Q&A: Alleged architect of CIA program blasts Dems for smear campaign

Jim Mitchell, a psychologist and Air Force retiree, accuses 'Starbucks' sipping Dems of rewriting history

In the following Q&A, Jim Mitchell, widely believed to be one of the chief architects of the CIA's interrogation program, accuses Democrats of engaging in a smear campaign and says that interrogators “did the best they could.”

The enhanced interrogation techniques employed by the CIA are the subject of a scathing 500-page report issued Tuesday by the Senate Intelligence Committee, which concluded that the program — formally dismantled in 2006 — was brutal and ineffective.

While the Senate release does not identify Mitchell by name, news reports have identified the two psychologists who designed the interrogation program as Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, both Air Force retirees.

The interrogation process was essentially outsourced to the two men, who were described by the Senate report as lacking experience as interrogators and possessing no “specialized knowledge of Al-Qaeda, a background in counterterrorism, or any relevant cultural or linguistic expertise."

In addition to designing and implementing the interrogation program — which netted the psychologists millions of dollars from CIA contracts — both men were permitted to monitor the program’s effectiveness, prompting internal concerns about conflict of interest, according to the Senate report.

The two men even wrote a “business plan” in 2003 that contained erroneous details about the positive aspects of the interrogation program. The plan stated that Al-Qaeda captives were “resistant” to “standard” interrogation techniques, an argument the Senate report said lacked merit because torture techniques were used before detainees were even questioned.

Physicians for Human Rights, a group of medical professionals and scientists organized to document the effects of torture, has called for an investigation into the role of Mitchell and Jessen, and for the revocation of licenses for “any health professionals who participated."

“Participating in torture violates our basic duty to do no harm. That licensed clinicians helped design, implement and monitor this program is an affront to health professionals everywhere," the group told Al Jazeera.

Mitchell, who signed a non-disclosure agreement with the CIA, would not confirm or deny if he is the man mentioned in the report, but he did offer his thoughts on it and the resulting backlash.

Roxana Saberi: What did you think of the (Senate Intelligence Committee) report and when did you see it?

Jim Mitchell: I saw the report when it came out, through the news. It’s an effort on the part of them to rewrite history, what I said before. It’s easy in hindsight to look when you get five years, sitting in a comfortable cubicle, drinking Starbucks, talking about how much more capable you’d be. It’s easy using hindsight to suggest we could’ve done it differently, this wasn’t necessary. It’s easy to do that. I completely understand it — hindsight bias, we call it in psychology — it happens. It’s why people think we should’ve been able to predict 9/11 or Pearl Harbor. It’s the same thing essentially.

They weren’t there in real time, and the men and women — without confirming or denying I was part of that program — gave their lives to support the U.S. in the intelligence community, and the last thing the Democrats want to do before turning over chairmanship of the committee is smear the CIA. I think it’s atrocious.

What about the report’s conclusion that the U.S. government could have obtained intelligence by other means?

It’s hindsight bias. How about if you did a story, then I came along after you did your story and talked about all the different ways you could get the information. It doesn’t make any difference what you could’ve done five years later with the benefit of hindsight. It matters what you did do when in [a] running street battle, when people were trying to kill us. And the men and women in the CIA, without the benefit of hindsight, did the best they could do. So I applaud them.

Are enhanced interrogation techniques effective?

If you look at the documents declassified at Cheney’s request, you’ll see documents that were never intended to be read by the public, indicating it was highly successful. And the CIA said it was useful.

What’s the biggest misperception created by the report?

It’s not true, not accurate. It's written in a way that inflames emotions. Read the CIA’s and Senate minority response. I believe what they said. It’s partisan bullshit.

So, were you one of the architects of the enhanced interrogation techniques or involved in using them on detainees?

People believe that’s true. I’m not acknowledging it one way or another.

How long is the non-disclosure agreement going to last?

It will last the rest of my life. I would love to be released from it.

The interview was conducted by Roxana Saberi and condensed by Amel Ahmed.

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Barack Obama

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