As President Donald Trump tweets about the power of torture, the architects of Bush’s torture program are shamed in federal court in Spokane.
GEORGE W. Bush’s torture regime permanently damaged the U.S. moral standing around the world. It continues to be a gift to the radical-Islamic recruiters. It endangers captured U.S. service members, as U.S. Sen. John McCain has emphasized.
While arguments still rage about whether torture produced limited actionable intelligence, it undoubtedly produced piles of junk confessions and left the U.S. unable to prosecute terrorists in open court.
This ignominious legacy should be dead and buried, in a grave President Obama dug. But now, instead of a president who learns from history, we have Donald Trump.
President Trump believes torture “absolutely works,” advocates even for killing the families of terrorists and, just this week, lauded a widely debunked story about U.S. Gen. John Pershing executing Muslim prisoners with bullets dipped in pigs blood. If it were true, it would be a war crime, just like torture.
As usual, Trump’s twitter bravado skipped right past reality. The same day he was promoting the wonders of torture, two CIA-contracted psychologists from Spokane who designed, implemented and personally administered Bush’s torture program settled a lawsuit over the damage they created.
This was the first time the CIA or its contractors were held accountable, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which pressed the federal lawsuit filed in Spokane. The settlement plants a historic flagpole in the righteous legal war against torture.
From their torture lab in the American Legion building in downtown Spokane, psychologists James Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen earned $81 million from a no-bid contract with the CIA. They relied in part on techniques used by Chinese communists to extract false confessions from American soldiers. They personally tested the methods, including waterboarding, on the first tortured terror suspect, 9/11 plotter Abu Zubaydah, according to court briefs.
Six days into their session with Zubaydah, Mitchell and Jessen concluded it was “highly unlikely” he was withholding information they wanted. Yet the torture continued for 11 more days.
Those facts are cited in the ACLU’s court filing, and the public would likely have heard much more about torture if the case had gone to trial in September, as expected.
Among the three plaintiffs represented by the ACLU is Suleiman Salim. The Tanzanian was beaten, hung from chains and forced into simulated drowning before being released without charges in 2008, when the U.S. determined he was no threat.
The torture of another plaintiff, Gul Rahman, continued even after he appeared “incoherent,” according to CIA documents obtained during the lawsuit. Eventually, he froze to death after being kept naked or in a diaper secured with duct tape, with minimal food or sleep.
Mitchell and Jessen settled without admitting culpability, and their attorney said in a statement that “none of that mistreatment was conducted, condoned or caused by Drs. Mitchell and Jessen.”
The documents show the CIA worried the real story of the torture program Jessen and Mitchell designed would come out, and resisted sending detainees who were tortured at CIA “black sites” to other facilities where Red Cross investigators could talk with them. No wonder.
A landmark Senate intelligence investigation into the torture program concluded that a quarter of those tortured were men who went through the CIA’s post-9/11 network of black sites, were picked up by mistake or on evidence that proved unreliable. The list does include high-level terrorists, but also low-level combatants.
There is little reason to believe Trump will learn from this shameful history. But the country must, before we repeat it.