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Context of 'Between Mid-April and Mid-May 2002: CIA Psychologist Opposed to Torture Techniques Planned for Zubaida Leaves in Disgust'

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R. Scott Shumate.R. Scott Shumate. [Source: American Psychological Association]Held in a secret CIA prison in Thailand, al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is interrogated by a new team of CIA interrogators led by James Elmer Mitchell and Dr. R. Scott Shumate. Mitchell is a psychologist contracted to the CIA, while Shumate is the chief operational psychologist for the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center. Mitchell wants to use torture techniques based on reverse-engineering SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape), a class he has taught that trains US soldiers to resist torture by the enemy. But the techniques have never been tried before and studies will later determine they are not effective in obtaining good intelligence (see Mid-April 2002). Zubaida is resistant to Mitchell’s new aggressive techniques and refuses to talk. Mitchell concludes Zubaida will only talk when he has been rendered completely helpless and dependent, so the CIA begins building a coffin to bury Zubaida alive in but not actually kill him. This creates an intense controversy over the legality of such a technique, and ultimately it appears the burying alive is never carried out. Both domestic and international law clearly prohibits death threats and simulated killings. However, a number of aggressive techniques have just been approved at the highest political level (see Mid-March 2002), so opponents to these techniques are mostly powerless. Shumate is so strongly opposed to these techniques that he leaves in disgust. He will later tell his associates that it was a mistake for the CIA to hire Mitchell. But with Shumate gone, Mitchell is now free to use more extreme methods, and the torture of Zubaida begins in earnest around the middle of May. [Vanity Fair, 7/17/2007] Around this time, the FBI also washes its hands of the controversial techniques and withdraws its personnel from the secret prison (see Mid-April-May 2002).

Entity Tags: R. Scott Shumate, Counterterrorist Center, Abu Zubaida, Central Intelligence Agency, James Elmer Mitchell

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Abu Zubaida.Abu Zubaida. [Source: New York Times]The CIA begins interrogating captured al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002), using some aggressive techniques that are commonly considered to be torture. Zubaida was initially interrogated by the FBI using traditional rapport-building techniques, and many believe the FBI was obtaining valuable information (see Late March through Early June, 2002). But he is being held at a secret CIA prison in Thailand (see March 2002), and soon a new CIA team comes in and takes over (see Mid-April 2002). This team, led by controversial psychologist James Elmer Mitchell, uses such extreme methods that the FBI completely withdraws its personnel (see Mid-April-May 2002), and even some CIA personnel leave in disgust (see Between Mid-April and Mid-May 2002). By mid-May, Mitchell’s detractors are gone and the gunshot wounds Zubaida sustained during his capture have stabilized, so Mitchell begins applying even more aggressive interrogation techniques. [Posner, 2003, pp. 186, 191; Suskind, 2006, pp. 110-115] According to one psychologist involved in Zubaida’s interrogation, Mitchell argues that Zubaida needs to be reduced to a state of “learned helplessness.” Reserve Air Force Colonel Steve Kleinman, an experienced interrogator very familiar with Mitchell, will later say that “learned helplessness was his whole paradigm.… It starts with isolation. Then they eliminate the prisoners’ ability to forecast the future—when their next meal is, when they can go to the bathroom. It creates dread and dependency. It was the KGB model. But the KGB used it to get people who had turned against the state to confess falsely. The KGB wasn’t after intelligence.” [New Yorker, 8/6/2007] Journalist Ron Suskind will later claim: “According to CIA sources, [Zubaida] was waterboarded, a technique in which a captive’s face is covered with a towel as water is poured atop, creating the sensation of drowning. He was beaten, though not in a way to worsen his injuries. He was repeatedly threatened, and made certain of his impending death. His medication was withheld. He was bombarded with deafening, continuous noise and harsh lights.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 115] The New York Times will later claim: “At times, Mr. Zubaida, still weak from his wounds, was stripped and placed in a cell without a bunk or blankets. He stood or lay on the bare floor, sometimes with air-conditioning adjusted so that, one official said, Mr. Zubaida seemed to turn blue. At other times, the interrogators piped in deafening blasts of music by groups like the Red Hot Chili Peppers.” [New York Times, 9/10/2006] Zubaida will reportedly later tell the Red Cross that he was also kept for a prolonged period in a cage, known as a “dog box,” so small that he unable to stand. [New Yorker, 8/6/2007] The CIA will claim that these aggressive methods are very effective, and soon it will begin using them on many other detainees. But others will later suggest that Zubaida gave up far less valuable information under torture than he did with the FBI’s rapport-building techniques (see June 2002). The legal authority to conduct these types of interrogations is unclear. The CIA is being advised by Michael Chertoff at the Justice Department, but there will be no formal legal opinion permitting the techniques until August 2002. [New York Times, 9/10/2006]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, James Elmer Mitchell, Abu Zubaida, Steve Kleinman

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

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