Given the newly released summary of the long-awaited (5 years in the making) Senate Select Committee on Intelligence study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program we will, for the next few days, at least until the next crisis comes along, be inundated with coverage of the revelations and implications of a U.S-sponsored program of torture.
And, although the study itself is noticeably reticent to call what the CIA did torture, mostly using the word in footnotes, and talking about laws against, and concerns about, torture it does say, in the foreword by Committee chairman Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), that, “While the Office of Legal Counsel found otherwise between 2002 and 2007, it is my personal conclusion that, under any common meaning of the term, CIA detainees were tortured.”
People will be furiously debating the cons and pros — and yes, there are people, besides Dick Cheney and Fox News commentators who think torture is okay — of government sponsored torture.
But to focus just on the government misses the forest for the trees. Let’s give full credit where it is due. This was not just a public sector activity. This was a joint public-private sector initiative, done with the witting, if not altogether competent, participation of the private sector.
We should not be surprised at this. The U.S. government has increasingly outsourced and privatized major parts of what I call its MISTY (Military Industrial Surveillance Torture Yankee) complex. Doubtlessly Clint Eastwood is preparing a new version of “Play Misty For Me.”
In the past decade we have seen numerous news reports about private military and security companies involved in the torture and abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and heavily involved in the rendition program of terrorism suspects; not to mention their overwhelming presence in what New York Times journalist James Risen, in his new book, “Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War” calls the “homeland security-industrial” complex.
So it should not shock anyone that the private sector is involved in the most heinous of human rights abuses. After all, if conventional crime can pay, why shouldn’t torture?
However, we probably need a new definition for the PSC acronym. Instead of Private Security Companies, it might be more accurate to call them Private Sadism Companies.
Consider what the study says in Point 13:
13# Two contract psychologists devised the CIA’s against interrogation techniques in great a central role in the operation, assessments, and management of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. By 2005, the CIA had overwhelmingly outsourced operations related to the program.
The CIA contractor who can site called used to build, operate, and it’s as its interrogation operations. The psychologist’s prior experience was at the U. S. Air force Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) school. Neither psychologist had any experience as an interrogator, nor did either have specialized knowledge of al-Qaida, a background in counterterrorism, or any relevant cultural or linguistic expertise.
On the CIA’s behalf, the contract psychologists developed theories of interrogation based on “learned helplessness”, and developed the list of enhanced interrogation techniques that was approved for use against Abu Zubadayah and subsequent CIA detainees. The psychologists personally conducted interrogations of some of the CIA’s most significant detainees using these techniques. They also evaluated whether detainee’s psychological state allowed for the continued use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques, including some detainees whom they were themselves interrogating of had interrogated. The psychologists carried out inherently governmental functions, such as acting as liaison between the CIA and foreign intelligence services, assessing the effectiveness of the interrogation program, and participating in the interrogation of detainees in held in foreign government custody.
In 2005, the psychologists formed a company specifically for the purpose of conducting their work with the CIA. Shortly thereafter, the CIA outsourced virtually all aspects of the program.
In 2006, the value of the CIA’s base contract with the company formed by the psychologists with all options exercised was in excess of $180 million; the contractors received $81 million prior to the contract’s termination in 2009. In 2007, the CIA provided a multi-year indemnification agreement to protect the company and its employees from legal liability arising out of the program. The CIA has since paid out more than $1 million pursuant to the agreement.
In 2008, the CIA’s Rendition, Detention and Interrogation Group, the lead unit for detention and interrogation operations at the CIA, had a total of __ [blacked out] positions, which were filled with __ [blacked out] CIA staff officers and __ [blacked out] contractors, meaning that contractors made up 85% of the workforce for detention and interrogation operations.
The recently convicted former Blackwater contractors who are headed to prison for the killings of Iraqi civilians at Nisoor Square in Baghdad in 2007 are probably wondering why they weren’t indemnified.
It should be noted that back in 2004 the Congress had a chance to prevent this. On June 16, 2004 the Senate defeated an attempt to ban private contractors in military interrogations. The plan to bar private interrogators within 90 days and translators within a year was rejected on a 54-43 vote; the tougher criminal penalties, of as much as 20 years, were defeated 52-46.
Even worse, in the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib scandal it was reported that the use of private contractors as interrogators violated an Army policy that requires such jobs to be filled by government employees because of the “risk to national security.” An Army policy directive published in 2000 classifies any job that involves “the gathering and analysis” of tactical intelligence as “an inherently governmental function barred from private sector performance.”
The December 26, 2000 memo noted:
At the operational and strategic level, the intelligence function (less support) performed by military personnel and Federal civilian employees is a non-inherently Governmental function that should be exempted from private sector performance on the basis of risk to national security from relying on contractors to perform this function.
Speaking of how torture pays, the Daily Dot reports that C.I.A. interrogators were paid $1,800 dollars per day tax-free to waterboard and conduct other torture on prisoners—four times the amount of interrogators who didn’t employ waterboarding. A single contractor carrying out torture could potentially earn anywhere from $500,000 to almost $700,000 in a year in tax-free retainers.
That is magnitudes of order greater than what private security contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan doing protective security work earn.
Furthermore, the Dot article notes
The torturers were at the center of a huge conflict of interest: The same people who were paid enormous amounts to put prisoners through torture were also the people who judged the torture’s effectiveness and the prisoner’s psychological stability and resistance. These same people making hundreds of thousands of dollars from torture also recommended the continuous use of torture.
A January 2003 cable from C.I.A. headquarters made clear that “the individual at the interrogation site who administers the [torture] techniques is not the same person who issues the psychological assessment of record.”
They did it anyway, leading at least one C.I.A. doctor to say “any data collected by them from detainees with whom they previously interacted as interrogators will always be suspect.”
So, the people who monetarily benefitted from torture were the same ones who got to decide whether it should be used. Talk about the invisible hand of the marketplace!
Finally, it should be noted that for the past twenty years the private military and security industry has effectively and adroitly used slick public relations ploys and marketing pitches to portray themselves as an industry that plays by the rules, respects national and international laws, and, generally, seeks to get the whole industry to operate on a higher ethical plane.
Indeed, if you search online using the keywords ISOA (International Stability Operations Association, which is a major PMSC trade association, although it did not have the psychologists named in the report as company members) AND “ethical standards” you get over 1,200,000 hits.
And the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Providers has provisions against torture.
But the question we should all be asking is if a government is willing to hire private contractors to do its torture for them and indemnify them against any charges for what they do, what good are such codes?
Content posted to MyMPN open blogs is the opinion of the author alone, and should not be attributed to MintPress News.