Two related stories about torture or more specifically the clinical nature of physical and psychological abuse when practiced by mature, Western democracies and their institutions. The first comes from the United States and a Daily Beast article examining the legal excuses offered by the American psychologists tasked with perfecting the torture techniques of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the early 2000s. The men and their lawyers have reached back to defence arguments used by Nazi war criminals and their associates during the Nuremburg Trials from 1945 to 1946. Which speaks volumes of the cases against them.
As contractor psychologists for the agency, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen played an integral role in designing the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program.They personally waterboarded Abu Zubaydah, a detainee effectively used as human guinea pig for torture. And the company they subsequently founded to contract with the CIA on the brutal interrogations earned them $81 million, according to the 2014 Senate torture report. Senator Dianne Feinstein called it “a stain on our values and on our history.”
Unlike every senior U.S. official who ordered and implemented the program, Mitchell and Jessen now face civil – though not criminal – liability.
After failing to convince a federal judge in Washington state to dismiss the suit, attorneys for Mitchell and Jessen have settled on an unexpected argument ahead of a critical Friday court hearing. They’re like contractors to Nazis and other war criminals, attorneys claim, but the sort that war-crimes tribunals have exonerated.
In a recent filing in the case, Mitchell and Jessen’s attorneys portray the two contract psychologists as analogous to those who made the Zyklon B gas used to murder Jews and others in Nazi concentration camps.
Mitchell and Jessen’s lawyers note that in a British military court in 1946, the Zyklon manufacturing company Tesch & Stabenow’s “first gassing technician” was ultimately acquitted. Although the technician, Joachim Drohsin, played “an integral part of the supply and use of the poison gas,” the British court wrote, he was “without influence” and was found not guilty.
The second story comes from the United Kingdom and Tom Griffin writing for Open Democracy on more revelations from the first phase of Britain’s late 20th century colonial war in Ireland.
British forces in Northern Ireland used waterboarding and electric shock treatment on detainees during the 1970s, newly uncovered files show. Witness statements and internal Whitehall correspondence released for the first time last month could have significant implications for international human rights law and British-Irish relations.
One victim of waterboarding in Belfast spoke out publicly about his experience for the first time at following the recovery of his original testimony from 1972, which recounts that he ‘felt like I was drowning or suffocating until I fell on the floor unconscious’
The documents were revealed at an event in London…
They add to growing evidence that interrogation practices in Northern Ireland went beyond those criticised by the European Court of Human Rights in the 1978 case of Ireland v. the United Kingdom. The so-called ‘five techniques’ examined in that judgement included deprivation of sleep, deprivation of food and drink, stress positions, hooding and subjection to ‘white noise’.
Although the European Court condemned these practices as ‘inhuman and degrading’ it refused to describe them as torture. This paradoxically opened the way for the ruling to be used as a blueprint by interrogators, notably in the ‘torture memos’ drafted by the Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the US John Yoo to justify practices used during the earliest phase of the ‘War on Terror’.
Previous revelations regarding the suppression of medical evidence in 2014 prompted the Irish Government to re-open the original case. The discovery that interrogation practices went beyond the five techniques, and included waterboarding and electric shock treatment, is likely to increase pressure on the European Court to alter its original verdict. In February this year, Channel 4 news covered allegations that British paratroopers had used waterboarding against two Irish men, with the knowledge of then Prime Minister Edward Heath. The latest revelations show the practice was not a one-off.
Indeed, it was the norm.