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Outsourcing Torture

According to the Senate report, the CIA’s torture was outsourced to private enterprise.

Bruce Jessen and James E. Mitchell weren’t just hired to question prisoners. The former Air Force psychologists were paid $81 million to create a company that would torture prisoners on an industrial scale.

CIA Director Michael Hayden assured Congress that his interrogators were highly trained. That was not true. Neither Jessen nor Mitchell had any experience as interrogators. They were not fluent in the languages of the prisoners and they did not know anything about al Qaeda, Islam, or the culture of the Middle East. Their only expertise lay in abusing Air Force pilots, to demonstrate how they would be treated, should they be captured by a ruthless enemy. Nor did either man have any medical training, so they could not have saved a prisoner’s’ life if, for example, he drowned while being waterboarded, or had his intestines pierced by so-called “rectal feeding tubes.”

It’s too late to prosecute these torturers, the politicians who led them to “the dark side,” or the lawyers who wrote bogus legal pyletorturememoranda to give them “get out of jail free” cards. The Obama administration has seen to that. Together with the intelligence committees and the CIA, the president and the attorney general made sure that hard evidence of the torture would not be disclosed until the time limit on prosecutions had run out. Even now, the committee has not identified who was specifically responsible, at which points, for the torture policy.

So, what can be done? Congress could extend the statute of limitations, but it won’t. Like the Obama administration, many of its members don’t believe in the rule of law. Republicans, in particular, believe these torturers are patriots who acted in “good faith,” and rammed plastic tubes up men’s asses because some government lawyer said they could, so long as they called it something else.

But maybe the Republicans, who take over in January and pride themselves on fiscal responsibility, could investigate the psychologists’ contract as a waste of money, much as Harry Truman kept contractors honest during World War II. The original agreement was for $180 million. That’s a lot, even by government standards. The Justice Department, run by Democrats,
limited the Senate committee, run by Democrats, to looking only at documents. But that criminal inquiry is now over and the time to prosecute has run out. So now, perhaps, the Republicans could ask the CIA officials what they had in mind for $180 million: a corporation, surely, with its own offices and security and an aversion to keeping good records, should news of its activities leak; a staff of torturers who could be dispatched, anywhere on earth at a moment’s notice, to interrogate new prisoners, with cover identities to conceal their real professions; and a retirement plan and medical insurance for these patriots, when their brutality was no longer required.

If torture was outsourced to private industry, what about the construction of “black site” prisons in Poland, Lithuania, Bulgaria Afghanistan, Iraq, Thailand, North Africa, and elsewhere.

Surely some corporation – Brown, Root & Kellogg, perhaps – had an even larger contract for that. And the secret air carrier with Gulf Stream jets to flew kidnapped CIA prisoners though more than 140 cooperating countries must have had contracts too. Did we get our money’s worth?

But these secret companies don’t begin to represent the private industry that is secretly feeding off the corpse of American democracy. At last count the NSA was employing 5,400 corporations to eavesdrop on just about everyone in the world, while retired CIA executives like George Tenet and Michael Hayden, and hundreds of others like them, alongside about half of Congress’s recent retirees, have been getting rich lobbying their former associates for still more no-bid, secret contracts.

Since 9/11, a frightened Congress has thrown more than $40 billion a year at a this secret industry with little or no oversight by Congress, including the committee that wrote this report. That’s the real scandal here, besides the torture.

Christopher H. Pyle teaches constitutional law and civil liberties at Mount Holyoke College. He is the author of Military Surveillance of Civilian Politics and Getting Away with Torture. He  is currently writing a book about money in politics.In 1970, he disclosed the U.S. military’s surveillance of civilian politics and worked as a consultant to three Congressional committees, including the Church Committee.