Scott Z. Burns to Adapt Vanity Fair Article on Torture Cheerleaders for HBO

The story of how psychologists helped pioneer the C.I.A.’s post-9/11 program of aggressive interrogation techniques (read: torture), first told by Katherine Eban in Vanity Fair in 2007, is being adapted into a new film by HBO, VF.com can announce.

In the original story, titled “Rorschach and Awe,” Eban described how two psychologists,James Elmer Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, became the C.I.A.’s go-to evangelists for a new menu of abusive techniques, including waterboarding, that they reverse-engineered from an old U.S. program designed to train soldiers to withstand torture by Communist adversaries. Eban’s discoveries were later reinforced by the U.S. Senate’s torture report, released in 2014.

The film will be written and directed by The Bourne Ultimatum writer Scott Z. Burns. Burns will also serve as executive producer alongside The Knick’s Michael Sugar, in conjunction with their respective production companies, Wandering Jew and Anonymous Content. Nathaniel Raymond, formerly of Physicians for Human Rights, will consult on the project.

Eban’s article, available here on VF.com, explores Mitchell and Jessen’s unlikely journey from consulting psychologists to peddlers of what former F.B.I. agent Michael Reliance called a “voodoo science” that promised to wring information out of detainees by breaking their will.

The techniques weren’t just morally bankrupt; they were also functionally useless. Mitchell and Jessen, Human Rights Watch researcher John Sifton told Eban, offered a “patina of pseudo-science that made the C.I.A. and military officials think these guys were experts in unlocking the human mind. It’s one thing to say, ‘Take off the gloves.’ It’s another to say there was a science to it.”

Read the full text of “Rorschach and Awe” by Katherine Eban.

Michael Hogan is Vanity Fair’s digital director, overseeing VF.com and the magazine’s tablet and iPhone editions.

 

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