The Psychologist Who Taught Torture

By Allen McDuffee |

Out of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report, dubbed the "torture report," it was disclosed that the CIA contractors who helped develop and operate the so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques," were paid more than $80 million for the multi-year job. Had it not been canceled in 2009, the contract would have been worth more than $180 million.

The company wasn't run by a group of rogue mercenaries, but rather trained, career-long psychologists under the banner of Mitchell, Jessen & Associates in Spokane, WA. In an exclusive interview earlier this year, Jason Leopold, writing for The Guardian, spoke with James Mitchell, the psychologist who designed the CIA's post-9/11 torture program—the first time Mitchell had spoken the press in almost a decade.

All at once, Mitchell appears in the interview as somebody who is not apologetic to the concerns of the broader public, who seems to be in the midst of reputation repair and, yet, someone who is happy to say exactly what he did and did not do under the program he designed (although he is legally bound to not talk about the specifics of the program).  

"I'm just a guy who got asked to do something for his country by people at the highest level of government, and I did the best that I could," said Mitchell in the interview. But the "just a guy" line might be a bit difficult for readers of the Senate report to justify with the accounts contained in the document. 

Caught somewhere between defiance and something that resembles shame, Mitchell also said: "I don't care what [Dianne] Feinstein thinks about me. I'm retired. I do a lot of adventurous stuff now. I served my country and now I'm done. I did what I did for whoever I did it for, and now I'm done with that stuff."

Now reporting for Vice News, Leopold has returned to his source in producing a documentary that is soon to come. 

Verbatim: Ted Cruz On Net Neutrality

By Allen McDuffee |
Ted Cruz speaking at the 2011 Values Voter Summit in Washington, DC. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Ted Cruz speaking at the 2011 Values Voter Summit in Washington, DC. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

‘Net Neutrality’ is Obamacare for the Internet; the Internet should not operate at the speed of government.
— Sen. Ted Cruz

After President Obama came out with a full endorsement of net neutrality Monday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) took his shot on Twitter at the president's stance on the issue and used the opportunity to take another one against the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans are still attempting to dismantle.  

Rand Paul Still Says The Republican Brand 'Sucks'

By Allen McDuffee |

With less than a week before the midterms, Sen. Rand Paul committed what some viewed as a gaffe when he likened the Republican party to Domino's Pizza and said that the GOP's brand "sucks." Party leaders must have gasped at the comment given that Paul had been trotted around the country to campaign for candidates in more than 30 states, but he doubled down on the comments on three Sunday talk shows. 

CBS' Bob Schieffer said his words were "a pretty unusual rallying cry in an election year," but Paul answered that it's time to fix the party's brand because it just can't attract the voters it needs to. "Our brand is broken," said Paul. "I don’t think what we stand for is bad," he added. The problem is that "we have a wall, or a barrier, between us and African-American voters."

It may be that Paul was so confident in the polling numbers that show Republicans are expected to take the Senate Tuesday that he decided to use the national attention to lay the foundation for his anticipated 2016 run. 

I wrote about Paul's criticism today at The Atlantic

On NBC's Meet the Press, Paul, who is not up for re-election this cycle, said the Republicans' fixation on voter ID laws is "dumb" because it alienates the very people the GOP has said it needs to attract: youth, minorities, and poor Americans.  

"It doesn't mean that I think it's unreasonable," Paul said of the laws that Republicans claim are necessary to prevent voter fraud. "I just think it's a dumb idea for Republicans to emphasize this and say, 'This is how we are going to win the elections.'"

Egypt Jails Gay Wedding Attendees Under Law Intended For Prostitutes

By Allen McDuffee |
Screengrab of two men exchanging rings in what is likely Egypt's first gay wedding. (YouTube)

Screengrab of two men exchanging rings in what is likely Egypt's first gay wedding. (YouTube)

A video that went viral in August captured what is likely Egypt's first gay wedding on a boat in the Nile River. That virality drew the attention of Egyptian authorities who then tracked down several of the wedding's attendees in September and jailed and charged them for "inciting debauchery." Egypt's chief prosecutor said the wedding was "shameful to God" and "offensive to public morals." 

Today, eight men were convicted and sentenced to three years in prison. What the decision captured is another data point in Egypt's total intolerance of gays in the country—but also how Egypt is unwilling to acknowledge their existence. I wrote about it today at The Atlantic:

But Egypt, a country that has a hard time acknowledging the existence of gay citizens within its borders, has no laws against homosexuality. Instead, the law that was used to prosecute the men is one with roots in British colonialism—one meant to rid the newly independent Egypt of the licensed brothels that had existed under British rule. Known as Law 10/1961 on the Combating of Prostitution, it banned prostitution of all forms, in a brothel or elsewhere.

In other cases targeting gays, police have accused men of wearing women's clothing—a euphemism meant to signify that a man was accused of being gay or of engaging in acts of gay sex. It reminded me of an article a former professor at The American University in Cairo wrote about how homosexuality has typically been portrayed in Egyptian film through coded forms of men dressing in women's clothing because it was too taboo of a subject to address directly. Only recently has Egyptian fiction and film had overtly gay characters in their plots

Can Shame and Surveillance Get Democrats To The Polls?

By Allen McDuffee |

Voters can hardly be blamed for their eyes glazing over with the relentless bombardment of political advertising in the weeks leading up to an election. 

But one mailer that some recipients say shames them and makes them feel like they're under surveillance stands out. 

From their Midtown Manhattan offices, the New York State Democratic Committee is sending registered voters in the state what it's calling a "Voter Report Card," grading them on their level of participation in recent elections with the intention of goading them into showing up to the polls for Tuesday's midterm elections. Voters receive a grade of Excellent, Good or Fair, depending on how often they've cast a ballot in the last four general elections. 

(Allen McDuffee)

(Allen McDuffee)

If that doesn't sound so bad, the other side of the postcard lets addressees know the NYSDC is tracking their participation. "Who you vote for is private, but whether or not you voted is public record. . . .We plan to update this voter report card after the upcoming election and will be interested to see whether or not you voted," the card reads.  

(Allen McDuffee)

(Allen McDuffee)

The very next day, some registered voters received a follow-up letter in the mail from the NYSDC taking it up a notch, suggesting that the recipient keep an eye on his or her neighbors and further indicating that the party will contact them if they don't vote Tuesday. 

"Many organizations monitor turnout in your neighborhood and are disappointed in the inconsistent voting of many of your neighbors," the letter read. "We will be reviewing the Kings County official voting records after the upcoming election to determine whether you joined your neighbors who voted in 2014. If you do not vote this year, we will be interested to hear why not." 

(Allen McDuffee)

(Allen McDuffee)

A similar scheme has been employed by outside groups, such as the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity. But it's one thing to be a pressure group using scare tactics that everyone expects you to use and an entirely different thing to be an official party that says it's above such manipulation doing it. 

The tactic employed by Democrats isn't unique to New York. It appears to be part of a larger party-wide campaign that has surfaced in Florida, North Carolina and Arkansas, among others, and voters in each of the states are none too happy about it. 

Welcome (Back) to governmentality!

By Allen McDuffee |

Good morning and welcome — or welcome back — to governmentality. 

I say welcome back because this is something of a return. I originally launched governmentality in 2008, but as opportunities arose, I paused operations in 2010. Since then, I spent two years at The Washington Post, a year at Wired and now I'm reporting for The Atlantic and working on a book about the power and influence of think tanks in Washington.

Still, I missed blogging from this angle and thought back-to-basics would be good. But I've learned some things over the years and the blog is on a new platform with a cleaner design, so maybe it's more like governmentality 2.0. 

Fundamentally, this is a blog about power and the many ways it plays out in politics, business, global affairs, culture and the economy. That could mean the pure power political plays of Congress, the lengths presidential candidates will go through to win, or the strategies of military force directed by the Pentagon. But it could just as easily mean the more subtle power of ideas, dominant narratives and the business of data. (Learn more about me and governmentality.)

Each day, I'll offer my take on these questions and, in a matter of weeks, I'll launch a weekly podcast by the same name.

Keep up with all these developments by following me on Twitter (@AllenMcDuffee) and Facebook. And consider signing up for the newsletter. Feedback is great and appreciated, as are comments on individual posts — it will all make governmentality a better place.