The Forever Prisoner: The Full and Searing Account of the CIA’s Most Controversial Covert Program

Grove. Apr. 2022. 464p. ISBN 9780802158925. $30. POL SCI
Journalists Scott-Clark and Levy (The Exile) tackle the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program, which gave legal cover to U.S. torture of terrorism suspects after 9/11. The authors examine the case of Abu Zubaydah, an alleged jihadi operative whom the CIA detained, tortured, and imprisoned for life—without a trial—at Guantanamo Bay. Scott-Clark and Levy gained unprecedented access to newly declassified case documents, to Abu Zubaydah himself, and to an architect of the CIA torture program, James Mitchell. A retired army psychologist, Mitchell had trained U.S. Special Forces how to resist enemy interrogation; he reasoned that using similarly harsh techniques against the United States’ own detainees could reduce them to a state of “learned helplessness” in which they would reveal the terrorism plots that the CIA suspected. For this work, Mitchell’s firm reaped $81 million in CIA contracts from 2002 to 2009. Scott-Clark and Levy deftly unpack the legalistic contortions of Bush Administration officials trying to justify torture, the infighting among US agencies, and the physical and mental anguish inflicted on Abu Zubaydah. Scott-Clark and Levy’s focused and authoritative work was a key source for Alex Gibney’s 2021 HBO documentary of the same title.
VERDICT A tour de force of investigative journalism.
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