Psychologists Told CIA Waterboarding Was Safe
Despite Red Flags, CIA Followed Interrogation Program of Bruce Jessen and Jim Mitchell
There is new scrutiny into the role of two psychologists who made an estimated $1,000 a day to oversee and advise the CIA's interrogation of captured terrorists.
Both men, doctors Jim Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, assured the CIA
that their methods could 'break' a terrorist and would be safe,
according to two former high-ranking CIA officials and a collection of
recently declassified Bush administration memos.
The major problem, according to those who knew the two retired
military psychologists, was that neither Mitchell nor Jessen had ever
conducted a real interrogation, or been involved in an intelligence operation.
When they became involved in
interrogations for the CIA,
"that was their first step into the world of intelligence," says Air
Force Colonel Steve Kleinman, a career military interrogator and former
colleague of both Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen. "That was their very
first experience with it. Everything else was role-play."
Kleinman and two other former colleagues tell ABC News that neither
Mitchell nor Jessen had any experience with al Qaeda, Islamic
extremists or battlefield interrogations.
And yet, more than anyone else, Mitchell and Jessen, long-time
friends and colleagues, shaped the CIA's interrogation program,
according to the two former CIA officials.
The debate over the CIA's so called "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques"
has picked up in recent weeks after the Obama administration released a
set of legal memos written during the Bush presidency, and a Senate
committee report that details the origins of interrogation policy
during the Bush administration.
"If the psychologists told the CIA or the Office of Legal Counsel
that these methods wouldn't amount to torture as a matter of science, I
think those psychologists were essentially aiding in torture," says
Jameel Jaffer, who directed the American Civil Liberties Union's fight
to secure the memos' release.
In addition to questions of legality investigations have begun in
Congress into the effectiveness of Mitchell and Jessen's program.
According to Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), chair of the Armed
Services Committee, whose report identifies Mitchell and Jessen as
important to the creation of interrogation policies, little could have
been gained by the harsh methods.
"These tactics are more likely to produce unreliable evidence than
they are to produce any reliable information," he told ABC News. "The
use of these tactics tends to increase resistance on the part of the
detainee to cooperating with us. So they have the exact opposite effect
of what [the U.S. would] want."
Declassified Memos Contradict 2007 ABC News Interview with John Kiriakou
The memos also revealed that waterboarding
was used "with far greater frequency that initially indicated,"
according to an excerpt from a report by the CIA Inspector General. Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded at least 83 times and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed 183 times, according to the memos.
The new figures sharply contradict an interview with
former CIA intelligence officer John Kiriakou who told ABC News in December, 2007 that Zubaydah had only been waterboarded once and talked freely afterwards.
Kiriakou, who led the capture of Zubaydah and was the first from inside
the CIA to publicly confirm the use of waterboarding, now says he, too,
was unaware of the many times Zubaydah was waterboarded.
Kiriakou told ABC News, "When I spoke to ABC News in December 2007 I
was aware of Abu Zubaydah being waterboarded on one occasion. It was
after this one occasion that he revealed information related to a
planned terrorist attack. As I said in the original interview, my
information was second-hand. I never participated in the use of
enhanced techniques on Abu Zubaydah or on any other prisoner, nor did I
witness the use of such techniques."
As to the private contractors used by the CIA to create and oversee
the 10-step brutal interrogation program, two former high-ranking CIA
officials confirm to ABC News that Mitchell and Jessen were the
architects of the CIA's interrogation program, and were hired as
independent contractors to administer and direct the so-called "high
value detainee" interrogation. Based on their suggestions and ideas,
submitted by the CIA, the Justice Department approved a set of 10
techniques in August, 2002, that would be used on Abu Zubaydah and
subsequent al Qaeda captures.
Both are said to have been present in multiple CIA secret prisons,
sources tell ABC News, regulating everything from sleep deprivation and
stress positions to forced nudity and placing insects in a "confinement
box." Sources tell ABC News that the pair traveled the world for the
CIA. For their services, they told friends that they were paid $1,000
per day overseas, tax-free, plus expenses.
Mitchell recently built a dream home in Florida, purchased a Lexus
and BMW. And as early as 2002, Mitchell and Jessen opened a consulting
business that employed as many as 60 people.
Neither would answer questions posed by ABC News, saying they were
upholding confidentiality agreements with the U.S. government.
Colleagues of Mitchell and Jessen Raised Red Flags
Although Mitchell and Jessen had been previously identified as being
CIA contractors who influenced the CIA's controversial interrogation
techniques, the recently released government documents reveal how
deeply the pair were involved in developing an interrogation program
based on their expertise as psychologists in classified military
training regimen intended to help U.S. soldiers and pilots resist
coercion and torture in the event of capture, called SERE.
The classified program, which stands for Survival, Evasion,
Resistance, Escape, was a legacy of the Cold War, when U.S. soldiers
captured by Communist regimes were brutalized and used as propaganda
SERE was also designed to cope with the tactics of countries and
governments that did not abide by the Geneva Convention, which
prohibits torture and governs the rules of war.
An obscure Department of Defense unit, called the Joint Personnel
Recovery Agency (JPRA), for which Dr. Jessen served as a psychological
expert and trainer, is assigned the task of overseeing all SERE
training giving to the various special forces in the U.S. military. Dr.
Mitchell, though assigned to the special operations unit of the Air
Force, worked closely with Dr. Jessen for nearly two decades at
Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane, WA.
The Senate Armed Services Committee recently released a study of
interrogation policies in the military after 9/11. The report describes
the influence Dr. Jessen had as chief psychologist of JPRA, and his
colleague, Dr. Mitchell on the role of SERE tactics in shaping
According to the report, Mitchell and Jessen's SERE expertise, "lies
in training U.S. military personnel who are at risk for capture, how to
respond and resist interrogations (a defensive mission), not in how to
conduct interrogations (an offensive mission)."
Despite a flurry of red flags from Mitchell and Jessen's colleagues,
senior Pentagon and CIA officials agreed to adopt their program.
Col. Kleinman says Mitchell and Jessen were way out their league advocating and creating an interrogation model.
"What they failed to understand was they were stepping out of their
area of expertise," he says. "There was nobody, apparently, at the
decision-making level that had enough expertise and experience in the
area of interrogation to quickly see the disconnect between the SERE
model, a resistance model, and an actual interrogation for intelligence
CIA: Interrogation Program Guided by Legal Opinions from DOJ
Now, investigators will look to see if the harsh techniques worked
and the ACLU and Jameel Jaffer are interested in determining if
Mitchell and Jessen misled the U.S. government about the intensity of
their interrogation program. Jaffer points out that according to a CIA
Inspector General report, the "expertise of the SERE
psychologists/interrogators on the waterboard was probably
misrepresented." As a result, the IG report continued, there is no
reason to believe that the technique was effective, or "medically
So how did it happen that the CIA and the U.S. government came to
rely so heavily on two inexperienced interrogators for the nations more
Kleinman is dumbfounded. "The best I can come up with was the people
doing the hiring did not even understand the challenge in front of
The CIA told ABC News that the "agency's terrorist interrogation
program was guided by legal opinions from the Department of Justice."