James Mitchell

Torture Connection: 
Designed and implemented CIA torture methods
  • Retired from U.S. Air Force in May 2001 as an officer administering SERE training--programs training military personnel to withstand possible enemy torture
  • June 2001-April 2002, operated several firms providing services associated with "extreme situations." Contacted CIA with torture contract proposal.
  • April 2002-?? as principal in new company, Mitchell, Jessen & Assocs., contracted with CIA to provide torture services

Mitchell proposes torture program to CIA as a money-making contract for his private firm

Shortly after 9/11, James Mitchell asked Air Force psychologist Bruce Jessen to let him see a top secret document, believed to be the al Qaeda training manual. Based on its contents, he wrote a proposal for a torture interrogation program, which he and Bruce Jessen offered to run for the CIA as private contractors, to be paid "more than $1,000 a day" plus expenses, tax free. In April 2002, when an al Qaeda prisoner being held at a CIA safe house in Thailand began talking to FBI interrogators, contributing "actionable intelligence" about al Qaeda personnel and activities, the CIA took Mitchell up on his offer and invited him to try his methods on the prisoner, Abu Zubaydah. Mitchell showed up in Thailand, announced to FBI interrogators that he was taking over, with the blessing of top officials in Washington, and ordered that Zubaydah be confined "like a dog" to a small box. When Zubaydah ceased cooperating with interrogators, Mitchell ordered waterboarding and other torture. He videotaped the process and submitted daily email reports to Washington, apparently to Alberto Gonzales, who at the time was serving as Bush's personal lawyer. Mitchell is believed to have received daily authorization from Gonzales to continue and/or ramp up the torture.

Mitchell's torture methods had no basis in experience, training, or science

Mitchell and Jessen had never before conducted a single interrogation. Jessen's military assignment--and Mitchell's former assignment, before he retired from the air force in mid-2001--was to monitor mock interrogations and torture sessions for training purposes (military SERE training), so that military personnel tmight get a taste of possible mistreatment they could expect if they fell into enemy hands. Mitchell and Jessen had persuaded the CIA and/or the White House that suspected terrorists detained in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere were different from all previous prisoners that military and FBI interrogators had handled in the past; the new prisoners, Mitchell insisted, had been trained to resist ordinary interrogation methods and would respond only to torture. Mitchell explained to experienced interrogators on the scene that this theory was "science," but no scientific data has ever emerged in its support. Mitchell's methods, administered by civilian contractors he hired and "trained" on the job, became the standard approach for handling high-value prisoners and many ordinary detainees as well. Torture videotapes he produced (for "training") were later destroyed by the CIA.

Washington torture memos aimed specifically at protecting Mitchell

His work with Zubaydah and apparently also with a second prisoner preceded official legal clearances for torture. Paperwork associated with the legal maneuvering suggests that some of the lawyers and other top-level officials were familiar with Mitchell's program and wished to establish it on secure legal footing. The firm Mitchell Jessen and Associates still operates out of Spokane, Washington, It advertises its expertise in "understanding, predicting and improving performance in high-risk and extreme situations."

Sources on James Mitchell

The Intercept
The New York Times
The Guardian
The Intercept
The New York Times
Slate Magazine
The Daily Beast
IB Times
The Spokesman-Review
Eurasia Review
American Torture
American Torture
American Torture
Fire Dog Lake
The Washington Independent
NPR.com / All Things Considered
der Spiegel Online
Salt Lake Tribune
Global Research