Ladies, are you feeling stalled in your life? Do you lack direction? Are you dissatisfied with your current career? Are you meant for greater things? Is there a glorious new morning just out of your reach? Do you need help to attain the golden future that your talents deserve? You need a “beauty and life coach.” Someone who, as her press material explains, had the courage to leave a successful career as a “senior government executive” who had been “tasked with no-fail missions.” Granted, she “loved every minute” of that job. She modestly explains that she was “good at it, comfortable even, maybe too comfortable.” She had done “everything I’d ever set out to do.” She had no more worlds to conquer. At 56, she was able to retire on the government dime and muster up the courage to “start something new.”
The Black Site Operative’s Second Act: An American Success Story.
Aram Rostan of Reuters brought us a whopper of a story about Alfreda Scheuer (née Bikowsky), who, in her enormously successful first career, flourished at the CIA as an “analyst” who specialized in analyzing prisoners who were waterboarded, sleep-deprived, stress-positioned, and locked in coffin-sized boxes for days at a time.
Scheuer retired from her most recent role as deputy chief of Homeland and Strategic Threats late in 2021 and agreed to talk to Reuters this year. It’s the first interview she’s ever done, she said, and she decided to speak to make clear she was not forced out of the agency but left on her own terms. By policy, the CIA doesn’t discuss individual employees or confirm whether they worked at the agency.
Over several calls that lasted two and half hours, Scheuer said she couldn’t discuss individual cases because they were classified. But in a broad sense, she said waterboarding cited in government reports was not torture, insisted such techniques can work and said any criticism of her was largely the result of her taking risks to combat terrorism. “I got bloodied,” she said, alluding to criticism of her agency in government and media reports, “and kept coming back to try again and again to do something. I’m proud that I wasn’t on the sidelines. I didn’t bury my head in the sand.”
Lesson No. 1: Always enjoy your work.
The New Yorker once dubbed Scheuer, again citing her position but omitting her name, as the “Queen of Torture,” writing that “she gleefully participated in torture sessions.” Scheuer called the description, which found its way into multiple media reports, false and a caricature. She believes a male operative would not have been described the same way. “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.”
Lesson No. 2: Sexism can’t stop you. Follow your bliss wherever it leads, even to black site dungeons in Poland or Thailand.
A Senate investigation does not allege Scheuer personally tortured any suspects. She said her role was as a “subject matter expert,” not an interrogator. “There is a very clear line between an interrogator and a debriefer,” she said. “A debriefer is a subject matter expert who asks questions.”
Lesson No. 3: Don’t let anyone else define you. Ambiguity and nuance are power.
As Rostan reports, Scheuer was assigned to Alec Station, the CIA’s unit tasked with confronting the new threat posed by Osama bin Laden. The unit was headed by Michael Scheuer, whom she eventually married. After 9/11, when the Bush Administration placed the government on a rocket sled to “the Dark Side,” the era of “enhanced interrogation techniques” had begun.
“I won’t get into the details of what I saw,” Scheuer said, but added: “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.” For 20 days, Abu Zubaydah was subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques on a near 24-hour-per-day basis,” the Senate report found. He was waterboarded two to four times a day, kept nearly naked and locked in a larger coffin-like box or a smaller “dog-box.”
She certainly got around.
Senate investigators say Scheuer questioned Mohammed during an intense torture session, after emailing he was “gonna be hatin’ life on this one.” Reuters couldn’t determine who she emailed. The investigators said she misread intelligence from another detainee about Black American Muslims in Afghanistan and asked Mohammed about an allegation no one had made: that he planned to recruit Black Americans in the United States for an attack. Under torture, the report said, Mohammed appeared to fabricate such a plot.
Scheuer said she did not make inaccurate claims. “The intelligence that we got was exceptionally good,” she said. “And was, I mean, could not be better than from the horse’s mouth.” She added: “Everything was done with a clear purpose to obtain intelligence that we needed to thwart the next attack and to find the rest of the network. Period.”
More proof that F. Scott Fitzgerald was full of hooey. There are always second acts in American life. Even monsters can change careers.
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