Wednesday, August 12, 2009

terror torture trainers

Washington Post | Jim Mitchell and Bruce Jessen were military retirees and psychologists, on the lookout for business opportunities. They found an excellent customer in the Central Intelligence Agency, where in 2002 they became the architects of the most important interrogation program in the history of American counterterrorism.

They had never carried out a real interrogation, only mock sessions in the military training they had overseen. They had no relevant scholarship; their Ph.D. dissertations were on high blood pressure and family therapy. They had no language skills and no expertise on Al Qaeda.

But they had psychology credentials and an intimate knowledge of a brutal treatment regimen used decades ago by Chinese Communists. For an administration eager to get tough on those who had killed 3,000 Americans, that was enough.

So “Doc Mitchell” and “Doc Jessen,” as they had been known in the Air Force, helped lead the United States into a wrenching conflict over torture, terror and values that seven years later has not run its course.

Dr. Mitchell, with a sonorous Southern accent and the sometimes overbearing confidence of a self-made man, was a former Air Force explosives expert and a natural salesman. Dr. Jessen, raised on an Idaho potato farm, joined his Air Force colleague to build a thriving business that made millions of dollars selling interrogation and training services to the C.I.A.

Seven months after President Obama ordered the C.I.A. interrogation program closed, its fallout still commands attention. In the next few weeks, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is expected to decide whether to begin a criminal torture investigation, in which the psychologists’ role is likely to come under scrutiny. The Justice Department ethics office is expected to complete a report on the lawyers who pronounced the methods legal. And the C.I.A. will soon release a highly critical 2004 report on the program by the agency’s inspector general.

Col. Steven M. Kleinman, an Air Force interrogator and intelligence officer who knows Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen, said he thought loyalty to their country in the panicky wake of the Sept. 11 attacks prompted their excursion into interrogation. He said the result was a tragedy for the country, and for them.