The Torture Trainers and the American Psychological Association


The CIA’s Torture Teachers, psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen [see Eban and Mayer for a reminder of their work], are in the news again. In a front page New York Times article on the interrogation of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, it is mentioned that the subject of the story, Deuce Martinez is now employed by the dynamic torture firm:

His life today is quiet by comparison with the secret interrogations of 2002 and 2003. But Mr. Martinez has not turned away entirely from his old world. He now works for Mitchell & Jessen Associates, a consulting company run by former military psychologists who advised the C.I.A. on the use of harsh tactics in the secret program.

His new employer sent Mr. Martinez right back to the agency. For now, the unlikely interrogator of the man perhaps most responsible for the horrors of 9/11 teaches other C.I.A. analysts the arcane art of tracking terrorists.

As Katherine Eban explaines what was so distinctive about this firm:

Mitchell and Jessen reverse-engineered the tactics inflicted on sere trainees for use on detainees in the global war on terror, according to psychologists and others with direct knowledge of their activities. The C.I.A. put them in charge of training interrogators in the brutal techniques, including “waterboarding,” at its network of “black sites.”

They exemplified the CIA’s humane treatment of detainees:

Mitchell had a tougher approach in mind. The C.I.A. interrogators explained that they were going to become Zubaydah’s “God.” If he refused to cooperate, he would lose his clothes and his comforts one by one. At the safe house, the interrogators isolated him. They would enter his room just once a day to say, “You know what I want,” then leave again.

As Zubaydah clammed up, Mitchell seemed to conclude that Zubaydah would talk only when he had been reduced to complete helplessness and dependence. With that goal in mind, the C.I.A. team began building a coffin in which they planned to bury the detainee alive.

It seems that the coffin may not in the end have been used.

So Deuce Martinez, so according to the Times followed torture sessions with “rapport-based” session, getting KSM to talk. They report that he turned down a CIA offer of specialized training in the “enhanced interrogation techniques,”  aka torture, not because he objected but because he believed his talents lay elsewhere. As Eban explains, that training would have been with the torture duo:

Interrogators who were sent for classified training inevitably wound up in a Mitchell-Jessen “shop,” and some balked at their methods. Instead of the careful training touted by President Bush, some recruits allegedly received on-the-job training during brutal interrogations that effectively unfolded as live demonstrations.

The very fact that he accepted employment with the nation’s premier torture firm indicates that he had no ethical qualms about the Mitchell-Jessen approach.

The American Psychological Association has a long relationship with Mitchell and Jessen. Their firm was authorized to give APA Continuing Education credits, though rumor indicates that may no longer be the case:

Mitchell, Jessen, and Associates, LLC (MJA) is an executive consulting firm specializing in the area of understanding, predicting, and improving performance in high-risk and extreme situations. MJA develops specialized assessment and selection programs for high-risk occupations, devises and conducts tailored training for related, high-risk programs, and is additionally approved by the American Psychological Association to offer continuing professional education for psychologists.

After the Mitchell-Jessen directed torture of Abu Zubaydah resulted in numerous false leads that wasted thousands of hours of law enforcement time, the CIA together with the APA and the Rand Corporation conducted an invitation-only workshop on the Science of Deception, Mitchell, Jessen, and their likely CIA supervisor, Kirk Hubbard, were invited. Many APA leaders were likely also there, so it strains credulity that they are not intimately aware of Mitchell and Jessen’s work. Interestingly, the APA leadership has conveniently “lost” the attendance list.

As a further indication of APA’s connection to the CIA’s torture firm, one of the five “governing people” on the torture firm’s Board is former American Psychological Association President, Joseph Matarazzo. The APA is intensely disturbed by President Matzrazzo’s possible involvement in torture as can be gleamed from these ethically-principled quotes from APA leadership when Matzrazzo’s involvement was revealed last summer.

Then APA President Sharon Brehm: “No comment.”

APA Director of the Ethics Office and APA point man  on torture and interrogations: “No comment.”

But one official did have a comment, which says everything one needs to knopw about the ethics of APA leadership.

“Dr. Matarazzo was president of APA 18 years ago,” Rhea Farberman, the organization’s director of public affairs, said in a prepared statement.

“Since that time, he has had no active role in APA governance but has been actively involved in the American Psychological Foundation (APF), the charitable giving arm of APA. Dr. Matarazzo currently holds no governance positions in either APA or APF,” the statement said.

Matarazzo’s “professional activities are outside and independent of any role he has played within APA and APF,” the statement said. “We have no direct knowledge about the business dealing of Mitchell’s and Jessen’s company; however, APA’s position is clear – torture or other forms of cruel or inhuman treatment are always unethical.”

Notice the deep concern for Mitchell and Jessen’s and, potentially, Matarazzo’s, actions expressed in this statement. Notice the (missing) promise to investigate and, if confirmed, discipline this former APA President. After all, while “torture is unethical", this former President’s “professional activities” are no concern of the APA.

Meanwhile, the Times article informs us that Mitchell & Jessen  Associates is still in the CIA’s good graces. Most likely they still have the torture contract. And as for the APA, they will most likely continue to forget about the firm’s connection to them. Coincidentally, the morning before the new New York Times article appeared, a member of the APA’s Board sent out to various listserv’s an odd statement:


I wanted to share the fact that APA is aware of the concerns that two Washington state psychologists were employed by the Department of Defense to reverse-engineer survival and resistance training (which is designed to help U.S. military personnel in the event they are captured) for use in interrogations. These two psychologists are not APA members so are out of the reach of the APA’s ethics enforcement process but, nevertheless, APA’s position on inappropriate interrogations techniques is very clear.

In August of 2007, the APA Council of Representatives passed a resolution condemning the use of 19 interrogation techniques because they were unethical, abusive and constituted torture. These condemned techniques included waterboarding, forced nakedness, sexual humiliation, stress positions and the use of dogs to intimidate.

In terms of active duty military psychologists being used as trainers of harsh interrogation techniques, the media reports that I have seen suggest this was not the case. Rather, these reports have singled out military psychologists as raising concerns about aggressive interrogation techniques including waterboarding, forced nakedness and sleep depravation.

Notice that this esteemed APA board member cannot distinguish between the Defense Department, the subject of this week’s Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) hearings, and the CIA that employed Mitchell and Jessen. Notice too that she conveniently ignores former APA President Matarazzo’s possible involvement in Mitchell and Jessens’s activities and also ignores the fact that APA invited Mitchell and Jessen to the APA-CIA-Rand conference.

One also may wonder what “media reports” this Board member read which featured military psychologists protesting abuse as the main story. After all, the Associated Press began its first story on the SASC investigation by stating:

"Military psychologists were enlisted to help develop more aggressive interrogation methods, including snarling dogs, forced nudity and long periods of standing, against terrorism suspects, according to a Senate investigation."

Further, SASC Chair Carl Levin described in his opening statement how:

"a… senior CIA lawyer, Jonathan Fredman, who was chief counsel to the CIA’s CounterTerrorism Center, went to GTMO, attended a meeting of GTMO staff and discussed a memo proposing the use of aggressive interrogation techniques. That memo had been drafted by a psychologist and psychiatrist from GTMO who, a couple of weeks earlier, had attended the training given at Fort Bragg by instructors from the JPRA SERE school.

While the memo remains classified, minutes from the meeting where it was discussed are not. Those minutes (TAB 7) clearly show that the focus of the discussion was aggressive techniques for use against detainees."

If this esteemed Board member had paid greater attention to these SASC hearings she would have discovered that they revealed the direct involvement of several psychologists in planning Guantanamo torture. Col. Morgan Banks, who had been appointed a member of the APA’s PENS (Psychological Ethics and National Security ethics task force) was described by one of the SASC witnesses as requesting training in “exploitation… of detainees” from the military’s SERE (Survival, Evasion, resistance, an Escape) program, which administered torture  to US military personnel in case they were captured by a force that doesn’t respect the Geneva Conventions.

But, most chillingly, at the SASC  hearings, 63 pages of documents were released, including the minutes of an October 2, 2002 meeting at Guantanamo to develop torture strategy and techniques. Psychologist Maj. John Leso, a member of the Behavioral Science Consultation Team, and the psychologist described by Levin in the quote above, attended the meeting.

According to these minutes, the BSCT proposed an approach to detainees based upon the following principles:

What’s more effective than fear based strategies are camp-wide environmental strategies designed to disrupt cohesion and communication among detainees

The environment should foster dependence and compliance

Psychological stress = extremely effective (i.e., sleep deprivation, withholding food, isolation, loss of time)…

Disrupting the normal camp operations is vital, We need to create an environment of “controlled chaos”

Evidently, according to this esteemed APA Board member, creating an environment of “controlled  chaos” designed to “foster dependence and compliance” and utilizing “sleep deprivation, withholding food, isolation, loss of time” constitutes objecting to torture. I’m sure most who paid attention to the evidence might conclude otherwise.

Unfortunately, to this date the APA has ignored multiple ethics complaints extending back several years against Maj. Leso based upon his documented participation in the torture of Mohammed al-Qahtani, Guantanamo prisoner 063. Perhaps this esteemed colleague, rather than making unsubstantiated claims about supposed anti-torture activities, will push the organization to discipline this military psychologist who is documented to have participated in abuse.

STEPHEN SOLDZ is a psychoanalyst, psychologist, public health researcher, and faculty member at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. He maintains the Psychoanalysts for Peace and Justice web site and the Psyche, Science, and Society blog. He is a founder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology, one of the organizations leading the struggle to change American Psychological Association policy on participation in abusive interrogations.



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