"In a secret CIA prison in Thailand, codenamed Detention Site Green, Abu Zubaydah sat shackled to a chair, naked except for a hood over his head. The windowless cell was painted white and illuminated by four halogen lights.
The terrorist said to have ranked third in al-Qaeda had been captured in Pakistan five months earlier, in March 2002. He had endured relentless questioning, but this day would be different: an American former military psychologist working as a CIA contractor and identified last week by the pseudonym Grayson Swigert would run the interrogation.
For the first time, Swigert had been authorised to use up to 11 “enhanced interrogation techniques”. According to critics of the Orwellian-sounding “EIT programme”, the US was entering the torture business.
The CIA officers interrogating Abu Zubaydah were directed by Swigert and a fellow PhD in psychology, given the name Hammond Dunbar, to place a rolled towel around his neck. They removed his hood, grabbed his face and forced him to watch a coffin being brought into the cell. He was slapped and slammed against a wall.
Six hours later, Swigert decreed that “waterboarding” would begin. Abu Zubaydah was held down as water was poured on to a cloth over his face, simulating drowning.
According to CIA records, Abu Zubaydah vomited and had “involuntary spasms of the torso and extremities”. He was to be waterboarded at least 83 times over the next 17 days. On one occasion, he “became completely unresponsive with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth”.
An incendiary 525-page report summary released by Democrats on the Senate select committee on intelligence last week portrayed Swigert as the architect of a regime of torture. It depicted Swigert and Dunbar as profiteers who had duped the CIA into paying their company $81m (£51m).
“Neither psychologist had any experience as an interrogator, nor did either have specialised knowledge of al-Qaeda, a background in counterterrorism, or any relevant cultural or linguistic expertise,” the report stated.
Speaking at his home outside Tampa, Florida, James Mitchell, 62, a veteran of US air force special forces and a former instructor at its Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) school, acknowledged that he was Swigert. He blasted the report, which has been bitterly criticised by the CIA and branded by Republicans as a partisan “hit job”. Dunbar was identified as a one-time Mormon bishop from Idaho called Bruce Jessen.
From 2002 to 2009, Feinstein said, 119 terrorist suspects — 26 of whom were innocent — were subjected to “coercive interrogation techniques, in some cases amounting to torture” at CIA “black sites” in Thailand, Poland, Romania, Lithuania and Afghanistan."
Just a few points:
1. The fact that one of these guys is a former Mormon bishop should not be surprising. The War on Terror has been in many ways a battle of Our Fundamentalists versus Their Fundamentalists.
2. I tend not to make much out of the fact that both of these guys had Ph.D.s in psychology. They weren't exactly using sophisticated psychological techniques to extract information.
3. A lot of people have made a lot of money off of the War on Terror. That includes psychologists Martin Seligman and Paul Ekman.
4. As I always say, if you condone torture, you must be prepared to torture innocent people. In fact, torturing the innocent child of a suspected terrorist in front of said suspect is one of the most effective means of eliciting information. (Just ask Saddam Hussein.) What? Don't like it? Then don't open that door.
5. People need to remember that the CIA exists to do illegal and immoral things. You don't need a secret intelligence organization to do legal and moral things. In my view, their greatest crime is that anyone found out about these activities -- some secret keepers.