Bruce Jessen: The Torturer in the Pulpit
William Norman Grigg
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newly appointed ecclesiastical leader in Spokane, Washington,
Bruce Jessen would have the opportunity to baptize new converts.
He would also be expected to interview them regularly to evaluate
their understanding of the church’s teachings and their fidelity
to its precepts. Given Jessen’s background, the possibility exists
that he might use the baptismal font as a theater for "enhanced
interrogation" of those who give him unsatisfactory answers.
a Mormon Bishop – a position from which
he may already have resigned Bruce Jessen was a torturer
in the employ of the CIA. Beginning
in December 2001, he helped reverse-engineer
the U.S. military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE)
training in order to develop torture protocols used to "break"
and "exploit" detainees.
in 2002, Jessen – working with a fellow military psychologist named
James Mitchell – trained interrogators in the use of those techniques.
Jessen also supervised, and performed, the torture ritual called
"waterboarding," a form of controlled suffocation through
simulated drowning that was
treated as a capital war crime when used by Japanese interrogators
against U.S. and allied POWs during World War II.
devised and taught by Jessen was "based on coercive methods
used by the Chinese Communist dictatorship to elicit false confessions
from U.S. POWs during the Korean War," explains a
2009 report by the Senate Armed Services Committee. The objective
was not to obtain sound intelligence, but rather to destroy the
This is very
useful to interrogators ordered to provide "intelligence"
that will ratify the desires of the ruling elite. One splendid example
of this was the
torture-wrought "confession" offered by Ib al-Shaykh al-Libi,
who claimed to have information linking Saddam Hussein to al-Qaeda.
later died of "suicide" in a Libyan jail during that brief
period when Khadafy was an "ally") actually knew nothing
of the sort, but was understandably eager to give his interrogators
what they sought in exchange for an end to the torture.
British citizen Binyam Mohamed, who was
abducted by U.S. officials and imprisoned at a CIA "black site"
in Morocco, was also ministered to by interrogators instructed
in Jessen’s doctrine, led by a sadist called "Marwan."
After being freed following several years in the bowels of the American-run
torture archipelago, Mohamed described how Jessen’s disciples broke
him,’ shouted Marwan. They cut off my clothes with some kind of
doctor’s scalpel. I was naked. I tried to put on a brave face. But
maybe I was going to be raped. Maybe they’d electrocute me, maybe
castrate me. They took the scalpel to my right chest. It was only
a small cut, maybe an inch. At first I just screamed…. I was just
shocked…. Then they cut my left chest. This time I didn’t want to
scream because I knew it was coming."
by the resolution displayed by the captive, ordered the fiend with
the scalpel to "go ahead with the plan."
them took my penis in his hand and began to make cuts," Mohamed
recounts. "He did it once, and they stood still for maybe a
minute, watching my reaction. I was in agony, crying, trying desperately
to suppress myself, but I was screaming."
was carried out dozens of times. One of Mohamed’s captors taunted
him, suggesting that he should be emasculated since "I would
only breed terrorists."
treatment" was inflicted on Mohamed on a monthly basis, reports
Stephen Grey in his book Ghost Plane. "It was carefully
controlled, so the wounds would not be too deep and would not leave
permanent marks. In the end, [Mohamed] told his guards: `I will
sign anything, confess to anything.’"
To use Jessen’s
terminology, Binyam Mohamed had been successfully "exploited."
For months his interrogators had demanded information about an American
citizen named Jose Padilla, someone whom Mohamed had never met and
whose name he had never heard. After months of being hung by his
wrists, beaten with a leather strap, and having his skin flayed
by experts, Mohamed finally provided the CIA’s surrogates with the
"evidence" the Bush administration demanded.
former gang-banger with no operational connections to al-Qaeda,
was labeled an "unlawful enemy combatant" – the first
U.S. citizen thus designated – and confined to a military brig without
legal recourse for
roughly four years. During that time, Padilla received the full
Jessen Treatment sensory deprivation, sleep disruption, stress
positions, death threats, prolonged isolation in a medieval-quality
noted in a lawsuit filed on Padilla’s behalf, the purpose of
this regimen was "to destroy Mr. Padilla's ordinary emotional
and cognitive functioning in order to extract from him potentially
Bush administration’s insistence – buttressed by the "testimony"
extorted from Mohamed – that Padilla was involved in a "dirty
bomb" plot, he was never charged with that offense. In a Soviet-grade
federal trial, Padilla was eventually convicted
of conspiring to "support" terrorism abroad. The key evidence
in that trial consisted of transcripts of innocuous conversations
in which government "experts" claimed to find "coded
language" regarding terrorist activities.
had signed a document implicating Padilla, he was sent to Guantanamo.
During his flight on a CIA-chartered rendition plane, he was attended
by an operative he described as "a white female with glasses."
When she removed Mohamed’s shirt, the CIA officer was horrified
to see that most of his upper body was covered with scars carved
out by the agency’s scalpel-wielding subcontractors.
she saw the injuries I had, she gasped," Mohamed later recalled.
"She said, my God, look at that. Then all her mates looked
at what she was pointing at, and I could see the shock and horror
on their faces."
The chief opposition
to the torture program devised by Jessen and Mitchell came from
their former colleagues in the military – including some who had
been involved with them in teaching SERE courses in the 1980s. They
were understandably concerned that the practice of torture would
inspire retaliation against captured U.S. servicemen and incite
future acts of terrorism against the U.S. With institutional support
for their program collapsing, and public revulsion on the rise,
and Mitchell requested from the CIA – and received – an "indemnity
promise" guaranteeing them at least $5 million to pay any legal
fees arising from criminal prosecution or a civil lawsuit.
needn’t have worried. None of the U.S. officials responsible for
institutionalizing torture has ever been prosecuted or punished
in any way. That treatment is reserved for critics of the torture
program. This includes former
CIA counter-terrorism operative John Kiriakou, who recently
entered a guilty plea on a single charge of revealing the identity
of an intelligence operative. His supposed offense
– for which he was originally charged under the 1917 Espionage Act,
which provides for the death penalty – was to
speak critically of the torture program and identify one of the
officials involved in it.
is one of six officials being prosecuted by the Obama administration
for "leaking" information about the government’s crimes,
accepted a plea bargain because he has five children. That fact,
to use Jessen’s terminology, made him "exploitable." Accordingly,
while the architect of the torture program was given an opportunity
to hold forth from a pulpit, a whistleblower will spend at least
two and a half years in prison.
Norman Grigg [send him mail]
publishes the Pro
Libertate blog and hosts the Pro
Libertate radio program.
© 2012 William Norman Grigg
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