Civil Liberties  
comments_image Comments

CIA Psychologist's Notes Reveal True Purpose Behind Bush's Torture Program

One of the architects of the government's top-secret torture program said detainees were brutalized -- and not just to obtain intelligence.
 
 
Share
 
 
 
 

Bush administration officials have long asserted that the torture techniques used on "war on terror" detainees were the last resort in an effort to gain actionable intelligence to thwart pending terrorist attacks against the United States and its interests abroad.

But the handwritten notes obtained exclusively by Truthout drafted two decades ago by Dr. John Bruce Jessen, the psychologist who was under contract to the CIA and credited as being one of the architects of the government's top-secret torture program, tell a dramatically different story about the reasons detainees were brutalized and it was not just about obtaining intelligence. Rather, as Jessen's notes explain, torture was used to "exploit" detainees, that is, to break them down physically and mentally, in order to get them to "collaborate" with government authorities. Jessen's notes emphasize how a "detainer" uses the stresses of detention to produce the appearance of compliance in a prisoner. (Visit Truth-Out.org to see the document it obtained)

A report released in 2009 by the Senate Armed Services Committee about the treatment of detainees in US custody noted that torture techniques approved by the Bush administration were based on survival training exercises U.S. military personnel were taught by individuals like Jessen if they were captured by an enemy regime and subjected to "illegal exploitation" by their captors. The committee's report said Jessen wrote a "Draft Exploitation Plan" in April 2002 the US military used at Guantanamo and at prison facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan. Jessen also co-authored a memo in February 2002 on "Prisoner Handling Recommendations" at Guantanamo. Both of those documents remain classified.

Jessen's notes, prepared for an Air Force survival training course that he later "reverse engineered" when he helped design the Bush administration's torture program, go into far greater detail than the Armed Services Committee's report in explaining how prisoners would be broken down physically and psychologically by their captors. The notes say survival training students could "combat interrogation and torture" if they are captured by an enemy regime by undergoing intense training exercises, using "cognitive" and "exposure techniques" to develop "stress inoculation." [Click here to download a PDF file of Jessen's handwritten notes. Click here to download a zip file of Jessen's notes in typewritten form.]

The documents stand as the first piece of hard evidence to surface in nine years that further explains the psychological aspects of the Bush administration's torture program and the rationale for subjecting detainees to so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques."

Jessen's notes were provided to Truthout by retired Air Force Capt. Michael Kearns, a "master" SERE instructor and decorated veteran who has previously held high-ranking positions within the Air Force Headquarters Staff and Department of Defense (DoD).

Kearns and his boss, Roger Aldrich, the head of the Air Force Intelligence's Special Survial Training Program (SSTP), based out of Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane, Washington, hired Jessen in May 1989. Kearns, who was head of operations at SSTP and trained thousands of service members, said Jessen was brought into the program due to an increase in the number of new SERE courses being taught and "the fact that it required psychological expertise on hand in a full-time basis."

"Special Mission Units"

Jessen, then the chief of Psychology Service at the US Air Force Survival School, immediately started to work directly with Kearns on "a new course for special mission units (SMUs), which had as its goal individual resistance to terrorist exploitation."

The course, known as SV-91, was developed for the Survival Evasion Resistance Escape (SERE) branch of the US Air Force Intelligence Agency, which acted as the Executive Agent Action Office for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Jessen's notes formed the basis for one part of SV-91, "Psychological Aspects of Detention."