[Marxism] It’s Cruel. It’s Useless. It’s the C.I.A.

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Dec 11 04:09:28 MST 2014

(Interesting that Collins cites the Center for Constitutional Rights and 
Tim Shorrock, sources with solid radical credentials.)

NY Times Op-Ed, Dec. 11 2014
It’s Cruel. It’s Useless. It’s the C.I.A.
by Gail Collins

We learned a lot from that big Senate Intelligence Committee report on 
C.I.A. interrogation tactics after 9/11. It was what may be the first 
time in American history that the term “rectal hydration” appeared in 
family newspapers throughout the land.

One of the most unnerving parts involves the fact that the 
waterboarding, ice baths and wall-slamming were conducted under the 
direction of an outside contractor. It isn’t the first time the 
government turned to private enterprise and wound up with a human rights 
disaster — think Abu Ghraib. Or Blackwater. But this seems like an 
excellent place to demand a cease-and-desist.

The specialists’ names are James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. Like many 
contractors doing work for the government, they’re former government 
workers themselves — in this case, military psychologists. And like 
virtually all contractors doing work for the government, they were 
making a heck of a lot more than they’d have gotten as federal 
employees. In this case, about $80 million.

Mitchell and Jessen had acquired their expertise by teaching Air Force 
officers how to resist brutal Cold War-style interrogations. Think 
pilots who get shot down behind enemy lines and get tortured by 
Communists. And for all we know, they may have done a great job showing 
their pupils how to withstand pressure to record a statement denouncing 
the United States when they crash land in North Korea.

But it’s not precisely the same thing as trying to get a suspected Al 
Qaeda operative to tell you where Osama bin Laden is hiding. Plus, 
Mitchell and Jessen had no experience as actual interrogators, did not 
speak any of the detainees’ languages and had no particular knowledge 
about Islam or Al Qaeda.

They did have some theories about other psychologists’ work subjecting 
dogs to random electric shocks until their will to resist was completely 
broken. Maybe, the two men thought, you could torment human beings into 
the same state of “learned helplessness.” Worth a try, right? Mitchell 
and Jessen set about applying the theory to prisoners the C.I.A. had 
collected. Some of them had already been cooperating with interrogators. 
Others turned out later to have had no involvement with Al Qaeda whatsoever.

Others, undoubtedly, were bad people with information the C.I.A. needed, 
who had resisted talking under nonviolent interrogation. The question 
then becomes whether they cooperated better under “learned helplessness” 
or simply made up stories to placate their torturers and send the C.I.A. 
off in the wrong direction.

There’s a lot of precedent for the making-up approach. During World War 
II, an American pilot was shot down over Japan just after the Hiroshima 
attack and was tortured repeatedly for information about the atomic 
bomb, of which he knew nothing. Threatened with beheading, the pilot 
told his captors that the U.S. had 100 atomic bombs and that Tokyo was 
next on the target list. The bogus information was immediately shared 
with the war minister and the Japanese cabinet.

The Intelligence Committee report concludes that all the torturing 
produced very little information that was useful and possibly quite a 
bit that was made-up. While we would love to believe that the human 
rights angle would be most effective in shocking the American people, 
polls show that when it comes to suspects with possible terror 
involvement, the public attitude toward torture is kind of meh. So, 
wisely, the committee’s big point was useless/counterproductive.

“It’s wrong enough that one shouldn’t do it period. But wrong and 
useless is a tough combination,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of 
Rhode Island. He was on the Intelligence Committee when the report was 
being prepared and now leads a Judiciary subcommittee on crime and 

And why the private contractors? Maybe because the actual government 
interrogators didn’t believe torture worked either. Some complained 
that, after Mitchell and Jessen arrived, reasonably cooperative 
prisoners were suddenly brutalized under the theory that the original 
approach had been too “sissified.”

What made the C.I.A. decide that these guys were a good plan? Have they 
not watched “Homeland” this season? (Ever since Saul left the C.I.A. to 
become a private consultant, he’s been a disaster.) “I do think there’s 
something about the culture of purchase: ‘We don’t have the answer, but 
we can buy it,’ ” said Baher Azmy, the legal director at the Center for 
Constitutional Rights.

Tim Shorrock, the author of “Spies for Hire,” believes it’s just a way 
to hide things: “The activities of contractors are so easy to conceal in 

Naturally, defenders of the C.I.A. are rising up to challenge the 
report’s findings. The Associated Press got hold of James Mitchell 
himself, who said that the report was “just factually, demonstrably 
incorrect,” then declined to say exactly what the inaccuracies were.

Citing a secrecy agreement with the C.I.A., Mitchell didn’t share much 
else, except that being waterboarded was still better than being killed 
by a drone.

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