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Out of the Darkness: How two psychologists and CIA devised torture program (aclu.org)
149 points by geetee on Oct 13, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 60 comments

'By early 2002, the CIA, the Justice Department, and the National Security Council were debating whether the legal and humanitarian protections of the Geneva Conventions would apply to captives suspected to be members of al-Qaida or the Taliban. After weeks of debate, and over objections from the State Department, President George W. Bush ultimately issued the final word on the matter. In a February 2002 memo, he stated that al-Qaida and Taliban detainees were not protected by the Geneva Conventions.'

This is one of the roots of the problem. Once you have a class of people without rights, you can arbitrarily identify people as part of that class and they have no chance at due process. Unless absolutely everyone has basic legal protections, no one has them.

You remind me of a scene from the movie Lawrence of Arabia (based on the life of the man by that name) where he talks about "We do not let any of our people fall into enemy hands because they are considered (something something) thus not protected by the Geneva Convention." In other words, it was their policy to shoot their own people who were too injured to travel rather than let them be taken as prisoners and tortured by the enemy. It was considered a mercy killing.

Edit: In other words, they were not recognized as a proper army and were deemed to be something like internal rebel forces, subject to internal law only, with no International protections, such as the Geneva Convention. They were treated horribly when taken into custody and often tortured.

I almost forgot about this incredible travesty to human rights. You really do selectively forget the bad when remembering the past.

And apparently also not protected by any human rights or any constitution.

Time for war crime trials.

Blatant violation of Article 2, United Nations Convention against Torture, United States Signatory 18 April 1988, ratified 21 October 1994.

To be proven by ACLU:

"...For more than a month, Suleiman endured an incessant barrage of torture techniques designed to psychologically destroy him. His torturers repeatedly doused him with ice-cold water. They beat him and slammed him into walls. They hung him from a metal rod, his toes barely touching the floor. They chained him in other painful stress positions for days at a time. They starved him, deprived him of sleep, and stuffed him inside small boxes. With the torture came terrifying interrogation sessions in which he was grilled about what he was doing in Somalia and the names of people, all but one of whom he’d never heard of. ..."

Half of the heads of state of Europe would be dragged along with the US since the convention forbids states to transport people to any country where there is reason to believe they will be tortured.

Overall 54 countries participated and cooperated with the US on it's extraordinary rendition program from Iceland to Iran. https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/sites/default/files/g...

This would be an interesting trial indeed...

So, the Geneva convention is basically a lip-service treaty only enforced when its convenient? Sounds like most treaties come to think of it.

The Geneva convention doesn't cover irregulars, this is the UN treaty against torture which like most UN conventions is an utter joke.

The Geneva Convention is pretty clear and the United States signed on.

Yale Law School Lillian Goldman Library:

Article 2 & 5:

"...Prisoners of war are in the power of the hostile Power, but not of the individuals or corps who have captured them. They must at all times be humanely treated and protected, particularly against acts of violence, insults and public curiosity. Measures of reprisal against them are prohibited.

: "...No coercion may be used on prisoners to secure information to the condition of their army or country. Prisoners who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind whatever. ..."


Of their army or country. Irregulars as in terrorists, spies, mercenaries etc. Are not protected by the Geneva convention and are not considered prisoners of war.

Interesting legal point. We never declared war on "al Qaeda" since it's a ultimately just a logo and the combatants could be labeled criminals.

A treaty is only as strong as the will of the other countries to enforce it.

Unfortunately war crime trials are always for losers of wars, not winners.

US government and military personnel are immune from criminal and civil action for interrogation techniques that "were officially authorized and determined to be lawful at the time they were conducted." [1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Detainee_Treatment_Act

I am sure the officers of the Third Reich were equally protected by their country's law. It mattered little at Nuremberg.

The actual 'torture report' by the Senate intelligence committee is worth reading at least in part (it's long...) and goes into some good detail about how the psychologists were recruited and operated.


Take an hour or two to read the executive summary at the beginning and you will be better informed that just about anyone. Going to the primary sources is easy enough, and it's really enjoyable (a weird word in this context) to form opinions based on the rawest information available. Of course the actual report is a political document in itself, but that aspect is as much a part of the coverage of the report as the contents itself.

Thanks for the link but it looks like it's no longer available. I'm getting a "Page not found"

Is this the same study that you linked? http://www.cnn.com/interactive/2014/12/politics/torture-repo...

Yes. I have the orig from the .gov, and it's the same file.

It's been pulled from that URL unfortunately. There's a few copies floating around if you google the filename unfortunately they don't come from as authoritative a URL as the .gov address you provided.

Shouldn't it remain readily available to at least the citizens of the US? If nowhere else, via the Library of Congress? An initial search didn't turn up that report (as far as I can tell, at a glance, there's a couple of funding documents authored by Feinstein at least) -- but there's a rather depressing list of other documents:


Like the older:

United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary Hearing June 10, 2008

"Coercive Interrogation Techniques: Do They Work, Are They Reliable, and What Did the FBI Know About Them?"


(39 pages, some interesting points are made, among them some pretty clear arguments that torture is illegal, and harsh techniques that for some reason or other are deemed to not be torture may also be illegal...)

"Today, Abu Zubaydah is imprisoned at Guantánamo. He continues to suffer as a result of the torture. He has permanent brain damage. He suffers from searing headaches, sensitivity to noise, and seizures. He can’t recall his father’s name or his own date of birth."

-- That is simply fucking abhorrent.

I am always annoyed by the argument that torture is unacceptable AND it doesn't work. It's not totally implausible that this is true, but I think it's very likely that torture "works" in some sense and certainly everyone practicing it expects it to work.

So... for an anti-torture position to have some meat to it, you have to make it clear that you think torture is unacceptable even when it does work.

If you're not willing to sacrifice real lives and safety to avoid torture, I don't think you are meaningfully against it, and you certainly stand no chance of persuading those convinced of its efficacy.

It may be counter productive to try and argue both (totally consistent) positions at once since it opens you up to the implication that if it somehow worked that you'd be OK with it. Still I don't see why we should allow pro torture advocates to own the conversation on whether it works. All evidence is to the contrary and its deeply unethical to continue trying it just in case it does. Even if not torturing did lead to innocent death's it would be the wrong choice to torture, but simultaniously I reject that as a false choice presented by torture advocates who want you to concede that it works and give power to their argument.

If someone wants to claim that some action has some effect it is on them to prove it not the rest of us to refute it. US torture advocates have had every opportunity to do so and failed.

Do you believe that all those people that signed confessions to witchcraft during the Inquisition were truthful?

What about all of the people that are tortured that don't have anything to do with terrorism? What sort of reparations do they receive? What sort of penalty does the US citizenry or the US government pay for those types of mistakes? It's easy to throw others under the bus to save yourself, but I'm not sure if the US can really claim to be the world's Moral Authority when they are doing such things.

the poster you're replying to is not saying that it definitely works, only that it might. and additionally (and this is the crux of that statement): even if it does work, it's still morally wrong.

certainly everyone practicing it expects it to work

Or they like torturing. (They are torturers, after all.)

I don't think the world is black and white like that.

Hypothetical: someone kidnaps a child and the police capture someone who definitely knows where the child is. The child's life is at risk. If the parent were to beat up (torture) the person to gain knowledge, you'd assume the parent "likes" torturing people? I wouldn't.

I was disagreeing with the idea that a hypothetical torturer necessarily expects it to work (and giving an example of an alternate theory for why they might be a torturer), not saying that all torturers like torturing.

"If you're not willing to sacrifice real lives and safety to avoid torture, I don't think you are meaningfully against it"

I completely agree with this, and it's the crux of the argument that I've made against torture when having that debate with people.

Whether it works or not is a cop out. Yes, I believe that torture is, in general, vastly counterproductive. But I also believe that there might be occasional cases where it happens to "work" for extracting factually true information (I put "work" in scare-quotes because there are all sorts of practical and moral side effects even if it does "work"). No matter: it's still morally wrong.

Most Americans believe in the principle of "innocent until proven guilty." That alone should be enough to imply that torture is wrong, since it is almost exclusively perpetrated against the unconvicted (and even if convicted, there's the whole prohibition on "cruel and unusual punishment," which I'd bet most Americans would also claim belief in).

I guess there are many people who don't think it through that far. And I'd bet that there are many Americans who believe that those rights apply to other Americans, but not non-Americans, or enemy combatants, or whatever. Such people are, IMHO, cowardly assholes. Everyone deserves the same basic human rights.

Torture gets people to talk. Those who say it doesn't work believe that it can't be relied on to get people to talk truthfully.

Torture doesn't "work" if you mean "getting useful information out of people". Torture "works" if your goal is torturing people.

Or if your goal is creating terror.

Why would you write off people who think torture would be acceptable if the trade off is big enough. Most choices are a trade off.

If torture really doesn't work, it's an amazing argument against torture.

I would not write them off - my whole point is that by making the double argument people are trying to avoid having to think about trade offs.

I get very suspicious when I see conjunctive arguments that neuter hard value judgments. It's extremely common to see them: "I think you doing X is objectionable AND it doesn't even work!" Example from the right:

Gun control is unconstitutional AND criminals will still get guns anyway!

In my experience, the second half of these arguments usually has nothing to do with the arguer's real motivations, it just helps him/her avoid cognitive dissonance from the trade offs.

> I think it's very likely that torture "works" in some sense and certainly everyone practicing it expects it to work.

I attack this by stating that "We got far more intelligence by NOT torturing people in WWII."

People want to talk. If you give them an environment where they can just talk, they can't help but tell you valuable things.

Small, but important point:

There are two APAs:

1. American Psychological Association - PhD/PsyD Psychologists - (torture scandal)

2. American Psychiatric Association - MD/DO Physicians - (unambiguously opposed to medical involvement in torture)

People get psychiatrists and psychologists confused all the time, and the distinction here is really, really important.

Bias: I'm a psychiatrist, and I am proud that our professional organization has been clear from the start that torture is unacceptable.

Bruce Jessen got a PhD in Divinity from Utah State so probably not even that :P

How do these guys still exist? Anyone who has the opportunity to do so should damage these guys. Turn off their accounts, refuse to sell them goods or services, anything not required by law.

By no means am I suggesting anything illegal or dangerous. But it's appalling that James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen are allowed to participate in society.

If you are an engineer or executive at any company, you have a duty to check for accounts belonging to these people and turn them off. If they subscribe to your services, their money is no good. If they want to buy products, they are not for sale. No credit cards, no bank accounts, no cellular phones.

They don't belong in our society and anyone in a position to eject them ought to do so.

The vigilante approach sounds good when you apply it to people you find abhorrent. Doesn't sound so good when you realize some people find homosexuals, blacks, atheists, etc. abhorrent and think "they don't belong in our society".

much as i'd like to agree with the person you're replying to in this specific case, you're right in the general case (full disclosure: i'm black, and pretty devoutly agnostic).

There are probably a lot of people with those names FYI

And people using those names as pseudonyms.

> should damage these guys

Is G. Bush Jr still alive? Seriously, dont do any harm to these people. They need to have a fair trial, which will fairly convict them of war crimes, followed by lawful solitary confinement for life and/or inmate carelessness and/or family bankruptcy for life, and I wish them a long, long, long life.

Reading this article, I was wondering about the logistical costs of this torture (on top of the fees paid to Mitchell and Jessen). Wouldn't it have been more efficient to arrest the suspected men and try to have an honest conversation with them in the line of "We suspect that you are part of a terrorist network that wants to harm us. If you speak, we can protect you and your family, if you don't, well we will detain you for couple of weeks - without harming you - to see if you change your mind, and then we will simply release you."

It may sound too innocent, but how is someone able to trust the information given by someone who has been driven crazy? If Suleiman forgot the name of his father due to the torture, he may as well forget crucial details of the terrorist plot he was supposed to be part of.

And on a totally unrelated note, please disable the autoplay of the videos when scrolling down to them, I think this is one of the most annoying misuse of javascript I ever came across.

It remains a tremendous national shame that there have been absolutely no movements toward prosecution for those that perpetrated this incredible regression from civilization.

In the mean time John Kiriakou, who confirmed the existence of the torture programs to the public, has been in prison, forced to plea bargain "guilty" under threat of otherwise getting locked away too long to see his children grow up. William Binney was being gracious when he described this as merely a "national disgrace".

Agreed. The problem is that, in the public's mind, there remains ambiguity about whether water-boarding is torture, and whether torture is wrong. (Yes and yes, FYI). Without real action taken against John Brennan, GWBush, and various people in the CIA the US has lost it's principles, it's backbone.

I blame so much on the media in this area. They spread lies and confusion with the constant barrage of debates about whether waterboarding really was torture.

History will not judge us kindly.

One can opt out of "us" relatively easily by moving their personal support (i.e. tax revenue, GDP contribution, et c) elsewhere to a place that supports the universal application of human rights regardless of skin color, religious affiliation, or national origin.

In 2008 I left my job, girlfriend, friends, and family behind to do so. It's tough but it's possible.

Can you please elaborate on that? As of now, it sounds like you left behind everyone you knew in order to change how your taxes are spent.

I'm assuming they emigrated and renounced US citizenship. Would be interesting to hear how and where etc though.

I didn't renounce my citizenship because I do not have any other citizenship, and my place of residence will not give me a residence permit without a passport to paste it into.

I'm not normally one to jump on the "it's the media" bandwagon, but it's unusually true in this case, although not in the way you present it. I think that shows and movies have show "the good guys" using torture more and more frequently, and this has actually changed our perception of right and wrong.

(For example: 24, Almost Human, Batman...almost too many to list. It's funny to watch the second Rambo movie and ask yourself if there's any difference at all between the russians in afghanistan in the 80's and the US there in the 00's.)

It's not surprising at all that this is the case. The mainstream media is not directly responsible for these decisions, it is in fact controlled by the powers that be to not report against the establishment. Blaming the media is missleading, it suggests they are responsible, when actually they are held on a tight leash. Many non mainstream sources however do report on these issues but obviously their influence is tiny in comparison.

The majority of the nation just doesn't care about torture.


Btw, for those that aren't aware, it might be timely to mention the legendary German interrogator, Hanns Scharff:


as he is often brought up in discussions on interrogation techniques.

Compelling article. I think the extended interview Jon Stewart did with John Yoo is another good document if you want to get the perspective of the people who authorized this. I don't mean that as an endorsement of what happened...


Wow. Dark.

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