‘Enhanced Interrogation’ Architect Dr. James Mitchell’s Testimony at Guantánamo Highlights His Role in U.S. Torture, Debasement of Psychological Ethics: PHR – Physicians for Human Rights

Psychologist Dr. James Mitchell – architect of the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation”
program and a key figure in health professionals’ shameful record of participation
in torture – is
testifying
[1] for the first time before a U.S. military court at Guantánamo
Bay. His accounting of why and how the United States inflicted torture on
detainees offers a new window into the extreme abuses that occurred and the
perverse efforts to develop and justify these criminal techniques.

Showing little remorse, the discredited psychologist said he “would do
it again.”
[2] He also reportedly[3] testified
that the CIA took the program beyond where he was willing to take it.

As nearly two decades of Physicians
for Human Rights (PHR) research and advocacy have made clear, the post-September
11 U.S. torture program constituted a systematic, illegal, and unethical regime of human rights violations. The complicity
of health professionals like Dr. James Mitchell and his collaborator, Dr. Bruce
Jessen, represents one of the gravest breaches of
medical ethics in U.S. history.

PHR published a series[4] of groundbreaking reports and papers
analyzing the severe pain and suffering caused by the so-called enhanced
interrogation techniques, a euphemism for torture, and documenting the U.S.
government’s authorization and use of these criminal interrogation methods on
detainees. PHR has also exposed the unethical and illegal role of health
professionals in the development and implementation of these violations of
human rights:

  • PHR’s 2017 report[5]  “Nuremberg
    Betrayed” showed that CIA contract psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce
    Jessen created a research program in which health professionals designed and
    applied torture techniques and collected data on torture’s effects.
  • PHR’s 2015 briefing paper[6] “Truth Matters,” based on the Senate
    torture report, analyzed the operational goal of Mitchell and Jessen to destroy
    human beings using methods and practices long recognized as torture.
  • PHR’s 2014 report[7] “Doing Harm” analyzed evidence of medical complicity in
    torture and showed how health professionals who participated in the CIA torture
    program violated core ethical principles common to all healing professions.

A curated list of research relevant to Mitchell’s testimony
and health professionals’ complicity in torture is included at the bottom of
this release.

In response to Dr. Mitchell’s Guantánamo testimony, psychologist Dr. Stephen Soldz[8] – PHR anti-torture advisor and a leading expert on the roles of psychologists in U.S. detention abuses – provided the following statement. Dr. Soldz is available for interview; please contact [email protected][9] for more information.

“This week’s testimony by former CIA contract psychologist Dr. James
Mitchell illustrates yet again the brutality of the U.S. government’s decision
to resort to torture after 9/11. It also reflects what a profound mistake it is
to have psychologists serve as interrogators or intelligence officers.
Psychologists are professionals dedicated to improving the welfare and
relieving the suffering of people; they commit to ‘do no harm.’

“The role of psychologists in national security interrogations has been
a subject of major debate within the psychological profession and its largest
association, the American Psychological Association (APA), since shortly after the 9/11 attacks. This
participation was defended by claims that psychologist involvement would keep
interrogations ‘safe, legal, ethical, and effective.’ While Dr. Mitchell’s
testimony is still in its early stages, it has already revealed the absurdity of
this argument.

“Regardless of any claims made by the CIA at the time of the torture
program, experience since then has definitively shown that the program was not ‘safe.’
Follow-up psychological evaluations of those tortured by the CIA have shown
that many suffered severe, life-altering psychological harm that undercut any
claim that the ‘enhanced interrogation’ techniques were not torture.

“After such harm has been clearly documented, the fact that Dr.
Mitchell told the court today that he would ‘do it again’ is appalling.

“In his testimony, Dr. Mitchell also detailed what he called ‘abusive
drift’ among staff and authorizing officials that caused already-vicious interrogations
to become even more brutal. Dr. Mitchell described his failure to constrain
such ‘drift’ toward ever greater violence, reporting that his continued
involvement in the detainee interrogation program was contingent upon him
agreeing to escalating levels of brutality, authorized by U.S. government
superiors.

“Dr. Mitchell’s testimony also illustrated how psychological expertise
can be exploited to provide a scientific patina for torture while offering sanitized
language to protect its promoters from fully grappling with its inherent
violence. Dr. Mitchell provided a supposedly scientific theory – learned
helplessness – as a rationale for torture. He further claimed that the
experience of U.S. service members, who were voluntarily subjected to
time-limited, milder versions of torture techniques under highly controlled
conditions in the military’s SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape)
program, provided evidence that the techniques were ‘safe’ when applied involuntarily
with much greater intensity against helpless and imprisoned detainees. These
detainees were already subjected to highly stressful and terrifying conditions
of confinement, such as continual darkness, constant white noise, and chaining
in painful conditions for long periods.

“Dr. Mitchell’s testimony should provoke deep soul-searching among the
psychology community about how to preserve the ethical foundations of the
profession. I hope it will lead to an examination of how national security
operations can be inconsistent with the psychological profession’s imperative
to ‘do no harm.’”

Dr. Soldz Bio:

Dr. Soldz, a clinical psychologist and professor
at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis, co-founded the Coalition for
an Ethical Psychology. The Coalition has been in the forefront of efforts to
withdraw psychologists from aiding abusive interrogations in U.S. Department of
Defense and CIA facilities. Dr. Soldz has published numerous professional
articles, book chapters, and popular articles on U.S. torture, the roles of
psychologists and the American Psychological Association in U.S. detention
abuses, and related areas of professional ethics. Dr. Soldz has been a
psychological consultant on several Guantánamo detainee legal cases. Dr. Soldz
is a past president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility and is a member
of the APA’s Council of Representatives. He is an anti-torture advisor for
Physicians for Human Rights and was a co-author of PHR’s reports “
Experiments in Torture” and “Doing Harm.”[10][11]

Additionally, psychologist Dr. Steven Reisner[12] – PHR psychological ethics advisor and a leading expert on the roles of psychologists in U.S. detention abuses – provided the following statement on Dr. Mitchell’s testimony. Dr. Reisner is available for interview; please contact [email protected][13].

“James
Mitchell once again uses alleged threats to the homeland to justify America’s
violation of the domestic and international laws against torture. His
statements are consistent with similar arguments offered by the Justice
Department under the Bush administration – that the ‘gloves come off’ and the
rule of law can be abandoned whenever the government deems it appropriate.

“However, for thousands of
years, doctors have taken an oath to use their skills in the interest of doing
good, which can be a check on the potential excesses of government or
authority. Psychologists adhere to an ethics code with an identical mandate to
‘do no harm.’”

“James Mitchell is a living
example of the harm doctors and psychologists do when they deviate from this
ethical obligation. We are living in a time when government policy is
determined less by law or ethical practice, but by the whim and power of the
executive branch. We are living in a time when the President shows his support
for those who torture and commit war crimes. The danger we face as a society
when we acquiesce to hate-driven justifications for abuse and torture is great.
We lose our very humanity and act as a frightened mob.

“Speaking
as a Jew whose parents were tortured – my mother by the Nazis and my father by
the Soviets – I know how easy it is for governments to use fear and rage to
justify cruelty and abuse. The only protection we have in such times is for
citizens and professionals to refuse to violate human rights and their own ethical
standards. It is time for every health professional and every citizen to speak
out in response to James Mitchell’s justifications for torture.”

“There
simply can be no justification for torture. Physicians for Human Rights has
documented the slippery slope doctors and psychologists go down once the first
torture protocol is accepted. Hundreds of detainees were tortured and no useful
information was garnered from the effort. But the United States became a more
brutal country and our people have become more willing to accept government-approved
atrocity. Overruling the laws against torture, cruel, inhuman, or degrading
treatment threatens the character of our nation and the rule of law – not only
for detainees but for all of us.”

Dr. Reisner Bio:

Dr. Steven Reisner, a
clinical psychologist and political activist, co-founded the Coalition for an
Ethical Psychology. The Coalition has been in the forefront of efforts to
change the ethics policy of the American Psychological Association, making it
clearly a violation of its ethics code for psychologists to be present at sites
that systematically violate international human rights law or to participate in
national security interrogations. Dr. Reisner has been a consultant on issues
of trauma, torture, political violence, disaster, and resilience for the United
Nations, the International Criminal Court, the Council of Europe, and other
international organizations. He is the creator and host of MADNESS: The
Podcast, which works to bring psychology back to its primary position of serving
the people rather than serving either the government or capitalism. Dr. Reisner
has published in and interviewed for the nation’s leading news outlets and has
been on the teaching faculty of the clinical psychology program at Columbia
University, the international trauma studies program at New York University,
the NYU Medical School, the Psychoanalytic Association of New York, and the
Women’s Therapy Center Institute. Dr.
Reisner is a psychological ethics advisor to PHR and was a co-author on the PHR
report 
Experiments in Torture.[14]

Additional resources related to the U.S. torture program and health professionals’ participation:

Break Them Down: Systematic Use of
Psychological Torture by U.S. Forces
[15]

As evidence of U.S. national security interrogation practices
emerged, it became clear that psychologically abusive methods of interrogation
were at the core of U.S. intelligence gathering. “Break Them
Down,” published by PHR in May 2005, was the first comprehensive review of
the use of psychological torture by U.S. forces, examining the devastating
health consequences of psychological coercion and explaining how a regime of
psychological torture was put into place in the U.S. “war on terror”.

Leave No Marks: Enhanced Interrogation
Techniques and the Risk of Criminality
[16]

This landmark report for the first time revealed and documented
medical evidence confirming the first-hand accounts of the excruciating pain
and continued suffering of men who, never charged with any crime, endured
torture at U.S. detention facilities in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantánamo Bay.
PHR-mobilized health professionals conducted intensive clinical evaluations of
the men, documenting practices used to bring about long-lasting pain, terror,
humiliation, and shame. The report demonstrated that the authorization of these
techniques, whether practiced alone or in combination, may constitute torture
and/or cruel and inhuman treatment, and may place interrogators at serious
legal risk of prosecution for war crimes and other violations.

Experiments in Torture: Evidence of Human
Subject Research and Experimentation in the “Enhanced” Interrogation Program
[17]

PHR’s 2010 publication, “Experiments in Torture,” is the
first report to reveal evidence indicating that U.S. military and intelligence
medical personnel allegedly engaged in illegal experimentation on prisoners
captured after 9/11, in addition to the previously disclosed crime of
torture. Those experiments observed and analyzed the physical and
psychological impact on detainees of the use of “enhanced interrogation
techniques.”

Doing Harm: Health Professionals’ Central Role
in the CIA Torture Program
[18]

On December 9, 2014, the U.S. Senate Select Committee on
Intelligence released the executive summary, findings, and conclusions of its
6,700-page report on the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program. This
detailed review 
[19]of the 500-page executive summary analyzes
evidence of medical complicity in torture and shows how health professionals
who participated in the CIA torture program violated core ethical principles
common to all healing professions.

Truth Matters: Accountability for CIA
Psychological Torture
[20]

The Senate torture report documents the abuses that followed the
development of a comprehensive program of detainee torture by CIA personnel
with the help of psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. This
briefing paper
[21], based on the Senate torture report, analyzes the operational
goal of Mitchell and Jessen and its effect in destroying human beings using
methods and practices long recognized as torture.

Nuremberg Betrayed: Human Experimentation and
the CIA Torture Program
[22]

Based on an analysis of thousands of pages of documents and years
of research, PHR shows that the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program constituted an
illegal, unethical regime of experimental research on unwilling human
subjects. In this
report,
[23] PHR researchers show that CIA contract psychologists James
Mitchell and Bruce Jessen created a research program in which health
professionals designed and applied torture techniques and collected data on
torture’s effects. This constitutes one of the gravest breaches of medical
ethics by U.S. health personnel since the Nuremberg Code was developed in the
wake of Nazi medical atrocities committed during World War Two.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.[24]

References

  1. ^ is
    testifying
    (www.nytimes.com)
  2. ^ “would do
    it again.”
    (www.latimes.com)
  3. ^ reportedly (www.npr.org)
  4. ^ series (phr.org)
  5. ^ PHR’s 2017 report (phr.org)
  6. ^ PHR’s 2015 briefing paper (phr.org)
  7. ^ PHR’s 2014 report (phr.org)
  8. ^ Dr. Stephen Soldz (phr.org)
  9. ^ [email protected] (phr.org)
  10. ^ Experiments in Torture” (phr.org)
  11. ^ Doing Harm (phr.org)
  12. ^ Dr. Steven Reisner (phr.org)
  13. ^ [email protected] (phr.org)
  14. ^ Experiments in Torture. (phr.org)
  15. ^ Break Them Down: Systematic Use of
    Psychological Torture by U.S. Forces
    (phr.org)
  16. ^ Leave No Marks: Enhanced Interrogation
    Techniques and the Risk of Criminality
    (phr.org)
  17. ^ Experiments in Torture: Evidence of Human
    Subject Research and Experimentation in the “Enhanced” Interrogation Program
    (phr.org)
  18. ^ Doing Harm: Health Professionals’ Central Role
    in the CIA Torture Program
    (phr.org)
  19. ^ This
    detailed review 
    (s3.amazonaws.com)
  20. ^ Truth Matters: Accountability for CIA
    Psychological Torture
    (phr.org)
  21. ^ This
    briefing paper
    (phr.org)
  22. ^ Nuremberg Betrayed: Human Experimentation and
    the CIA Torture Program
    (phr.org)
  23. ^ In this
    report,
    (phr.org)
  24. ^ Learn more here. (phr.org)

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