The Torture Business CIA Outsourced Development of Interrogation Plan

The torture practices used in interrogations of al-Qaida prisoners were not developed by government officials in Washington, but by private security experts. In return for a daily consulting fee, they personally supervised the program at the CIA's secret prisons from the very beginning.

By John Goetz and Britta Sandberg

James Mitchell's new life begins with the same ritual every morning: He goes jogging, wearing Adidas shorts and a black tank top, his iPod in his ear. Then he gets into his luxury SUV and drives back to luxury home on Lake Vienna Drive in Pasco County, Florida.

The hacienda-style house, with a natural stone façade, columned walkways and palm trees in front of the door is brand-new. Mitchell has just had it built, in the midst of an upscale, gated community.

The freestanding garage to the right of the house is big enough for three or four cars, and a mountain bike is mounted to the back of the SUV. Mitchell, a tanned man in his late 50s with silver-gray hair, a neatly trimmed beard and trendy sunglasses, spends two hours a day exercising. In fact, exercise plays an important role in his new life under Florida's blue skies.

Mitchell is the man who, on the behalf of the administration of former President George W. Bush, developed the rules of the program that was somewhat shamefacedly referred to as "special interrogation techniques" and was authorized by the president in the summer of 2002. In truth, Mitchell developed a torture manual. His client was the CIA. The American foreign intelligence agency has engaged in its own share of dubious practices over the years, activities it initially treated as praiseworthy and would later come to bitterly regret. But now it has become clear that the CIA, ironically enough, outsourced its torture practices in interrogations during the darkest years of the Bush administration. It entrusted the development and supervision of these interrogations to a private security firm run by James Mitchell and his partner, Bruce Jessen.

The two psychologists, who had never even conducted an interrogation before -- in other words, two amateurs -- were largely responsible for developing the CIA's prisoner interrogation program. The recently published report of the Committee on Armed Services of the US Senate came out with new proof and details about this collaboration, ABC News succeeded in filming both Jessen and Mitchell who both refused to answer any questions concerning their past saying that they were not allow to speak about it.


Three months after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Bush drove the Taliban out of Afghanistan and assigned the task of interrogating senior al-Qaida prisoners to the CIA. The agency, which had little experience with interrogation, turned to officials at the Defense Department for help. They, in turn, contacted the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, a division of the Defense Department responsible for Americans captured abroad and the US Army's secret SERE training program.

SERE, which stands for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape, is a program designed to prepare US soldiers, especially pilots, for situations after being taken prisoner. In various training seminars, they learn how to improve their ability to withstand mistreatment by the enemy and, in the worst case, torture.

Most of the methods are based on experiences from the Korean War. During SERE training, US soldiers are stripped naked, exposed to extreme temperatures and loud music and thrown against walls. They are kept in so-called stress positions for hours and were also subjected to waterboarding, at least until 2007.

The CIA request for possible new interrogation methods also reached James Mitchell. He had worked as a military psychologist for years and had trained soldiers in the SERE program. Mitchell deserves a lot of credit in this area, says US Air Force Colonel Steven Kleinman. "Had Dr. Mitchell continued his work in SERE training, his considerable contribution to that noble effort would have served as a lasting legacy to him.," Kleinman said. "Unfortunately, there wasn't anyone at the higher echelons in the Intelligence Community to recognize that his involvement in interrogations would be well outside his area of expertise. They should have stopped it before it began."


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