WASHINGTON — One of the two psychologists paid millions for designing the CIA’s post-Sept. 11 program of brutal interrogations defends the treatment of al-Qaida detainees and disputes a critical Senate report.
“What I would love the American people to know is that the way the Senate Democrats on that committee described the credentials and background of the two psychologists is just factually, demonstrably incorrect,” James E. Mitchell told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Wednesday from his Florida home.
Mitchell, who is identified in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report by a pseudonym, Grayson Swigert, declined to be specific about what he considered inaccurate.
He said a secrecy agreement prevented him from confirming his involvement in the CIA program or fully defending himself.
A U.S. official with knowledge of the program confirms that Mitchell is Swigert. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss information that has not been publicly released.
Mitchell’s former business partner, Bruce Jessen, is identified in the report as Hammond Dunbar, the official said.
The report said they “devised the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques and played a central role in the operation, assessments, and management” of the program. The two were said to be involved in some of the most brutal interrogations, including waterboarding applied to 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed that went beyond what the Justice Department had approved.
In the AP interview, Mitchell said the committee’s report cherry-picked evidence to present a false narrative about the CIA program.
“It’s flat wrong,” he said, to suggest that he had no experience as an interrogator and no understanding of al-Qaida, as the report says of the psychologists.
But Mitchell declined to detail his experience, other than to point out he spent 30 years with the Air Force and other government organizations.
“I completely understand why the human rights organizations in the United States are upset by the Senate report,” he said. “I would be upset by it too, if it were true.”
“What they are asking you to believe is that multiple directors of the CIA and analysts who made their living for years doing this lied to the federal government, or were too stupid to know that the intelligence they were getting wasn’t useful.”
Mitchell asserted, as have former CIA officials who ran the interrogation program, that the current policy of using CIA drones to kill terrorists overseas with Hellfire missiles is more troubling than subjecting them to harsh interrogation measures.
“It’s a lot more humane, even if you are going to subject them to harsh techniques, to question them while they are still alive, than it is to kill them and their children and their neighbors with a drone,” he said.
The report said Mitchell “had reviewed research on ‘learned helplessness,’ in which individuals might become passive and depressed in response to adverse or uncontrollable events. He theorized that inducing such a state could encourage a detainee to cooperate and provide information.”