Former CIA psychologist reenacts interrogations for Guantánamo court

GUANTÁNAMO BAY, Cuba — In court this week, a psychologist who boarded prisoners for the Central Intelligence Agency rolled up a towel, wrapped it around a criminal defense attorney’s neck, and slowly pulled the attorney toward him and on his toes – a dramatic recreation of the practices used on a Saudi detainee in the war on terror.

There was no waterboarding or ordering the defense attorney to crawl into a cramped containment box. But Wednesday’s demonstration by the psychologist, John Bruce Jessenwas supposed to replicate some of the approved “enhanced interrogation techniques” that CIA agents used on the Saudi prisoner, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiriat a secret interrogation site in Thailand in late 2002.

Defense lawyers used the demonstration to try to persuade a military judge to exclude certain evidence from Mr. Nashiri’s trial as being the result of torture. The judge, Col. Lanny J. Acosta Jr., allowed the presentation to show practices that CIA officials had destroyed video evidence from two decades ago.

Mr. Nashiri is accused of conspiring Al-Qaeda suicide bombing of the US Navy destroyer Cole off the coast of Yemen on October 12, 2000. Seventeen US sailors died.

In years of preliminary hearings, mostly on the legality of evidence for Mr. Nashiri’s eventual death penalty trial, his lawyers have described him as deeply damaged by physical, psychological and sexual abuse over the course of his life. his nearly four years in CIA custody.

His lawyers say that by the time federal agents interviewed Mr. Nashiri at Guantánamo in 2007, he was so conditioned that he told his interrogators what they wanted to hear. It was four years after his captivity; he had never been allowed to consult a lawyer. The judge decides whether these 2007 interrogations are admissible at trial, as the war tribunal grapples with the legacy of torture after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Dr Jessen testified that the practices – including waterboarding, nudity and solitary confinement – were not intended to deprive a prisoner of his will, but to gain his cooperation and leak al-Qaeda secrets to the CIA.

“It’s about building rapport and finding the way forward,” he said.

Dr Jessen, who spent 20 years in the US Air Force and specialized in survival training, described the interrogations as “well supervised” but “very intense”. CIA headquarters would send him messages such as, “Get yourself a backbone. Let us know when the next attacks will take place.

Prosecutors have already agreed that nothing Mr. Nashiri said on the so-called black sites can be used at trial because evidence of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment is illegal. But they defend as intact his 2007 law enforcement interviews, which took place at Guantánamo in a former CIA prison where Mr. Nashiri was held by the agency in 2003 and 2004.

To bolster that claim, prosecutors plan to call a forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Michael Welner, to testify next week that a review of Guantánamo records and court submissions indicate the detainee shows no signs of trouble. of post-traumatic stress.

Dr. Jessen said he imposed safeguards on the techniques he and his waterboarding partner, James E. Mitchell, employed, including having other psychologists monitor the interrogations to essentially ensure that they did no harm.

Mr Nashiri was drowned several times before interrogators dropped the technique on him. The inmate, who is 5 feet 5 inches tall, kept slipping off her suspenders — the “safety equipment” on the board that was built for the first person the interrogators brought on board, Abu Zubaydah, who was 5ft 10in tall.

But Dr Jessen also acknowledged that “unfortunate things” happened to the prisoner while he was not observing the interrogations. Dr Jessen later learned, he said, that Mr Nashiri had been restrained with his arms suspended above his head, chained to a wall and sodomized.

A internal investigation also showed a CIA interrogator faking Russian roulette. A drill was thrown next to Mr. Nashiri’s hooded head. Dr Mitchell testified that the guards bent him over with a broomstick behind his knees, leaving Mr Nashiri to scream in pain.

Dr. Jessen also testified that the CIA ran a rival black site program that he later learned about.

Dr. Jessen testified in court at Guantánamo by video link from a secret courtroom annex in Virginia, near the Pentagon. The cinematography was crisp and the audio captured his surprise and reluctance to demonstrate certain interrogation techniques when a defense attorney, Annie Morgan, asked him to stage the demonstration on her.

“I’m going to destroy your suit,” protested Dr. Jessen, while Colonel Acosta looked surprised. “Do you want him to slap you? he said.

“Don’t worry, Judge, I won’t let him hose me down,” said Ms. Morgan, a former Air Force attorney.

Dr. Jessen protested that he didn’t have a towel. If a prisoner was only in a diaper or naked, he explained, interrogators would use a towel. One has been produced. Ms Morgan stood to attention, then the psychologist illustrated a towel-assisted ‘attention grab’. He explained that the purpose was to “dislocate your expectations” – to condition a prisoner to understand that “this is real, this person wants me to pay attention to them”.

“I feel like I’m beating my daughter,” Dr. Jessen remarked during the demonstration.

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