HBO Will Adapt Rorschach And Awe – Examining The Architects Of CIA Torture


HBO Films is developing a movie adaptation of the Vanity Fair article, Rorschach And Awe, written by Katherine Eban. While this source material certainly provides a snappy title for the project, the subject matter is deeply troubling – examining, as it does, the role of two professional psychologists in the development of torture techniques for the Central Intelligence Agency.

Published in July 2007, the article begins with a clear description of how al-Qaeda lieutenant Abu Zubaydah was captured in April 2002, and disclosed to the FBI the identity of the person behind the terrorist attacks of September 2001 – including detail of exactly how the plot was devised and executed. The important point here is that the information was obtained through “rapport-building techniques” – also known as human kindness and empathy. The arrival of an interrogation team from the CIA heralded the employment of a different tactic, however, as they began to conduct a “psychic demolition” of the detainee.

Eban’s article proceeds to detail the rise in influence within the U.S intelligence community of two psychologists in particular – James Elmer Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. These practitioners had worked within the SERE military training program (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) which was responsible for preparing soldiers for “captivity in enemy hands.” They apparently reverse engineered these survival strategies to produce the kind of coercive interrogation techniques that so horrified the public when the U.S Senate Select Intelligence Committee released its “torture report” in December 2014. Even more disturbingly, Eban writes, these psychologists guided the actions of the CIA with the blessing of the American Psychological Association – despite the protests of many of its 148,000-strong membership.

Rorschach And Awe is being developed by writer-director Scott Z. Burns, who previously penned The Bourne Ultimatum, The Informant!, Contagion and Side Effects. He will executive produce the film, along with Michael Sugar – producer of similarly themed movies such as Rendition and The Fifth Estate. There is no indication yet as to timescale or casting, but given the subject matter, it would not be surprising to see high profile names clamouring for the chance to be involved.