They told CIA to use waterboarding, stress positions and sleep deprivation Senate report says ‘enhanced’ techniques did not thwart terrorist plots But Mitchell says the report is a politically-motivated ‘load of hooey’ Doctors charged as much as $1,800 for their help with interrogations CIA contract was worth $180million but was cancelled by Obama in 2009 Mitchell is currently retired and living in Florida
Jessen has lived a private life in Spokane, Washington.
He was appointed a Mormon bishop in his hometown, but had to resign when church members found out about his past
Their names appear again and again in the U.S. Senate’s shocking report on CIA torture — two clinical psychologists who dreamt up ever more brutal ways to inflict humiliation and pain on uncharged prisoners kept in secret prisons.
Often they would do interrogations themselves, subjecting Al Qaeda suspects to endless waterboardings, beatings and week-long sleep deprivation with a gusto that even shocked hardened CIA agents. And all the time they were raking in millions as they convinced their CIA paymasters — against all evidence — that their illegal, immoral methods were getting results.
The 528-page Senate Intelligence Committee report published on Tuesday identifies the pair — who earned $81 million (£52 million) masterminding the CIA’s disastrous ‘enhanced interrogation’ programme from 2002 to 2009 — as Dr Grayson Swigert and Dr Hammond Dunbar.
These are pseudonyms. U.S. media have named them as James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, two retired air force psychologists who learnt their trade when they helped to teach U.S. servicemen how to avoid capture and survive interrogation.
As part of the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) programme at the elite Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington State, they subjected U.S. airmen to mock ‘interrogation techniques that they might be subjected to if taken prisoner by countries that did not adhere to Geneva protections’.
They struck gold when they convinced a gullible CIA that these techniques should be used in deadly earnest on terror suspects.
No matter that the men were almost comically ill-equipped to be interrogation masterminds. As the Senate report witheringly observes: ‘Neither psychologist had any experience as an interrogator, nor did either have specialised knowledge of Al Qaeda, a background in terrorism, or any relevant cultural or linguistic expertise.’
What they did have was some aggressive ideas on how to grill suspected terrorists that perfectly suited the CIA’s grim mood after the 9/11 attacks on New York’s Twin Towers and the Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia, in 2001.Mitchell, now 63, had just retired from the military but saw an opportunity to display his gung-ho patriotism and make some money. He already had CIA contacts from his role at the airbase and he approached them with a plan, backed by impressive-sounding psychobabble, for ‘enhanced’ interrogation.
Base: Psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen were given the huge sum to develop the ‘enhanced’ interrogation techniques used at facilities such as Guantanamo Bay (pictured)
Ironically, Mitchell borrowed his central theory — called ‘learned helplessness’ — from an expert on happiness. Psychologist Martin Seligman studied depression and discovered research from the 1960s in which dogs given persistent small electric shocks eventually became listless and didn’t bother to escape.
Mitchell adapted this research for his own ends. He claimed that if Al Qaeda suspects were made to face ‘persistent adversity’ they would be pushed into hopelessness and co-operate.
It didn’t seem to matter that other psychologists and experienced interrogators disagreed, arguing that there was no scientific evidence for Mitchell’s theory and that experience had shown brutal interrogation techniques did not work: prisoners would just say whatever they thought their interrogators wanted to hear.
Within two months of 9/11, desperate CIA bosses had recruited Mitchell to study an Al Qaeda manual, seized in the UK, which coached members on how to resist interrogations. How could the CIA get around such resistance and elicit intelligence from captives, they asked.
For help with the answer, Mitchell recruited Jessen, now 65, an old friend from the airbase who shared his Mormon background.
They put together a 12-point interrogation programme based on the techniques they had used on U.S. servicemen in SERE training. These included slaps to the face, cramped confinement, agonising stress positions, prolonged sleep deprivation, forced nudity, slamming prisoners into the wall, making them soil themselves while wearing nappies, and waterboarding.
The pair admitted they had never tried waterboarding but insisted it was an ‘absolutely convincing technique’.
The SERE methods they taught were based on tactics first used by the Chinese to extract confessions from U.S. prisoners during the Korean War. Now they would be used by the Americans.
The irony that now it was the U.S. that would be flouting the Geneva Conventions seemed lost on everyone.
Mitchell reportedly told CIA chiefs that interrogations required ‘a comparable level of fear and brutality to flying planes into buildings’. Some of their proposals, such as mock burials, were too extreme even for the CIA, which rejected them.
CIA chief admits some interrogation techniques were abhorrent
‘Our goal was to reach the stage where we have broken any will or ability of subject to resist or deny providing us information (intelligence) to which he had access,’ Mitchell and Jessen said in a cable published in the Senate report.
The cold-blooded pair — Jessen the son of an Idaho potato farmer, Mitchell raised in straitened circumstances by his grandmother in Tampa, Florida — got their first chance to try out their ideas when the CIA captured Al Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah in 2002.
He was spirited to a secret CIA prison, or ‘black site’, in Thailand. Although FBI interrogators used conventional, non-violent ‘rapport-building’ techniques to get crucial information from him, the CIA flew in with Mitchell and he got to work. The psychologist had the prisoner stripped, placed in a freezing cold all-white room and blasted with rock music to prevent him sleeping.
Jessen soon joined his friend in Thailand and, according to the Senate report, FBI agents there complained that the psychologists had ‘acquired tremendous influence’ over the CIA.
Yet even after being waterboarded for two-and-a-half hours and put in a coffin-sized ‘confinement box’ for more than 11 days out of 20, Zubaydah offered no more useful information.
Some CIA interrogators were so disturbed by his treatment they were on the point of tears. Even the agency’s interrogations chief was dismayed, emailing colleagues to say the unending brutality towards prisoners was a train wreck ‘waiting to happen and I intend to get the hell off the train before it happens’.
Dismissive: Despite being bound by a non-disclosure agreement to not reveal any details of their work with the CIA, Mitchell yesterday labelled the Senate’s findings as a ‘load of hooey’
A CIA doctor warned that the pair’s ‘arrogance and narcissism’ — believing ‘their way is the only way’ — could prove seriously counterproductive.
Yet the influence of ‘the Mormon Mafia’, as they were nicknamed, merely increased as their methods were used on at least 27 more prisoners, and interrogators across the U.S. were trained in their tactics.
Under their lucrative CIA contract they toured black sites across the world, briefing senior politicians including Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice and conducting interrogations themselves, often training CIA staff ‘on the job’.
And who was given responsibility for checking on the psychological state of those being interrogated? Amazingly, it was Mitchell and Jessen.
In 2003 they were summoned to a black site in Poland to interrogate another Al Qaeda big fish — 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. When he resisted, says the report, Jessen promised to ‘go to school on this guy’.
Techniques: A detainee from Afghanistan is carried on a stretcher after being interrogated in 2002
Techniques: A detainee from Afghanistan is carried on a stretcher after being interrogated in 2002
They not only threatened his children — a new low — but upped the unpleasantness of his waterboarding (which Mohammed was subjected to 183 times) by waiting for him to open his mouth to talk before pouring water over it.
It was, of course, Mitchell and Jessen who then assessed the state of the suspect. They concluded that interrogation should continue — conducted by them.
Mitchell and Jessen were getting very rich from the CIA’s patronage, each being paid about $1,800 (£1,146) a day — four times what other interrogators were getting. The Senate report reveals that by 2005 the CIA had almost fully outsourced its detention and interrogation programme. The pair were the chief beneficiaries.
WHY DID DR MITCHELL DECIDE TO OFFER HIS SERVICES TO THE CIA?
In an emotional interview with Vice News, Dr Mitchell, a former military man, explained how the September 11 attacks inspired him to help America get revenge on Al Qaeda.
He said: ‘It was horrific that people had to choose between burning to death and jumping off of buildings.
‘I don’t think that should happen to anybody. So I called up one of the people who was managing one of my contracts and said, ‘I want to be part of the solution’, really not knowing anything about anything other than, like anyone who watched [the attacks] who has a background in the military, we all wanted to be part of the solution.’
That year, they formed a company — Mitchell Jessen and Associates — specifically for their work for the CIA. It operated from an unmarked office in Spokane, Washington State. In 2006 its contract with the agency was worth a potential $180 million; by 2007 it was employing 60 people, including senior ex-CIA and FBI staff.
Mitchell was wealthy enough to buy a BMW and build a $1 million dream house in Florida.
By the time the contract was terminated in 2009, when the Obama Administration shut the black sites and stopped contractors doing interrogations, they had earned $81 million (£51 million) of taxpayers’ money, the Senate report reveals. Mitchell and Jessen shut up shop overnight, leaving no forwarding address, and have largely disappeared from public sight. The CIA has agreed to cover any legal expenses for them until 2021.
Neither has ever publicly expressed any regret, citing a non-disclosure agreement with the CIA. But Mitchell defended the CIA’s record within hours of the Senate report coming out.
‘It’s like somebody backed up your driveway and dumped a steaming pile of horse crap,’ he growled to U.S. broadcaster ABC. He described the report as politically motivated ‘bull****’ that had relied on ‘cherry-picked’ facts.
The Senate report said there was no evidence that enhanced interrogation ever worked. Other experts say it probably did the opposite, bolstering prisoners’ resolve or producing a string of false leads from people talking just to get the pain to stop.
The U.S. Justice Department has declined to prosecute anyone accused of interrogation abuses — but outrage over the revelations has led to demands from human rights groups, senators and even the United Nations for the guilty to be held accountable.
Many hope that, as the most easily identifiable offenders in the Senate report, Mitchell and Jessen will soon be the ones sweating it out in the glare of the interrogator’s spotlight.
By TOM LEONARD IN NEW YORK FOR THE DAILY MAIL
PUBLISHED: 11:49 GMT, 11 December 2014 | UPDATED: 00:37 GMT, 12 December 2014
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