Out of the Darkness

How two psychologists teamed up with the CIA to devise a torture program and experiment on human beings.

Mitchell and Jessen: CIA

Damage by Design

Damage by Design

Launching the Experiment

Launching the Experiment


Mohamed Ben Soud


Suleiman Abdallah

For Suleiman, the release of the Senate torture report last year was a major milestone. He describes the experience of seeing his name in black and white as deeply moving. It was the closest the U.S. government had come to taking responsibility for what it did to him, and it also confirmed his story to those who had doubted his account.

“Many don't believe that Americans do that,” he says. The truth coming out, he adds, “is very good for me, very good for me.”

The Senate report fills in many holes in the public record resulting from years of excessive secrecy. But it is not accountability. The government has prosecuted only a handful of very low-level soldiers and one CIA contractor for prisoner abuse. The architects of the CIA’s torture program, Mitchell and Jessen among them, have so far escaped any form of accountability. In fact, many have gone on to lucrative careers or comfortable retirements. 

“We tortured some folks,” President Obama famously said a few months before the release of the Senate torture report summary. “I understand why it happened. It’s important when we look back to recall how afraid people were. People did not know whether more attacks were imminent. And there was enormous pressure on our law enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this.”

This analysis is misguided. To be sure, we lived in a time of fear. But the ban against torture is universal and fundamental, applying in times of fear and courage, insecurity and security. And the decision to torture was made deliberately, in a program characterized by human experimentation, intentional brutality, and the painstaking manipulation of the law. It was as clinical as it was cruel. It resulted in the perpetration of terrible crimes completely at odds with U.S. law, international law, and basic humanity.

Accountability is critical for the victims and survivors whose lives were undone, and for all of us who value being part of a nation of laws, one strong enough to acknowledge wrongdoing and make amends.

If this country’s recent experiment in torture continues to be marked by impunity, we risk going down that path again. 

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