By William Pfaff
PARIS—Little mainstream comment seems to have appeared on the latest revelations of incompetence and sadistic fantasy that have been published this week about the ways in which the American nation lost its honor and international reputation because of the Bush administration’s infatuation with torture.
Or with, as Vice President Dick Cheney has put it, “the dark side”: its eight-year excursion into what commonly is understood to be criminal international behavior, which the former vice president continues to defend with relish and conviction.
The revelations concern the two men who reportedly created the torture techniques that the CIA and U.S. military have been using on prisoners since early in the “war on terror.”
According to The New York Times (in a story by Scott Shane), the two had for years been involved with an Air Force survival course that was supposedly based on Chinese Communist “brainwashing” techniques used in the Korean War.
The program, housed at an Air Force base outside Spokane, Wash, involved midlevel abuse (and sometimes more; one of the two, Bruce Jessen, allegedly had to be stopped in a mock interrogation that colleagues thought had become “pretty scary”). This was to prepare the airmen for what they might meet if captured by an enemy.
Most anyone who has been in military service since the Korean War has been given a taste of this, but it was an Air Force specialty.
Jessen was a farm boy who earned a psychology doctorate at Utah State in what was known as “family sculpting,” in which clients made physical models of their family to deal with emotional relationships.
The other of the two successive head psychologists at the course was Jim Mitchell, a poor boy from Florida who joined the Air Force in 1974 for adventure, became an explosives expert and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology. Later, he received a doctorate at the University of South Florida; his dissertation compared diet and exercise plans in controlling hypertension.
When 2001 came, the two friends saw their opportunity, convincing the government that they were experts on torture. Neither knew much, if anything, about al-Qaida, the intelligence world, Islam, foreign languages or foreign countries.
They simply reversed what they had been teaching, and taught the torture rather than the resistance. According to the Times, they then “made millions selling interrogation and training services to the CIA.”
Now there is an aspect to this which so far as I know has never been mentioned in connection with the U.S. torture program.
“Brainwashing” is a myth. The Defense Department official conclusion after the Korean War was that “no confirmed cases of brainwashing came out of the Korean war.” The DoD said that Chinese Communist treatment of prisoners was not unusual. The academic community eventually concluded that the concept of brainwashing was “not considered useful in Social Science.”
The whole thing came from one sensational book, and the press and public hysteria built up from the fact that some American prisoners in Korea gave “confessions” of war crimes that were used in enemy propaganda, presumably to escape routine brutality or to get privileged treatment.
The Air Force courses of the past 60 years on how to survive brainwashing were cooked up in the United States out of people’s imaginings of what it might be like to be brainwashed. The tortures sold to the CIA by Mitchell and Jessen were made up in the USA.
One more thing must be added to illuminate the atmosphere in which this could have happened in the United States.
The University of Lausanne in Switzerland has allowed it to be made known that one of their theology faculty, professor Thomas Römer, in early 2003 received a call from the Élysée Palace in Paris, the seat of the French presidency.
The president, Jacques Chirac, supposedly wanted a clarification of the significance of the figures of Gog and Magog in biblical prophecy. He was calling Lausanne because he didn’t want his query to be leaked to the press in France.
The theologian explained to him that the two are obscure figures who appear in the Book of Genesis, and again in Ezekiel, in connection with a prophesy of a great war, desired by God, to cleanse the world of his enemies before the arrival of the world’s Last Days, after which a new age would follow.
Chirac reportedly said he was calling because he was distressed that President George Bush had twice telephoned him to inform France’s president that this war was beginning, and urging France to join the United States in fulfilling the divine prophesy. As is well known, France did not do so.
This appears in a new book of interviews by a respected French journalist and friend of Chirac, Jean-Claude Maurice, provocatively called “If You Quote Me, I’ll Deny It.” The report by Maurice has not been confirmed by the former French president. But it has not been denied.
Visit William Pfaff’s Web site at www.williampfaff.com.
© 2009 Tribune Media Services Inc.