!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News

Context of 'August 12, 2009: Former SERE Chief: Techniques to ‘Break’ Prisoners Not Useful for Extracting Information'

This is a scalable context timeline. It contains events related to the event August 12, 2009: Former SERE Chief: Techniques to ‘Break’ Prisoners Not Useful for Extracting Information. You can narrow or broaden the context of this timeline by adjusting the zoom level. The lower the scale, the more relevant the items on average will be, while the higher the scale, the less relevant the items, on average, will be.

The law offices of Mitchell, Jessen and Associates are in this American Legion Building in Spokane, Washington.The law offices of Mitchell, Jessen and Associates are in this American Legion Building in Spokane, Washington. [Source: Brian Plonka / Spokesman-Review]The FBI has been interrogating captured al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida at a secret CIA prison in Thailand and learning valuable intelligence information (see Late March through Early June, 2002). However, the prison is controlled by the CIA and the FBI is only in control until a team of CIA interrogators arrives, which apparently happens around mid-April 2002. The FBI has been using humane rapport-building techniques, but the new CIA team immediately abandons this approach. The team is lead by psychologist James Mitchell, who runs a consulting business in Washington State with psychologist Bruce Jessen (see January 2002 and After). Both worked in SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape), a classified US military training program which trains soldiers to endure being tortured by the enemy. Mitchell and Jessen reverse-engineered the techniques inflicted in the SERE training so they could be used on Zubaida and other detainees. [Vanity Fair, 7/17/2007] SERE trainees are subjected to “waterboarding (simulated drowning), sleep deprivation, isolation, exposure to temperature extremes, enclosure in tiny spaces, bombardment with agonizing sounds, and religious and sexual humiliation.” One European official knowledgeable about the SERE program will say of Mitchell and Jessen: “They were very arrogant, and pro-torture.… They sought to render the detainees vulnerable—to break down all of their senses.” The use of these psychologists also helps to put a veneer of scientific respectability over the torture techniques favored by top officials. One former US intelligence community adviser will later say: “Clearly, some senior people felt they needed a theory to justify what they were doing. You can’t just say, ‘We want to do what Egypt’s doing.’ When the lawyers asked what their basis was, they could say, ‘We have PhD’s who have these theories.’” [New Yorker, 8/6/2007] But Mitchell and Jessen have no experience in conducting interrogations and have no proof that their techniques are effective. In fact, the SERE techniques are based on Communist interrogation techniques from the Korean War, designed not to get valuable intelligence but to generate propaganda by getting US prisoners to make statements denouncing the US (see December 2001). Air Force Reserve colonel Steve Kleinman, an expert in human intelligence operations, will later say he finds it astonishing the CIA “chose two clinical psychologists who had no intelligence background whatsoever, who had never conducted an interrogation… to do something that had never been proven in the real world.” FBI official Michael Rolince calls their techniques “voodoo science.” In 2006, a report by the best-known interrogation experts in the US will conclude that there is no evidence that reverse-engineered SERE tactics are effective in obtaining useful intelligence. But nonetheless, from this time forward Zubaida’s interrogations will be based on these techniques. [Vanity Fair, 7/17/2007]

Entity Tags: James Elmer Mitchell, Abu Zubaida, Steve Kleinman, Michael Rolince, Bruce Jessen, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Malcolm Nance, the former master instructor and chief of training at the Navy’s Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) School who now serves as a consultant on counterterrorism and terrorism intelligence for the US government, makes a cogent point about “breaking” interrogation subjects. Nance is interviewed by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who asks: “One of the other things that I think is a term that sort of gets bandied around by civilians who don’t have experience in these things when we talk about, not only the politics of interrogation, but also the utility of interrogation, is this idea of somebody being broken, a prisoner, the subject of an interrogation being a broken person. And that was described by political actors about interrogation techniques as sort of the goal, about what the idea was to—what the object was of what we wanted to be doing to al-Qaeda prisoners. Does breaking a person in interrogation terms make sense if what you’re trying to do is get real information out of them?” Nance replies, “The process of ‘breaking,’ quote-unquote, a prisoner is not something interrogators do. Interrogators really don’t want to break you down as a human being and take away all of your ability to think and reason and give a coherent answer. That was something that was developed by totalitarian and hostile regimes who saw that a confession is what they wanted out of you. They didn’t care whether you had done it or not. A confession is what they needed out of you, and to get that confession, what they would do is break you physically, psychologically, and mentally so that you could get into a state of learned helplessness and you would comply no matter what they would say. Now, this killed hundreds, if not thousands, of American service members in Korea, World War II, and Vietnam. And this is not something which any real interrogator would want to try because, of course, at that point, you are not getting information. You are just getting compliance. And any idiot can comply and that makes no intelligence whatsoever.” Nance and Maddow note that former SERE psychologists Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell, the two SERE psychologists who designed the US torture program (see Late 2001-Mid-March 2002, January 2002 and After, Late March through Early June, 2002, April - June 2002, Mid-April 2002, April 16, 2002, Between Mid-April and Mid-May 2002, Mid-May 2002 and After, June 2002, July 2002, April 2009, and April 30, 2009), were experienced in the methodologies of “breaking” prisoners and not in extracting useful information. [MSNBC, 8/13/2009]

Entity Tags: Bruce Jessen, Rachel Maddow, Malcolm Nance, James Mitchell

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Ordering 

Time period


Email Updates

Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database

 
Donate

Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
Donate Now

Volunteer

If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.
Contact Us

Creative Commons License Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike