The use of psychologists was also considered a way for C.I.A. officials to skirt measures such as the Convention Against Torture. The former adviser to the intelligence community said, “Clearly, some senior people felt they needed a theory to justify what they were doing. You can’t just say, ‘We want to do what Egypt’s doing.’ When the lawyers asked what their basis was, they could say, ‘We have Ph.D.s who have these theories.’ ” He said that, inside the C.I.A., where a number of scientists work, there was strong internal opposition to the new techniques. “Behavioral scientists said, ‘Don’t even think about this!’ They thought officers could be prosecuted.”
Nevertheless, the SERE experts’ theories were apparently put into practice with Zubaydah’s interrogation. Zubaydah told the Red Cross that he was not only waterboarded, as has been previously reported; he was also kept for a prolonged period in a cage, known as a “dog box,” which was so small that he could not stand. According to an eyewitness, one psychologist advising on the treatment of Zubaydah, James Mitchell, argued that he needed to be reduced to a state of “learned helplessness.” (Mitchell disputes this characterization.)
Steve Kleinman, a reserve Air Force colonel and an experienced interrogator who has known Mitchell professionally for years, said that “learned helplessness was his whole paradigm.” Mitchell, he said, “draws a diagram showing what he says is the whole cycle. It starts with isolation. Then they eliminate the prisoners’ ability to forecast the future—when their next meal is, when they can go to the bathroom. It creates dread and dependency. It was the K.G.B. model. But the K.G.B. used it to get people who had turned against the state to confess falsely. The K.G.B. wasn’t after intelligence.”
This article by Jane Meyer in the New Yorker is one of those where it's hard to pick out only a few paragraphs to cite, as the article recounts one outrage after another. But the gist of it is men and women in the Bush administration designed, supervised and "perfected" a system of torture whose purpose appears largely to have been to break men both innocent and guilty to produce false confessions that were politically advantageous and could be trumpeted as "victories" in the "war on terror." This was at the cost only of our moral standing in the world and the tenets of freedom and liberty that this country represents. If we are very, very lucky, a few of these people will see the inside of a jail cell. Most of them will go about their lives believing they were entirely justified in what they did, including our President, and only some of those who did the actual torturing will find it difficult to sleep at night.