SERE insignia

In parts one and two of this series on the origins of the SERE torture program, we examined how unlikely it was that James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, relying on entrepreneurial guile and chutzpah alone, convinced a passive Pentagon and CIA, eager to find some way to get terror intelligence, to buy into their "learned helplessness" interrogation paradigm. It seems plausible that others were in on the scheme, and in part two, we examined the idea that Mitchell and Jessen’s superior, Col. Roger Aldrich, had originated the idea of selling SERE interrogation services to the government.

We also know, as established earlier, that Mitchell’s first business partner came from Special Operations. Later, Mitchell, Jessen and Associates (MJA) shared the same telephone number as Randall Spivey’s RS Consulting business. Spivey was former chief of operations for JPRA’s Policy and Oversight Division, until leaving in 2002 to found his own series of contracting companies. Ultimately, he became a governing member of MJA.

As for Roger Aldrich, the "legendary military survival trainer" (as the New York Times described him) who had been Mitchell and Jessen’s Air Force superior, he continued to work at the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) after 9/11, waiting out his military retirement. Subsequently, he joined JPRA contractor Tate Inc. as Director of Training, a job he must have held concurrent with his Mitchell-Jessen post. (MJA and Tate share the same Alexandria, Virginia address.)

David Ayers, head of Tate, Inc., was the other MJA shareholder, along with Joseph Matarazzo, yet another former president of the American Psychological Association who crossed Mitchell and Jessen’s path. Matarazzo, who Jane Mayer recently reported worked for the CIA, had been hired by Mitchell and Jessen years earlier, in 1996, along with other prominent U.S. psychologists — Charles Speilberger, Richard Lazarus, and Albert Bandura –  for an internal review of SERE training procedures, according to a SERE internal document.

According to my source, Mr. Aldrich had contacts with the CIA through Special Forces work. Special Forces has a unique relationship with SERE and JPRA, as all Special Forces operators must receive SERE training and certification, due to the danger of their work. It is my hypothesis that the CIA passed the Al Qaeda document on to Aldrich, and set up the cover story of a "review" of the terrorist manual as the opportunity to launch the torture plan. (See discussion as well in part one of this series.)

The review itself was only a premise, which is clear to anyone who has ever bothered to look at the manual, and its simplistic, if not homely, rendition of how to resist what the manual assumes is inevitable torture. Since the Al Qaeda manual assumes that a number of torture techniques will be used upon the prisoner, including stripping, hanging by feet and hands, beatings, cold water, forced standing and positions, attack by dogs, solitary confinement, use of drugs, being placed in a septic tank, and more, one wonders, given the accounts of torture by U.S. interrogators, just how surprised Al Qaeda members were by the so-called "enhanced" techniques doled out by the SERE/CIA specialists.

Nor should we consider this a conspiracy between only Aldrich, Mitchell and Jessen. As noted above, it seems most probable that the CIA set the mission in motion, utilizing special operations and JPRA contacts. In this scenario, Mitchell and Jessen can best be understood as agents in the operation, and not brain trusters. Moreover, the CIA had been running research studies on the effects of SERE techniques on subjects for some years, preceding 9/11. (A future article will give the particulars, but see this article for some examples.)

It seems possible, given what we know thus far, that Vice President Dick Cheney’s office originated the torture program (possibly at the behest of President Bush), utilizing personnel from the Joint Special Forces Command (JSOC) and the CIA. According to New Yorker journalist Seymour Hersh, JSOC is said to not be answerable to any particular command structure (emphasis added):

It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently. They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office. They did not report to the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff or to Mr. [Robert] Gates, the secretary of defense. They reported directly to him.

The chain of command for the torture program appears to have run from Bush-Cheney, to leaders of JSOC and their CIA supporters, to the "legendary" Roger Aldrich, and on down to his trusted men, Mitchell, Jessen, Baumgarten and others at Aldrich’s agency, JPRA. From thence, the program spread throughout the CIA, the Defense Department (including the Defense Intelligence Agency), especially via Joint Forces Command, and to the contracting companies that were read into the program, staffed often by compatriots from Special Operations or SERE, or ex-CIA or other intelligence men.

The main problem with analyses of the Mitchell-Jessen program thus far is the failure to plausibly link the top layers of the administration, which we know were involved in approving torture, to such lowly players as Mitchell and Jessen. The actions and connections of Roger Aldrich, and the ersatz chain of command that is described just above has the virtue of describing the necessary connections, although the identities of some of the actors are still unknown.

Whatever actually happened, whether Scott Shane, who wrote the recent New York Times article on Mitchell and Jessen, is right, or my scenario, or some other, we must have investigations with real teeth to get to the truth, followed by prosecutions of those who were responsible for crimes of war, of crimes against humanity.