CIA torture architect breaks silence to defend ‘enhanced interrogation’

The Guardian, By Jason Leopold, April 18

James Mitchell ‘highly skeptical’ of Senate report on CIA torture – ‘It was not illegal based on the law at the time’ – Mitchell said to have waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed – Interview: ‘I’m just a guy who got asked to do something for his country’

The psychologist regarded as the architect of the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program has broken a seven-year silence to defend the use of torture techniques against al-Qaida terror suspects in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

In an uncompromising and wide-ranging interview with the Guardian, his first public remarks since he was linked to the program in 2007, James Mitchell was dismissive of a Senate intelligence committee report on CIA torture in which he features, and which is currently at the heart of an intense row between legislators and the agency.

The committee’s report found that the interrogation techniques devised by Mitchell, a retired air force psychologist, were far more brutal than disclosed at the time, and did not yield useful intelligence. These included waterboarding, stress positions, sleep deprivation for days at a time, confinement in a box and being slammed into walls.

But Mitchell, who was reported to have personally waterboarded accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, remains unrepentant. “The people on the ground did the best they could with the way they understood the law at the time,” he said. “You can’t ask someone to put their life on the line and think and make a decision without the benefit of hindsight and then eviscerate them in the press 10 years later.”

20 comments to CIA torture architect breaks silence to defend ‘enhanced interrogation’

  • “You can’t ask someone to put their life on the line and think and make a decision without the benefit of hindsight and then eviscerate them in the press 10 years later.”

    Yes you can. Especially when the report specifically states that the perpetrators of torture transgressed the law at that time, and lied to Congress as well as the CIA oversight officers about what they were doing.

    I wonder how it was he was putting his life on the line. It seems to me the torturers are in charge. He makes himself sound as if he was a victim somehow. In fact, from a psychological perspective, his whole interview is very telling, considering James Mitchell is himself a psychologist.

    His use of the word “eviscerate” to describe what is happening to him now is tortuously vivid. Most people would go with the traditional “pillory” or “lynch”. And why is he blaming the press? It’s the Congress that is condemning him in their report. Sure, the press is leaking these details, but Mitchell, like so many others in the CIA, thinks the real crime here is the leakage and the whistle-blowing that’s going on by somebody in Congress or even at the CIA. Mitchell assumes if you work for the CIA, you can operate completely in the dark, outside of the public eye or any oversight whatever, and any details of what you did will be kept secret for eternity. Torture itself, in other words, is never a crime, but talking about it sure is.

    • Celsius 233

      Chris Hedges calls it inverted totalitarianism; names and labels don’t replace clear vision and the facts.
      The word smiths are very busy creating a new vision of reality; fortunately some of us see; we call bullshit on words and rely on our lying eyes…

    • Ten years later? He and his ilk should have been eviscerated the same year the deed was done. And since when does it require “the benefit of hindsight” to decide whether or not to violate laws? He is one of the crowd for whom Rove pronunced that “we create our own reality.” Well, the real reality is now biting some of them upon the ass.

  • nihil obstet

    Godwin’s law be damned! Make them watch Judgment at Nuremburg if they haven’t got time to read a little history. Everything the Germans did was legal. And the U.S. prosecuted on the grounds that a country’s laws don’t legitimize what we now call crimes against humanity.

    One of the clearest signs that the U.S. is sliding into Fascism is that its employees and contractors use the legal defense for the indefensible.

  • scrat242

    Well said nihil obstet

  • nymole

    I find myself wondering why Mitchell gave the interview to the Guardian rather than a more sympathetic publisher- unless it was the lure of their winning the Nobel Prize, and why to Jason Leopold, in particular.
    I guess it’s another case of bad judgement on MItchell’s part?

  • Synoia

    But Mitchell, who was reported to have personally waterboarded accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, remains unrepentant. “The people on the ground did the best they could with the way they understood the law at the time,”

    Reads as if he has a guilty conscience and is being defensive. Makes it worse. Judges punish unrepentant behavior in sentencing.

  • JustPlainDave

    Interesting. Site consensus seems to be to accept the basic conclusions of the Stanford and Milgram Prison experiments every time they are cited. Is the certainty about what lies in the heart of this man then justified?

    Perhaps certainty has a lot to do with where the observer is standing.

    • Celsius 233

      Do no harm. I do not believe Mitchell is a Dr., but he was part of the healing arts.
      There were FBI (highly trained) interrogators who were very disturbed by the torture used on *suspects*. I really don’t care what was *in his heart*; I know him by his fruits…
      There were none (unless you count physical pain, mental abuse, and assaults on a fellow human, defined by Nuremberg as torture); crimes against humanity; according to the majority of those on the ground…

      • JustPlainDave

        He’s a psychologist, not a psychiatrist – which means that he operated under a different set of more ambiguous “rules” (they’ve since been updated, I’m given to understand).

        I have a bit more than a passing familiarity with what being thought a highly trained and experienced interrogator might entail – it’s a somewhat mixed bag, let’s put it that way. More to the point, it doesn’t make them unassailable oracles, nor does it guarantee that all of them had the same reaction (to drop a spoiler, they didn’t).

        One of the things that I have noted over the years is the necessity of good officers (and their moral leadership skills) for keeping folks out of trouble in this area. That tells me that the certainty on the couch is not matched by certainty in the field.

        • Celsius 233

          @ JPD; He’s a psychologist, not a psychiatrist – which means that he operated under a different set of more ambiguous “rules” (they’ve since been updated, I’m given to understand).
          Yes, I know, thus my qualifier about him not being a Dr.
          Any excuse to avoid *do no harm* eh?
          I’ve followed this extensively and when all is said and done; the facts are; torture.does.not.work.
          I see it as rather pointless to take this further; on this, I don’t take prisoners…

          • Celsius 233

            …and even if torture did work the answer is a resounding NO!
            Just to be clear, as I ended in an unintended ambiguous way

          • JustPlainDave

            Duh, sorry I somehow read that as “I believe” rather than “I do not believe” – not an untrivial distinction.

            I don’t fundamentally disagree that coercive measures don’t work. Where I differ is that the man who doesn’t know that the same possibility for savagery lucks in his breast is at a significant disadvantage on the battlefield. The guys who see it all in black and white when it’s abstract and say they could never do this – they’re the ones you want to watch out for when abstract becomes concrete. Being afraid of what one might do is a useful ethical constraint.

            • Celsius 233

              Duh, sorry I somehow read that as “I believe” rather than “I do not believe” – not an untrivial distinction.
              ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
              Indeed and thank you.
              Your points are well taken; I know for a fact what savagery I am capable of; the worst of the worst. It’s the human condition and one of our great weaknesses.
              This knowledge is one of the most valuable things I have. But it must be understood from self; not from a philosophy; it can only be learned from experience and reflection, IMO.

  • Let’s be clear – this country has always tortured. Think Vietcong thrown out of helicopters. What we have not done until the administration of George W. Bush is make torture the official policy, and we have not tried to justify it. We have never tried to claim that the people who did it were “good people at heart.”

    Until Bush/Cheney took us to “the dark side” the people who engaged in torture were rogue actors, and torture was an unsanctioned action which was disavowed by the person’s superiors. People who could be proven to have done it were punished, and so it was always done in a manner which could not be proven and, more importantly, which could provide “plausible deniability” for those in the chain of command above the torturer.

    Today we acknowledge that it has been (and is being?) done as a sanctioned operation, and we are using all sorts of inane arguments to justify a policy which we soberly and rigorously castigate other nations for following. We demand that those nations seek out and punish their offenders while we steadfastly refuse to do so for ours and, in fact, reward ours with lifetime pensions and well-paid speaking tours.

    The most shameful argument used in defense of torture is that the leadership, all the way to the very top, was so terrified and filled with panic after 9/11 that they authorized the use of torture in order to prevent another such attack, and then continued the use of torture in order to “keep us safe,” an argument that continues to be used in justification of inhumane treatment of prisoners to this day. That is an argument which, literally, makes me ashamed of my country every time I hear it.

    • Celsius 233

      Quislings take many forms; admittedly I’m stretching the meaning, but I’ll stand on my meaning.
      In this instance *we* accepted the enemies tactics and made them our own; thereby becoming quislings.
      I’m an old guy, so I’m not naive regarding our history of torture, it goes all the way back to 1620 (before actually), here in North America.
      But we brought it from England and so it goes, on and on and on.
      It’s what we humans do; when, and only when, that’s understood, can we begin to end it.
      Good luck with that…

  • The first thing you don’t do is give Bush a sentimental send-off by helicopter from the White House lawn on the day you are inaugurated. Obama should have let him slink off into the night, and then let an open and independent investigation tell the world what Bush-Cheney did, right down the line to Mr. Mitchell. If a nation isn’t willing to confront where and how such crimes started, it cannot tell the world that it has dealt in any way with the issue.

    And if Obama really believes torture is criminal behavior, he should publicly remind Cheney of that every time he opens his mouth to tell us how proud he is of coming up with such a policy.

Leave a Reply

Users