Justifying Torture: CIA Psychologist’s Book Defends His Role

WASHINGTON ― A former CIA contractor who is being sued for his role in the spy agency’s torture program argues in a forthcoming book that his actions were legal, morally justified and necessary to protect Americans from terrorist attacks.

In “Enhanced Interrogation: Inside the Minds and Motives of the Islamic Terrorists Trying to Destroy America,” James Mitchell and his coauthor, Bill Harlow, deliver a firsthand account of how he joined the CIA’s interrogation program in 2002 as an adviser and eventually became one of the agency’s top interrogators, using techniques now widely recognized as torture against suspected al Qaeda members imprisoned at secret torture locations, known as black sites.

In his book, Mitchell is dismissive of former interrogators who say that building rapport with prisoners is more effective than violent coercion. The CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques,” Mitchell says, saved lives.

Mitchell was one of two psychologists hired by the CIA in 2002 to help develop ways to break down detainees’ ability to resist interrogations. He and his colleague John “Bruce” Jessen worked at the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) school, where they taught U.S. troops how to endure brutal treatment if they were taken captive by a country that does not adhere to the Geneva Conventions. Under Mitchell and Jessen’s guidance, the CIA used modified SERE techniques against suspected terrorists between 2002 and 2008.

President Barack Obama banned enhanced interrogation techniques in 2009, and the Senate Intelligence Committee released a scathing report on the CIA program, using code names for Mitchell and Jessen, in 2014. Mitchell admitted his role in the program to Vice News in 2014, but his book, which will be released Tuesday, is his comprehensive defense of his work with the CIA and the methods they used.

Mitchell, one of the few public faces of the CIA’s torture program, may appear in court next year in a civil case brought by former CIA black site prisoners. He has a vested interest in convincing readers that he was motivated by a sense of patriotic duty and that the interrogation techniques used by the CIA were less horrifying than described in a 500-page report by its Senate overseers...


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