A guard in the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Photo by Larisa Epatko

Two military psychologists were paid $81 million to develop the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques

Two military psychologists were contracted by the U.S. government for $180 million to develop the enhanced interrogation tactics within the CIA’s Enhanced Interrogation and Detention Program, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Executive Summary revealed after it was released Tuesday. Before their contract was terminated in 2009, they had collected $81 million.

The two psychologists, who the summary refers to using the pseudonyms of Grayson Swigert and Hammond Dunbar, had worked at the U.S. Air Force Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape school, which prepares soldiers if they “are taken prisoner by countries that did not adhere to Geneva protections.”

They built their ideas upon theories of “learned helplessness,” and they themselves even used these interrogation techniques on “some of the CIA’s most significant detainees,” the summary states, even though neither of them “had experience as an interrogator.”

Both SWIGERT and DUNBAR had been psychologists with the U.S. Air Force Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) school, which exposes select U.S. military personnel to, among other things, coercive interrogation techniques that they might be subjected to if taken prisoner by countries that did not adhere to Geneva protections. Neither psychologist had experience as an interrogator, nor did either have specialized knowledge of al Qa’ida, a background in terrorism, or any relevant regional, cultural, or linguistic expertise. SWIGERT had reviewed research on “learned helplessness,” in which individuals might become passive and depressed in response to adverse or uncontrollable events. He theorized that inducing such a state could encourage a detainee to cooperate and provide information. (Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Executive Summary — page 21)

Abu Zubaydah was the first detainee to receive this method of interrogation after he entered CIA custody in 2002, according to the summary. At that time, the two psychologists were the only ones allowed to have contact with Zubaydah. During the interrogations, he was slammed naked against a concrete wall, shown a box that appeared to be a coffin and waterboarded, after which time the summary said that Zubaydah “coughed, vomited, and had ‘involuntary spasms of the torso and extremities’ during waterboarding.”

Swigert and Dunbar formed a company in 2005 to house their work with the CIA. The contract was terminated in 2009 under the Obama administration. According to the summary, the CIA’s indemnification contract requires that “the CIA is obligated to pay Company Y’s legal expenses through 2021.”