James Mitchell, CIA's "Torture Teacher" Hits Back

By Toby Harnden - December 16, 2014

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Former CIA officers are divided over whether techniques such as waterboarding constituted torture, and over whether they yielded information that could not have been elicited any other way.

Glenn Carle, who was sent to Morocco to interrogate an al-Qaeda suspect he judged harmless, said that “torture doesn’t work and the information from it was unreliable”.

He refused to pressurise the detainee physically but faced exhortations from CIA headquarters to “pressure him, be creative, be harder”. Mitchell and Jessen, he contended, were “charlatans” who were “either serious dupes about their own abilities, or liars”.

Hayden, however, said Feinstein’s report was “very unfair” to the two psychologists. “What these people did, they did out of patriotism,” he said. “They stepped up when we needed ideas. Honest men can differ over the course of action that was taken, but this was about trying to help the country.”

Rizzo said they were “professional” and their fees were justified given the numbers their company employed and the services they provided. “It’s a lot of money but it’s not like they got 40m bucks apiece personally to put in a Swiss bank,” he said.

Hayden feared Feinstein’s report would “alienate our allies because we will be viewed as unreliable partners”. Certainly, it has raised awkward questions for David Cameron, the prime minister.

David Davis MP, the former British shadow home secretary, has charged that Britain had a “secret policy of complicity in torture” by turning a blind eye to American activities. He called for an independent inquiry into any British involvement, including in cases of rendition to non-western countries where suspects might have been tortured.

The US justice department has said repeatedly that it sees no grounds for prosecution of any CIA officers. Hayden and Rizzo, however, both said they had concerns about being arrested abroad, perhaps by a country such as Spain or Belgium claiming universal jurisdiction over crimes of torture.

Any such legal actions could even embolden victims of drone strikes to bring cases against Obama once he leaves office. “If you had a person who was wrongfully killed as a result of a drone strike approved by Obama, it’s not altogether out of the question that person could have recourse,” said Reed Brody, counsel for Human Rights Watch.

Davis said: “It’s not prosecutions we need, it’s a method of ensuring it never happens again. It’s got to be politically fatal for anybody to allow this to happen on their watch in future. The only way you can do that is for the public to know what’s been done in their name.”

He acknowledged that “in 2002 they [the Americans] were in a state of panic — they really did think they were in a war, maybe for civilisation itself”.

Indeed, after the capture of KSM, Senator Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat on Feinstein’s committee, said “I wouldn’t take anything off the table where he is concerned”, including rendition to a country that might torture him. Britain has gone through similar convulsions, torturing prisoners during the Aden emergency

in the 1960s, including stripping them and stubbing out cigarettes on their skin.

Mitchell, who now spends much of his time canoeing in the Florida swamps or "doing adventurous things with people who don’t suck", said Obama and his fellow Democrats were hypocritical because they had expanded the US drone programme. “Check how many children they’ve killed under Obama. It’s hundreds,” he said. “Killing hundreds of children is OK, but slapping KSM is bad?”

Hayden said criticism of the CIA’s interrogation programme by Feinstein and other Democrats was a “luxury they can now afford because it did work and we made them safe”. They are, he added, “troubled by what we did largely because they were happy we did it”. 

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Toby Harnden is the Washington bureau chief of The Sunday Times. You can follow him on Twitter here.

This article originally appeared in The Sunday Times. It is reprinted here with permission. 

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