Torture, Inc.

The New York Times reports on the two psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who designed and ran the CIA’s torture program: Mr. Mitchell suggested that the C.I.A. also hire Mr. Jessen, a friend and former colleague. In the Air Force, Mr. Jessen had helped screen the instructors who posed as interrogators. Occasionally, he played the interrogator himself, and was once called out by colleagues for being too aggressive. Mr. Jessen did not respond to repeated interview requests.

In Thailand, only Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Jessen were allowed to use the new tactics. For nearly a month, they interrogated Abu Zubaydah, at one point waterboarding him until he lost consciousness. Some C.I.A. officials said they were repulsed by the brutal methods, according to the Senate report, and cables showed that some wanted out of the program. Some officials, in fact, grew to resent the contractors, complaining that they refused to listen to alternatives, the report says. “I would sometimes feel it,” Mr. Mitchell said. “It was nothing ever said to me, but I could feel it sometimes.”

Yet the Senate report shows that Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Jessen prevailed, backed by allies at C.I.A. headquarters, including on the agency’s Bin Laden team and at the Counterterrorism Center, who believed that Abu Zubaydah — and later others — were holding back information. It eventually became difficult to distinguish between the C.I.A. and Mitchell and Jessen Associates, the Spokane, Wash.-based company they formed, according to the Senate report.

In 2005, the C.I.A. awarded the company a contract to provide interrogation services. Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Jessen hired psychologists, interrogators and security personnel as the program spread to secret prisons in Afghanistan, Romania, Poland and Lithuania.

By 2006, contractors made up 73 percent of the people at the C.I.A.’s Renditions and Detention Group, the office in charge of interrogations. The majority were from Mitchell and Jessen Associates, according to the report. Mr. Mitchell said the C.I.A. made it clear that they wanted him to form the company as a way to combat the high turnover. “They wanted to have people who had retired who knew the skills,” he said. In one example, the chief of the C.I.A. division that supervised the interrogation program became the firm’s chief operating officer when he retired.

Mitchell and Jessen Associates had one central purpose, and when President Obama shut down the interrogation program in 2009, it was over. “The company didn’t last after they shut down the program,” Mr. Mitchell said.

The C.I.A. terminated the contract after paying the company $81 million of a contract that could have been worth twice that much. That does not include the money Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Jessen made before 2005, when the C.I.A. paid them a daily rate.

Both men are now retired — Mr. Mitchell to Florida and Mr. Jessen to Spokane, Wash. But both have faced continuing problems from their role in the torture program, and the C.I.A. is obligated to keep paying the legal expenses of Mitchell and Jessen Associates through 2021. [Continue reading…]

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