and waterboarded 83 times.

The brutal treatment stopped only after Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen themselves decided that Mr. Zubaydah had no more information to give up. Higher-ups from headquarters arrived and watched one more waterboarding before agreeing that the treatment could stop, according to a Justice Department legal opinion.

Torture became quite a lucrative opportunity for the pair. From a 2007 Vanity Fair report:

Meanwhile, business appears to be booming at Mitchell, Jessen & Associates. It has 120 employees and specializes in "understanding, predicting, and improving performance in high-risk and extreme situations," according to a recruitment ad at a recent job fair for people with top security clearances.

The principals of Mitchell, Jessen & Associates are raking in money. According to people familiar with their compensation, they get paid more than $1,000 per day plus expenses, tax free, for their overseas work. It beats military pay. Mitchell has built his dream house in Florida. He also purchased a BMW through one of his companies. "Taxpayers are paying at least half a million dollars a year for these two knuckleheads to do voodoo," says one of the people familiar with their pay arrangements.

The Times piece reports further on Mitchell and Jessen's financial success through torture:

Dr. Mitchell could keep working outside the C.I.A. as well. At the Ritz-Carlton in Maui in October 2003, he was featured at a high-priced seminar for corporations on how to behave if kidnapped. He created new companies, called Wizard Shop, later renamed Mind Science, and What If. His first company, Knowledge Works, was certified by the American Psychological Association in 2004 as a sponsor of continuing professional education. (A.P.A. dropped the certification last year.)

In 2005, the psychologists formed Mitchell Jessen and Associates, with offices in Spokane and Virginia and five additional shareholders, four of them from the military’s SERE program. By 2007, the company employed about 60 people, some with impressive résumés, including Deuce Martinez, a lead C.I.A. interrogator of Mr. Mohammed; Roger L. Aldrich, a legendary military survival trainer; and Karen Gardner, a senior training official at the F.B.I. Academy.

The company’s C.I.A. contracts are classified, but their total was well into the millions of dollars. In 2007 in a suburb of Tampa, Fla., Dr. Mitchell built a house with a swimming pool, now valued at $800,000.

With the article from the Los Angeles Times this week raising the possibility of Attorney General Eric Holder soon naming a prosecutor to look into claims of "excessive waterboarding and other unauthorized methods," the torture docs will have done well to have a substantial stash set aside for legal fees, as no doubt they will come under close scrutiny.

As Mitchell and Jessen personally oversaw Abu Zubaydah (and perhaps others) being waterboarded 83 times—plus one more for good measure!—be prepared to hear the "But 9/11 changed everything!" line many times over.

This video is from MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show, broadcast Aug. 12, 2009.

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