Where do career CIA agents who spent years overseeing the torture of suspects at black sites go when they retire?
They become life coaches, of course.
In the film, Scheuer’s character is named “Maya Harris,” who was played by flame-haired actress Jessica Chastain (she won a Golden Globe for the performance). Scheuer, who had been with the CIA since 1990, says she left the government on good terms in late 2021. Her last position was deputy chief of Homeland and Strategic Threats. This is her first public interview, ever.
Today she is a “life coach,” says Reuters, “running a business called YBeU Beauty, focusing on helping women ‘look good, feel good, and do good.’”
If you assume she might try to play down the darker side of her CV, like overseeing the torture of Al Qaeda suspect Abu Zubaydah, “who was waterboarded and locked in a ‘dog box,’” or pushing for the extraordinary rendition of Khalid El Masri, who was thrown “incommunicado into a small cell with a bucket for a toilet for four months,” when it “should have been clear he was the wrong man,” think again.
In fact, in her bio for YBeU, she says, “I had finished a three decades + career as a senior government executive leading teams, mostly females, tasked with no-fail missions, taking smart risks, and even making life-and-death decisions. I loved every minute of it.”
To be fair, she tells reporter Aram Roston when he asks about the “enhanced interrogation policies” (torture) that were later (supposedly ) ended by the Obama administration, she says, “I won’t get into the details of what I saw,” but adds, “We took it as a solemn duty to get to the truth to save other lives. Everyone I saw conducted themselves with the utmost professionalism. It doesn’t mean I took any joy in it.”
Somewhere in there, as they say, lies the truth. Of course if CIA agents were conducting interrogations “by the book,” and “the book” was laid down in official policy as it was by the Bush-Cheney administration after 9/11, yes, they were acting “professionally.” But that is a low bar that smacks of “just following orders,” particularly when one hears about the actual “by the book” sessions with suspects, which ranged from bashing their heads against a wall repeatedly and waterboarding them, to covering them with cockroaches while stuffed in coffin-like boxes, hit repeatedly with cords, cables and other implements, or subjecting them to extreme temperatures, while naked.
There are words that come to mind other than “professional,” but there you go. Not all of these tactics were “approved” by the way — we know this from the Senate’s torture report in 2014. But according to the CIA, Scheuer was indeed the image of professionalism and to this day she maintains that such torture elicited actionable intelligence for the agency, though nothing considered to be exhaustive or even definitive has ever been admitted as evidence by the agency to defend its actions during this time. If anything, expert after expert has testified to the contrary; that is why the practices that became the subject of “Zero Dark Thirty,” a boilerplate Hollywood movie that took advantage of access to CIA/Pentagon sources and has largely been dismissed as pernicious pro-torture propaganda, have been excised (at least officially) from the agency’s “books.”
That is why the military can’t prosecute the 9/11 suspects at Gitmo — they were all tortured and at least one has brain damage.
Ironically, former CIA agent John Kiriakou also witnessed the more than 80 waterboarding sessions of Abu Zubaydah (who was never charged but is still a prisoner at Gitmo, sans one eye). But unlike Scheuer, he couldn’t take it on his conscience and went public with what he saw. The CIA made sure he paid, and Kiriakou did more than two years in prison. He was and is a government pariah to this day. Scheuer, once referred to as the “queen of torture,” embraced her role during those torture sessions, which was gobbled up by award-winning director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal, and she is now living her best life as a life coach.
“I got that title because I was in the arena,” she said. “In fact, I raised my hand loud and proud and you know, I don't regret it at all.”
UPDATE 4/21: Asked about Scheuer's new gig, John Kiriakou didn't hold back his disgust with her former CIA role: “If you want to be coached in how to set up and carry out a torture program, international renditions, or a secret prison system...Alfreda Scheuer’s YBeU is just what you’ve been waiting for!”