Guantanamo Bay Torture Psychologists Set for First Public Testimony on 'Perverse' CIA Work

The two psychologists behind America's War on Terror torture program will give evidence publicly for the first time Monday when they appear in front of a military tribunal in Guantanamo Bay.

James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen were former U.S. Air Force psychologists who designed the U.S. "enhanced interrogation" program on behalf of the CIA in 2002, and supervised its operation until 2009, the Guardian reported.

From 2005 they did so via a private company, which supplied the interrogators and security staff used at so-called "black sites"—covert CIA facilities outside the U.S. where suspected terrorists were held, questioned and tortured. Between 2005 and 2009, Mitchell and Jessen's company was paid some $81 million for the work.

The pair will give testimony Monday as part of a pre-trial hearing on the 9/11 attacks, held by a military tribunal at the notorious Guantánamo Bay detention center in Cuba. Forty prisoners are still detained at the camp, down from a 2003 peak of 697 detainees.

Lawyers for the defendants say Mitchell and Jessen's appearance is a chance to show that both the CIA and FBI were complicit in the torture of detainees. The CIA has acknowledged the program but multiple reports suggest the FBI also had direct knowledge of the process, which could taint some 9/11-related prosecutions

The CIA has admitted that at least 39 detainees were subjected to "enhanced interrogation," which included slamming prisoners against walls, placing them in confined cells and subjecting them to simulated drowning known as waterboarding.

The American Psychology Association has accused both men of "violating the ethics of their profession and leaving a stain on the discipline of psychology."

On Saturday, Amnesty International said their "perverse work" had "dramatically set back the global fight against torture."

Julia Hall, a human rights lawyer with Amnesty International who will be attending the trial, said that the "interrogation methods they championed have had a rippling effect around the world."

She added, "Rather than being held to account, the people responsible for the U.S. torture programme—including Mitchell and Jessen—have been protected and, in some cases, promoted."

"The fact that they are testifying at this high-profile hearing shows the CIA's failure to root out the human rights abuses at the heart of its counter-terror programme," Hall said.

Mitchell and Jessen agreed to an out of court settlement in a civil suit brought by the families of three tortured detainees.

One of these prisoners—Gul Rahman—died at a CIA black site in Afghanistan in 2002 after being left shackled in a freezing concrete cell naked from the waist down. Mitchell and Jessen said they had warned CIA officials about Rahman's treatment but were ignored.

Mitchell has denied any wrongdoing. He told the Guardian in 2014, "I'm just a guy who got asked to do something for his country by people at the highest level of government, and I did the best that I could."

In his memoir, Enhanced Interrogation, Mitchell said he thought it would have been "immoral and unethical to ignore my obligation to use what I knew to defend our citizens and our way of life against enemies who themselves had initiated the conflict and whose stated goal was to destroy us."

Mitchell also claimed that the torture program helped foil an Al-Qaeda attack in the U.S., though a report by the Senate Intelligence Committee has said that interrogations provided no useful intelligence.

Guantanamo Bay, torture, war on terror, psychologists
This file photo shows a U.S. soldier at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on October 22, 2016. John Moore/Getty Images/Getty