Linda Sapadin, PhD
A Review of The (Torture) Report (2019). Director: Scott Z. Burns
Heartless and Brutish! Immoral and Ineffective! A stain on our values and our profession! This disheartening, disturbing movie’s full name is The Torture Report. The word “torture,” however, is redacted out!
It’s degrading to our profession to lay eyes on two Air Force psychologists with dubious experience and morals. They created and administered the “enhanced interrogation technique” program for prisoners who were held by the CIA after 9/11. For their efforts, John B. Jessen and James E. Mitchell were paid 81.1 million dollars.
Our colleagues were hired because they claimed to have effective techniques for obtaining intelligence so that we would know where the next attack would happen and where leaders of Al Qaeda were hiding. They were put in charge of creating and implementing the torture program as well as evaluating its effectiveness—a clear conflict of interest.
Though they stated that they were experts in national security and interrogation, they had never conducted a real-life interrogation. Their military background was to prepare U.S. soldiers for potential capture via a training program known as Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape.
Jessen and Mitchell not only devised the brutal, immoral, and ineffective torture techniques, they carried them out. Their techniques included waterboarding, (more accurately described as near-drowning), rectal feeding, rectal hydration, sleep deprivation, shackling prisoners, hooding them, chaining them, slapping them, slamming them into a concrete wall, blaring high-intensity music in their cell for hours, and locking them in confinement boxes (better described as coffins).
These tactics were repeated over and over again; indeed, one prisoner was waterboarded 83 times. In the movie, a CIA officer asked, if this method is supposed to be effective, why would you need to do it 83 times? Duh?
Still, no useful information was obtained. Torture was so extreme that some CIA personnel unsuccessfully tried to halt the techniques. Others asked for a transfer if the brutality continued. Our colleagues insisted, however, that their tactics were based on science, hence were effective. Not true!
Even if it were true, the idea that two people of our helping profession would use their psychological credentials to create and implement a torture program is revolting. It is completely contrary to our ethical standards of conduct, our credo, our conscience.
Ok, take a deep breath. I’ve gotten a bit of pain off my chest. Now for some movie details. This amazing movie was written and directed by Scott Z. Burns. The hero of the movie is Daniel Jones. Dan, (played by Adam Driver), worked for Sen. Dianne Feinstein (played by Annette Bening). Dan was the lead investigator for the Senate Intelligence Committee’s study into the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation programs. He had no idea what he was getting into when he accepted this position.
The driving force of this investigation was a revelation that the CIA had already destroyed hundreds of hours of tapes of the interrogations. Some wanted to know why? What was going on during that time? What did they want to keep hidden?
Dan and his small team of helpers scrolled through millions of pages of documents to obtain the answer. In the film, you see them sitting in a bland room, wading through mounds of pages, tirelessly trying to find out what went on during that time. Little help was offered to them because many in government still didn’t want such information made public.
After 5 long years, they released the results of their investigation – despite the CIA, the White House, and some Congressional members trying to stop the report from getting out.
Were our scandalous colleagues charged with any crimes? Nope, not even one. Both Jessen and Mitchell are now retired, maintaining a low profile.
Many of our colleagues had a good deal of concern that APA had lingered in its condemnation of the behavior of Jessen and Mitchell. Finally, in 2008, APA definitively condemned such behavior, affirming that “there are no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether induced by a state of war or threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency that may be invoked as a justification for torture, or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
Do I recommend that you see this movie, despite its disturbing elements? Absolutely! It’s well done and sadly entertaining. More importantly, we all need to know what actions took place in our name and ensure that such history never, ever repeats itself!