The Role of Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (called BSCTs)

Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCTs) – primarily psychologists and psychiatrists – were integral to CIA’s brutal interrogations using torture. In June 2002, upon their arrival at GTMO, psychiatrist Maj. Paul Burney, psychologist John Leso and a psychiatric technician had expected to help U.S. soldiers cope with extremely stressful deployment. Instead, (according to testimony by Maj. Burney) they were “hijacked” by MG Michael Dunlavey, the Commander of GTMO JTF 170 intelligence command to support interrogation operations as part of the newly created BSCT. They were not trained in interrogation methods and there was no standard operating procedure for the BSCT team.

These quasi-medical mental health professionals became integral to the brutal torture methods used in interrogations. The Experiment, one of a series of investigative reports by Jane Mayer in The New Yorker (2005) examined the role of BSCTs, which was essentially to help interrogators break detainees. She debunks the claimed “scientific” underpinnings in support of the use of torture to elicit important valid information. BSCTs would strategize with interrogators about what techniques to use, and where someone would be vulnerable, and what the best ways to manipulate them would be. They’d play these very aggressive roles, week after week. It was very systematic  and wasn’t hidden.

BSCTS monitored and collected detailed medical information, and assessed the effects of specific techniques in order to establish benchmarks for subsequent application of torture. BSCTs helped devise individualized interrogation plans for specific detainees exploiting the physical and mental vulnerabilities of each detainee; they supervised and often implemented torture techniques; BSCT psychologists calibrated increased stress and pain levels during interrogations of suspected terrorists. (Senate Armed Services Committee Report, 2009, p. 39)

According to a former interrogator at Guantánamo, behavioral scientists monitor and control the most minute details of interrogation, “to the point of decreeing, in the case of one detainee, that he would be given seven squares of toilet paper per day.”

“Under the Justice Department definition of torture, if a detainee was sent to a psychologist for a mental health evaluation prior to interrogation it was per se evidence that the interrogator had no legal intent to torture the detainee because the referral ‘demonstrated concern’ for the welfare of the detainee.” (Welch. Psychology’s Role in Torture, Huffington Post, 2009)

The BSCT at Guantanamo (GTMO) reached out to Lieutenant Colonel Louie “Morgan” Banks, the Chief Psychologist at the U.S. Army Special Operations Command to request training in the interrogation process and to understand what was required of them. LTC Banks contacted the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) to organize training for the BSCT at Fort Bragg. (Senate Armed Services Report, 2009, p. 39) Simultaneously, Southern Command sought advice to improve GTMO operations. An external review of intelligence collection operations at GTMO by the Joint Staff was conducted by team led by COL. John Custer, assistant commander of U.S. Army Intelligence Center. The Custer Report (Sept. 10, 2002) refers to GTMO as “America’s Battle Lab,” in the global war on terror. (Senate Armed Services Report, p.43)

On Sept. 16, 2002, the BSCT and four interrogators from JTF-170 arrived at Fort Bragg for training where they were joined by a CIA psychologist and several Army personnel. The training was designed to familiarize those attending with the “academic or theoretical application of exploitation from a SERE perspective.” [Military training Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape] None of the three instructors was a trained interrogator. (Senate Armed Services Report, p. 44) [The specifics are redacted.] In testimony to the Army Inspector General, and in written testimony to the Armed Services Committee, MAJ Burney indicated that while there was discussion of physical pressures, the instructors did not recommend those SERE techniques for use at GTMO: “interrogation tactics that rely on physical pressures or torture, while they do get information, do not tend to get you accurate information or reliable information.” (Senate Armed Services Report, p. 47)