"There was going to be another attack in America and the blood of dead civilians are going to be on your hands,” James Mitchell recalled of his dealings with the CIA while working as a contractor to design the agency’s torture techniques, including waterboarding.
Jessen and Mitchell have been served multiple lawsuits, notably one from the American Civil Liberties Union and another in connection with former Guantanamo Bay detainees. The pair have confirmed that the CIA strong-armed them into carrying on with practices they didn’t think were right.
“Jim and I didn’t want to continue what we we’re doing,” Jessen said in video obtained by the New York Times, but government agents pressured them to keep on because they were needed for national security — the only real domain the CIA has jurisdiction to roam.
“I think the word that was actually used is that you guys are pussies,” Mitchell said.
The men credited with applying research insights about learned helplessness received a contract from CIA to extract information from terror suspects and other prisoners. Highly nuanced techniques to cause physical and psychological suffering would induce a state of learned helplessness, the researchers thought, and could thus convert terrorists into effective informants.
There was just one hiccup: the duo’s methods “do not produce intelligence” and more likely than anything else “will probably result in false answers,” according to a CIA self-assessment published by the US Senate in 2014.
The infamous Torture Report led to former President Barack Obama terminating the torture practices, reverting to the Army Field Manual for dealing with captured individuals instead.
“I deliberated with great, soulful torment about this, and obviously I concluded that it could be done safely or I wouldn’t have done it,” Mitchell said in a moment of vulnerability, according to the Times.
In the Torture Report, the Senate implicated Jessen and Mitchell directly: “CIA personnel, aided by two outside contractors, decided to initiate a program of indefinite secret detention and the use of brutal interrogation techniques in violation of US law, treaty obligations, and our values.”