Category: CIA torture
Seven Decades of Organized Crime: Central Intelligence Agency Turns 70
worker | September 20, 2017 | 9:34 pm | Analysis, CIA torture, Fascist terrorism | Comments closed

Former president Bush talks to reporters after he received an intelligence briefing at CIA Headquarters in Langley, Va., near Washington, Thursday, March 3, 2005. He is joined by Director of Central Intelligence Porter Goss.

Seven Decades of Organized Crime: Central Intelligence Agency Turns 70

© AP Photo/ J. Scott Applewhite

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September 18 marked the US Central Intelligence Agency’s 70th birthday. To mark the occasion, here are four of the worst things the agency has done – at least, the worst the public knows about.

September 18 marked the 70th anniversary of then-President Harry S. Truman signing the National Security Act of 1947 into law, and with it the founding of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

In theory, the CIA has a relatively modest purview to gather, process, and analyze national security information from around the world. However, over the course of its seven-decade-long existence, the agency’s brief has frequently extended to violence, assassination, subversion, infiltration and coup d’etat, among assorted criminal skulduggery.
The CIA’s toxic legacy was not lost on Truman, who wrote a letter to the Washington Post in December 1963, calling for the Agency’s remit to be scaled back significantly.

“For some time I have been disturbed by the way the CIA has been diverted from its original assignment. It has become an operational and at times a policy-making arm of the government. This has led to trouble and may have compounded our difficulties in several explosive areas,” Truman said.

To mark the CIA’s 70th birthday, here are four of the worst things the agency has done at least, the worst the public knows about.

Overthrowing Governments

Ever since “Operation Ajax” a 1953 joint effort mounted with British intelligence to overthrow the democratically elected leader of Iran, Mohammed Mossadegh the CIA has repeatedly sought to oust governments unfavorable to US political and/or economic interests, in the process frequently installing oppressive and violent tyrants in power.

The full list of targeted countries is too extensive to document in detail, and there are moreover many instances of “revolutions” in which, while unproven, CIA involvement is suspected such as the 2014 Maidan coup in Ukraine.

However, perhaps the most notorious CIA coup occurred in Chile, in September 1973. After the election of left-wing reformist Salvador Allende as president in 1970, the agency began plotting his removal at the behest of then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. The agency reached out to Chilean General Augusto Pinochet, who without much persuasion agreed to lead the effort on the ground, and lead the country thereafter. On September 11, 1973, the coup was launched, and Allende was killed.

Over the course of Pinochet’s 26-year reign, the military dictator killed between 30,000-50,000 civilians and plunged the country into a severe economic crisis.

US federal courts have consistently blocked criminal and civil lawsuits launched against Kissinger and the CIA.

Arming Militants

The CIA has an extensive history of arming radical, extremist groups, in order to facilitate regime change.

The most mephitic example of this practice occurred in 1979, when the CIA began sending financial and military aid to Islamic extremists in Afghanistan the Mujahideen who opposed the secular Soviet Union-supported government.

On top of deposing an “unfriendly” government, the agency wished to precipitate a Red Army invasion of the country in support of the embattled government, and give the Soviet Union its “own Vietnam.”

Many speculate the CIA directly supported deceased al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, although conclusive proof much less official admission remains elusive.

Nonetheless, bin Laden was undoubtedly revered in the Western media at the time, and his notorious terror group emerged from the ranks of the Mujahideen following the conclusion of the conflict in 1989, with bin Laden exploiting the fighters, financial resources, training and recruiting structures provided by the CIA.

Having singularly failed to learn the palpable lessons of history, the CIA has employed the same policy many times since, most recently in the Syrian conflict, in which “moderate rebels “in truth savage extremist elements” have battled against the popular government of Bashar al-Assad.

Media Infiltration

For many years, the CIA ran “Operation Mockingbird” a dedicated program to manipulate the US and European news media for propaganda purposes by recruiting journalists at leading pubications, via which pro-American and anti-Soviet Union stories were spread.

The CIA’s influence had not waned by 1977 when renowned investigative journalist Carl Bernstein reported on publications with CIA agents in their employ, as well as over 400 American journalists who had secretly carried out assignments for the agency.

However, the agency’s media infiltration efforts aren’t restricted to the news media. Independent researchers Tom Secker and Matthew Alford have revealed the CIA has helped produced, and influenced over 1,800 films and TV shows over the course of its existence.

Human Experimentation

The agency has operated numerous human experiments over the past seven decades, of which Project MKUltra is the most infamous.

With help from captured Nazi scientists (extracted from Germany under the auspices of “Project Paperclip”), CIA doctors and chemists engaged in a wide array of illegal activities, including a number of techniques to manipulate unwitting subjects’ mental state and brain functions, including the administration of psychedelic drugs, hypnosis, sensory deprivation, isolation, verbal and sexual abuse, as well as a variety of torture techniques.

Of the drugs administered, LSD was the most common typically given without informed consent to mental patients (in violation of the Nuremberg Code), prisoners, drug addicts and prostitutes (“people who could not fight back” one CIA officer said) in order to study their reactions.

In one case, the hallucinogenic drug was administered to a mental patient in Kentucky for 174 straight days although CIA employees themselves were not even immune, and it has been said being spiked with LSD became an “occupational hazard” for agency staff while the project was in operation.

Several deaths reportedly resulted from these actions most infamously, army scientist Dr. Frank Olson went into deep depression after being unwittingly dosed, later falling to his death from the thirteenth story window of New York City’s Hotel Pennsylvania.

The use of LSD was only terminated officially, at least when the covert dosing of one agent sent the individual running across Washington in a state of extreme panic, seeing monsters in every car he passed.

Psychologists Behind CIA Torture Program to Face Trial
worker | August 9, 2017 | 3:55 am | Announcements, CIA torture | Comments closed

Psychologists Behind CIA Torture Program to Face Trial

  • Marines at Camp X-Ray at the Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba escort a newly arriving detainee into a processing tent.

    Marines at Camp X-Ray at the Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba escort a newly arriving detainee into a processing tent. | Photo: Reuters

Published 8 August 2017

They are accused of participating in “war crimes.”

A federal lawsuit against two psychologists accused of being architects of the torture program for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency will go to court on Sept. 5.

Psychologists and Detainees Reveal Brutal CIA Interrogations

Judge Justin Quackenbush of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington cleared the way for the case to move to the trial phase Monday, rejecting the psychologists’ lawyers request for a summary judgment.

It will now be up to a jury in Spokane, Washington, to decide if the psychologists, James Mitchell and John Jessen are financially liable for the physical and psychological effects of their torture.

The American Civil Liberties Union brought the lawsuit on behalf of three victims of the CIA’s torture program. Two of the men survived their ordeal in a secret CIA prison in Afghanistan in 2003 and are now free and living in their home countries. The third died as a result of the torture in the facility.

They allege that they were beaten, deprived of sleep, forced to endure extreme temperatures and subjected to a form of waterboarding, a technique that simulates drowning.

“This is a historic day for our clients and all who seek accountability for torture,” ACLU attorney Dror Ladin said in a press release. “The court’s ruling means that for the first time, individuals responsible for the brutal and unlawful CIA torture program will face meaningful legal accountability for what they did. Our clients have waited a long time for justice.”

A complaint initiating the case accuses Mitchell and Jessen, who reportedly were paid about US$81 million under their contract with the CIA, of having designed, promoted and shared responsibility for the interrogation methods to which the three men were subjected.

In overseeing the design of “torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment,” the complaint alleges, the psychologists violated international norms and were liable for “war crimes.”

CIA Releases Torture Documents Following Lawsuit

While the pair have acknowledged they advised the government on techniques for questioning “high-value detainees,” their attorneys argue that their advisory role ceased in 2002, meaning “there is no connection” between the techniques they proposed and the treatment of the three men on whose behalf the ACLU is suing.

Judge Quackenbush, in a series of rulings over the past year, has repeatedly rejected moves by Mitchell and Jessen’s attorneys to dismiss the suit. His ruling on Monday made clear that there was strong evidence supporting the plaintiffs’ claim.

The judge called it “undisputed” that Jessen and Mitchell had participated in interrogating and waterboarding a detainee who is not among the three plaintiffs. He also cited a CIA inspector general report which found that Jessen “played a significant role” in the interrogation of Gul Rahman, the defendant who died in custody.

This is the lawsuit brought by victims of CIA’s torture programs even to reach the pretrial discovery phase. Previous administrations had intervened previous cases, arguing state secrets were at risk if proceedings continued.

Psychologists Open a Window on Brutal C.I.A. Interrogations – The New York Times
worker | June 25, 2017 | 9:45 am | CIA torture | Comments closed

Two men who proposed interrogation techniques widely viewed as torture are part of a lawsuit filed on behalf of former C.I.A. detainees. Deposition videos, obtained exclusively by The New York Times, reveal new insights into the enhanced interrogation program and the C.I.A. contractors behind it.

Fifteen years after he helped devise the brutal interrogation techniques used on terrorism suspects in secret C.I.A. prisons, John Bruce Jessen, a former military psychologist, expressed ambivalence about the program.

He described himself and a fellow military psychologist, James Mitchell, as reluctant participants in using the techniques, some of which are widely viewed as torture, but also justified the practices as effective in getting resistant detainees to cooperate.

“I think any normal, conscionable man would have to consider carefully doing something like this,” Dr. Jessen said in a newly disclosed deposition. “I deliberated with great, soulful torment about this, and obviously I concluded that it could be done safely or I wouldn’t have done it.”

The two psychologists — whom C.I.A. officials have called architects of the interrogation program, a designation they dispute — are defendants in the only lawsuit that may hold participants accountable for causing harm.

The program has been well documented, but under deposition, with a camera focused on their faces, Drs. Jessen and Mitchell provided new details about the interrogation effort, their roles in it and their rationales. Their accounts were sometimes at odds with their own correspondence at the time, as well as previous portrayals of them by officials and other interrogators as eager participants in the program.

Read the Case Documents

Linked below are PDF transcripts of the depositions and other declassified agency documents.

The suit, filed in Federal District Court in Spokane, Wash., was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of several former prisoners of the Central Intelligence Agency. The New York Times has obtained the video depositions of Dr. Jessen and Dr. Mitchell, as well as those of two former C.I.A. officials and two former detainees. Newly declassified agency documents have also been released in the case.

Revelations about the C.I.A. practices, which were a radical departure for the United States, set off global denunciations and bitter divisions at home. They led to an eventual ban on the techniques and a prohibition by the American Psychological Association against members’ participation in national security interrogations. A 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee report condemned the interrogation techniques as brutal and ineffective in providing “unique” intelligence information by other means.

For years, Dr. Mitchell, polished and assertive, has defended the two men’s actions in the press and in a recent book, while Dr. Jessen remained silent. But Dr. Jessen answered questions under oath on Jan. 20, the same day that President Trump was inaugurated. During the election campaign Mr. Trump had pledged to revive the use of torture, including waterboarding, though he later backed off.

The two psychologists argue that the C.I.A., for which they were contractors, controlled the program. But it is difficult to successfully sue agency officials because of government immunity.

Under the agency’s direction, the two men said, they proposed the “enhanced interrogation” techniques — which were then authorized by the Justice Department — applied them and trained others to do so. Their business received $81 million from the agency.

Video depositions in a case brought by former C.I.A. detainees give an insight into the beginnings of the agency’s enhanced interrogation program. Malachy Browne and Natalie Reneau

But in his deposition, Dr. Jessen indicated that the two men had some reservations. “Jim and I didn’t want to continue doing what we were doing,” Dr. Jessen testified. “We tried to get out several times and they needed us, and we — we kept going.”

The outline for the techniques emerged in 2002 when C.I.A. officials asked them to come up with proposals. The techniques were largely adapted from those the psychologists had used to train American soldiers in survival schools to resist brutal interrogations by hostile forces that were violating the laws of war.

“Jim and I went into a cubicle,” Dr. Jessen said. “He sat down at a typewriter and together we wrote out a list.” They thought those techniques — including sensory and sleep deprivation, shackling for hours in uncomfortable positions and waterboarding — would be safer than others the C.I.A. might consider to get resistant detainees to provide information that could help head off another terrorist attack, he said.

Lasting Scars

Articles in this series examine the American legacy of brutal interrogations.

  • How U.S. Torture Left a Legacy of Damaged Minds

  • After Torture, Ex-Detainee Is Still Captive of ‘The Darkness’

  • Where Even Nightmares Are Classified: Psychiatric Care at Guantánamo

  • Secret Documents Show a Tortured Prisoner’s Descent

  • Memories of a Secret C.I.A. Prison

Soon after, the C.I.A. asked them to use the techniques to interrogate a terrorism suspect, something with which they had no experience.

“I had been in the military my whole life and — and I was committed to and used to doing what I was ordered to do,” Dr. Jessen said. “That’s the way I considered this circumstance.”

Abu Zubaydah, taken into custody in 2002, was the first detainee to be waterboarded. The United States government believed he was a top leader of Al Qaeda, though it later abandoned that claim.

At a secret C.I.A. jail in Thailand, he provided useful intelligence to F.B.I. agents who questioned him using traditional methods, including rapport-building. But worried that he was holding back information, which the C.I.A. later concluded he never had, agency leaders chose to use extreme physical force to break him.

Drs. Mitchell and Jessen were sent to the jail to carry out the techniques, including waterboarding. Water was poured over a cloth covering Abu Zubaydah’s face to simulate drowning. He underwent the procedure 83 times over a period of days; at one point he was completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising from his mouth, according to the Senate report. A newly declassified August 2002 cable from the prison to headquarters noted: “At the onset of involuntary stomach and leg spasms, subject was again elevated to clear his airway, which was followed by hysterical pleas. Subject was distressed to the level that he was unable to effectively communicate or adequately engage the team.”

When those at the prison wanted to end the waterboarding sessions as no longer useful, C.I.A. supervisors — including Jose Rodriguez, then the head of the agency’s Counterterrorism Center and a witness who testified under oath in the lawsuit — ordered them to continue.

“They kept telling me every day a nuclear bomb was going to be exploded in the United States and that because I had told them to stop, I had lost my nerve and it was going to be my fault if I didn’t continue,” Dr. Jessen testified.

Dr. Mitchell said that the C.I.A. officials told them: “‘You guys have lost your spine.’ I think the word that was actually used is that you guys are pussies. There was going to be another attack in America and the blood of dead civilians are going to be on your hands.”

A plaintiff, Mohamed Ben Soud, drew pictures depicting his treatment in a C.I.A. prison. They included, left, being placed in a wooden box and poked through its holes and, right, being strapped to a wooden board on which he was abused with water. via ACLU

Still, the psychologists’ interrogation team recommended using the aggressive techniques as a “template for future interrogations of high-value captives,” according to an agency cable. The psychologists later subjected two other prisoners — Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — to waterboarding.

In his deposition, Dr. Mitchell, who once said that most people would prefer to have their legs broken than to be waterboarded, disagreed with a lawyer’s reference to the practice as painful. “It sucks, you know. I don’t know that it’s painful,” he said. “I’m using the word distressing.”

Both Dr. Jessen and Dr. Mitchell rejected the notion that men subjected to the harsh techniques suffered any long-term physical or psychological damage. “If they are out there and that happened, then, you know, show me the data,” Dr. Mitchell said. He added that if the techniques were applied as recommended, “my view is, that is so unlikely so as to be impossible.”

But The Times last year found a pattern of long-term psychological damage among dozens of former detainees subjected to brutal treatment by the United States. The men described grappling with depression, anxiety, withdrawal and flashbacks.

Mohamed Ben Soud, a Libyan, was held by the C.I.A. in Afghanistan. Holly Pickett/ACLU

In their depositions, two former prisoners who are plaintiffs in the lawsuit described their torment. Drs. Mitchell and Jessen said they had not interrogated or encountered the two men.

Mohamed Ben Soud, a Libyan, was held by the C.I.A. in Afghanistan and was subjected to being locked in small boxes, slammed against a wall and doused with buckets of ice water while naked and shackled. He said he still suffered from nightmares, fear, mood swings and other psychological injuries as a result of his captivity.

“It comes to me during my sleep and as if I’m still imprisoned in that horrible place and still shackled,” he said in his deposition, through a translator. “I get the feeling of worry about my future and about the fear that this could happen again.”

Suleiman Salim, a Tanzanian captured in 2003 and also held by the C.I.A. in Afghanistan, was beaten, isolated in a dark cell for months, subjected to dousing with water and deprived of sleep. He said he suffered from flashbacks, headaches, sleeplessness and ringing in his ears.

“I don’t feel like being with people, I like being with myself, and I don’t like walking around to see people,” he said in his deposition, also through a translator. “I feel like I’m so weak and I can’t do anything.”

Suleiman Salim, a Tanzanian, was captured in 2003 and held by the C.I.A. in Afghanistan. He was beaten, isolated in a dark cell for months, subjected to dousing with water and deprived of sleep. Bryan Denton for The New York Times

Dr. Jessen said that after the C.I.A.’s secret detention program became public — it was officially acknowledged by President George W. Bush in 2006, but had been previously described in news reports — he and Dr. Mitchell were asked for guidance about which methods could be eliminated. They also deliberated “damn near every day how we could help our government and not do the things we were doing,” Dr. Jessen said. He said they developed an alternative involving less physical coercion, but never had the chance to put it into practice. He would not provide details because the plans remain classified.

Still, Dr. Mitchell asserted that the current legal limits on interrogation methods were too restrictive, and both men said that some of the physically harsh techniques were useful. “Walling,” in which a prisoner is repeatedly slammed against a flexible plywood wall, was “one of the most effective,” Dr. Jessen said. “It’s discombobulating. It doesn’t hurt you, but it jostles the inner ear, it makes a really loud noise.”

He also described extreme sleep deprivation: “There is a tether anchored to the ceiling in the center of the detention cell. The detainee has handcuffs and they’re attached to the tether in a way that they can’t lie down or rest against a wall. They’re monitored to make sure they don’t get edema if they hang on the cuffs too much.”

Mr. Salim, responding to questions about the same technique, described it as excruciating: “A lot of pain in my arms, a lot of pains in my back and around my waist.”

In his deposition, Dr. Mitchell revealed that he, along with others, urged the C.I.A. to destroy videotapes the agency had made of some interrogations. The destruction of the tapes became the subject of investigations both by the Justice Department and Congress.

Dr. Mitchell explained his reasoning about the graphic images of waterboarding and other practices: “I thought they were ugly and they would, you know, potentially endanger our lives by putting our pictures out so that the bad guys could see us.”

Both men denied accusations that they evaluated the effectiveness of the methods they promoted. However, the advocacy group Physicians for Human Rights, in a report being released this week, contends that the men and the C.I.A. engaged in unethical experimentation on detainees, which is banned by the Nuremberg Code for health professionals developed after World War II.

The group said the explicit mention of applied research in the psychologists’ contracts with the agency, released recently through the lawsuit, and similar references in recently released C.I.A. cables, indicate that the enhanced interrogation program “was itself an applied research regime and implicitly conceptualized as such by the C.I.A.”

Gul Rahman died in C.I.A. custody in Afghanistan in 2002. His estate is a plaintiff in the lawsuit brought by the A.C.L.U. and the Gibbons law firm. Habib Rahman

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Gibbons law firm of Newark brought the lawsuit on behalf of Mr. Salim, Mr. Ben Soud and the estate of a third man, Gul Rahman, who died in C.I.A. custody in Afghanistan in 2002, most likely of hypothermia. Dr. Jessen, who participated in Mr. Rahman’s interrogation, said he had asked guards several times to provide clothes and blankets to him.

The case is scheduled for trial on Sept. 5. Last month, both sides asked Judge Justin L. Quackenbush of Federal District Court to rule summarily in their favor. He has not yet ruled, but did grant the United States government’s request to block the deposition of two additional former C.I.A. officials as witnesses and the release of certain documents requested by Drs. Mitchell and Jessen, on grounds it could harm national security. However, the case was permitted to continue.

Video production by Malachy Browne, Natalie Reneau and Sheri Fink.
Design and production by Danny DeBelius.