New CIA Docs Offer Torture Details, Show Internal Debate

Some in CIA Feared Psychologist Contractors Had Disregard for Ethics

Despite intense efforts to keep most of the details of their use of torture secret over recent years, the CIA’s most recent release of documents included several which shed new light on the practice of torture, as well as underscoring an intense internal debate within the agency about the policy.

Among these were cables about the torture of Abu Zubaydah, revealing he was waterboarded 83 different times in a single month, and kept in a small box to small for him to sit up in for hours on end to induce pain. It also revealed there was a formal policy of smacking him repeatedly head-first into walls, with torturers admonished to put a rolled up towel behind his neck to prevent permanent neck injuries.

The Zubaydah memos are all very clinical, saying things like “water treatment was applied” and that he didn’t offer any new intelligence, before concluding after weeks of vicious abuse that he had not provided “significant actionable intelligence” beyond what they got pre-torture, and that he probably didn’t have anything new to give them.

All of this torture was ongoing under the oversight of a pair of contracted psychologists, James Mitchell and J. Bruce Jessen, who are now facing a lawsuit over their designing of the torture program. CIA officials weren’t nearly as unanimous in supporting the program as they’ve been presented by some, however.

Other documents show internal emails from the CIA’s own medical staff warning that the behavior was indefensible, and that the two contractors showed a “blatant disregard for ethics” in their operation of the program. They also reveal a faction battle between the CIA Counterterrorism Center, which contracted the two men, and the Office of Medical Services, who warned the techniques proposed would “come back to haunt us.”

The collection also grimly includes accounts of the final hours of Gul Rahman, a detainee who died in CIA custody in 2002, with Jessen arguing that Rahman was so physically strong that there would be no way to “break” him while respecting the Geneva Convention.

Since that apparently was no obstacle, Rahman had a hood put over his head and was dragged out of his cell and beaten, which they deccided was “nothing that required treatment.” He was then doused with water and left in a freezing cold sell called the Salt Pit. This is followed by prison records of guards checking Rahman every night to see if he was still alive, and a single entry at the end concluding that he’d finally died.

Last 5 posts by Jason Ditz

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is news editor of

  • Patricia P. Tursi

    Reading about the psychologists participating in torture, makes me ashamed of being a psychologist. Many in APA did oppose the cooperation, however. It is all the more horrible, because some of the prisoners were “bought” by being identified. How reliable is that! For the first time in my life, this January, 2017, I actually would prefer living in another country where there are morals. In 2015, the American Psychological Association almost unanimously voted to prohibit any member from participating in torture and my faith in my profession is restored. As I see it, the US invades countries, those who resist are radicals who need destroying. I’m reminded of the French movie, King of Hearts. Asylum residents take over the town and Alan Bates is sent to diffuse a bomb and assumes the Asylum residents are the townspeople. Maybe, US policies would be better if asylum residents were in charge.

    • Don

      It’s always been a complete fallacy that countries reject torture. No country does, but nearly all countries rise to the level of denial. If they don’t deny then it’s just pure ignorance on their part. Or if their torture practices are exposed to the public eye then they have failed.

      You can safely assume that the torture we have seen exposed is just the tip of the iceberg and so we can’t really call it a failure to keep it covered up. It’s really been quite a remarkable success. These comments are meant to reflect all sides of course.

      I say this because you have to be relatively new to psychology or are just late on coming to those revelations.

      • Patricia P. Tursi

        Being from WW II, I knew about torture. I also believe that it is much more prevalent now than it used to be. Following WWII, Nazi’s preferred surrendering to the US than to Russians. Since the US became the Fourth Reich, they were correct. I am not as ignorant as you seem to assume Yes, I realize that the torture that is exposed is not the whole picture. There has been a lot covered up. Like Tesla and anti-gravity science which is used for energy in secret space programs while we are kept dumbed down using combustion. There is so much secret that it is mind blowing. But torture is much more prevalent now than it was. It is just chilling to hear about it even though it is “known”. US Black sites are numerous and we use other countries, in addition to Gitmo and more than Gitmo.

        • Don

          I don’t think you’re ignorant.
          What Trump has said about torture is pure ignorance. But what he said will have bearing on how much the US tortures. He’s simply sent the message to other countries that he will direct the powers that be who torture to not stop short of any methods, no matter how evil and brutal.

          That is what is really naive and ignorant about Trump. Saying what he said perhaps impressed evil people who are his supporters, but it was at the cost of torture in kind to Americans who are captured.

          All I’m really saying is that Trump should have firmly proclaimed that the US would not resort to torture, then the US could go ahead and continue to torture. Preferably not being found out.

          luv from Canada.

          • Patricia P. Tursi

            I have not followed Trump closely. I was a Bernie supporter and have never been able to stand Trump. I was encouraged by his backing off of WW III and liked that he was on good footing with Putin. Now, since he is elected, already he has taken civil rights, climate change and gay rights off the web site. He is talking tougher. Hope he backs off the drone bombing, but I’m beginning to think it’s the ole’ bait and switch game. Obama is responsible for an estimated 2-4000 Muslim deaths and that’s with a Nobel Peace Prize. Think what he could have accomplished without the prize. I was hoping the US Imperialistic aggression was going to be halted. The honeymoon is already cooling with Trump and we are always duped. We’ve had 2 really good senators, Dennis Kucinich and Bernie and both were sidelined. Our only consolation is that H. Clinton didn’t get rewarded for her crimes, but the cure may be worse than the disease.

    • kender

      Let me guess….you’re STILL a psycologist, am I correct? That would be a damper on your claim of shame, don’t you think….or am I overanalyzing?

      • Patricia P. Tursi

        Do you stop being a physician because there a Mengele? I am retired. You don’t quite being a baseball player because of Shoeless Joe. Simplistic thinking. I felt shame because it took so long for the org to vote against the practice, but they did.

  • Don

    It seems that it’s going to depen on how vigourly Trump directs the spooks to kill these sort of stories. We know from listening to Trump’s stump speeches that he’s completely in favour of any and all torture methods being used by the US. That alone will take away any ambiguity on the US stance on torture and will give the spook agencies the standing they will need to move forward with confidence.

    And there’s little doubt that advocating torture with no limits will cause America to appear ‘great’er in the eyes of the enemy. No more Mr. nice guy dragging his feet on the use of torture, from his throne in the WH!

    Fair analysis folks? Or should we not believe the new emperor?

    • Patricia P. Tursi

      I hope you’re wrong. Guess I haven’t listened to Trump’s stump speeches. Had enough glimpse into his ethics from his glee at pronouncing, “you’re fired”.

  • Anti_Govt_Rebel

    These people are not worthy to be considered part of the human race.