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Senate Report on CIA Torture

James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen

Mitchell and Jessen, identified as “Grayson Swigert” and “Hammond Dunbar” in the torture report, respectively, were psychologists hired by the CIA to design the enhanced interrogation program. “Neither psychologist had experience as an interrogator, nor did either have specialized knowledge of al-Qa’ida, a background in terrorism, or any relevant regional, cultural, or linguistic expertise.” 

Mitchell and Jessen “had been psychologists with the U.S. Air Force Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) school.” The SERE program "exposes select U.S. military personnel to, among other things, coercive interrogation techniques that they might be subject to if taken prisoner by countries that did not adhere to Geneva protections." Jessen "theorized that inducing ... a state [of learned helplessness] could encourage a detainee to cooperate and provide information."

Based on his work at the SERE school, in early July 2002, Mitchell "provided a list of 12 SERE techniques for possible use by the CIA: (1) the attention grasp, (2) walling, (3) facial hold, (4) facial slap, (5) cramped confinement, (6) wall standing, (7) stress positions, (8) sleep deprivation, (9) waterboard, (10) use of diapers, (11) use of insects, and (12) mock burials.” Attorney General John Ashcroft “verbally approved” of all of these techniques, except for waterboarding and mock burials, on July 24, 2002.

Mitchell and Jessen were also involved in designing the interrogation program for several specific detainees, and participated in the interrogations of Abu ZubaydahGul Rahman, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. For example, despite having “no direct experience with the waterboard,” Mitchell and Jessen "described it as an 'absolutely convincing technique' ... [that] was necessary to overwhelm Abu Zubaydah’s ability to resist.” Jessen assisted in the interrogation of Gul Rahman, which included “48 hours of sleep deprivation, auditory overload, total darkness, isolation, a cold shower, and rough treatment”, techniques that “CIA headquarters did not approve … in advance.” Both Mitchell and Jessen used “the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques against KSM, including nudity, standing, sleep deprivation, the attention grab and insult slap, the facial grab, the abdominal slap, the kneeling stress position and walling,” as well as “threatening KSM’s children.” 

For al-Nashiri, Jessen created an “interrogation plan propos[ing] that interrogators would have the 'latitude to use the full range of enhanced exploitation and interrogation measures.'” The CIA chief of interrogations recieved Jessen's proposed interrogation plan on January 21, 2003. The next day, the chief emailed colleagues to say that “he would “no longer be associated in any way with the interrogation program due to serious reservation[s] [he had] about the current state of affairs’’ and that it the CIA program was “a train wreak [sic] waiting to happen.” He drafted a cable expressing his “serious reservations with the continued use of enhanced techniques with [al-Nashiri] and its long term impact on him.” He also stated that ”a psychologist should not serve as an interrogator.” Despite this warning, “CIA headquarters approved a plan to reinstitute the use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques against al-Nashiri.”

CIA headquarters expressed "concerns about possible conflicts of interest related to [Mitchell and Jessen]" both administering interrogation techniques and issuing psychological assessments. A January 2003 cable stated that only a staff psychologist, not a contractor, could issue an assessment of the record. Despite these concerns, in June 2003, Mitchell and Jessen were "deployed to DETENTION SITE BLUE to both interrogate and conduct psychological reviews of detainees" and specifically "to interrogate KSM, as well as to assess KSM's 'psychological stability' and 'resistance posture.'" The same year, the CIA's Office of Medical Services expressed concern over possible conflict of interest in situations in which Mitchell and Jessen were paid to apply an enhanced interrogation technique, then "[judge] both [the technique's] effectiveness and detainee resilience, and implicitly [propose] continued use of the technique."

Between 2005 and mid-2009, when the CIA terminated its contract with Mitchell and Jessen's company, the CIA paid the company “more than $75 million for services in conjunction with the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program.”