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2 Psychologists With ‘Famously Little Experience’ Engineered Post-9/11 Tactics

Posted Aug 12, 2009 6:59 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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As U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder considers whether a criminal torture inquiry is needed into the tactics used by the CIA after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, renewed attention is focusing on those who engineered the agency's interrogation program for suspected terrorists.

Contrary to what might have been expected, the principal architects were two retired military psychologists without previous real-life experience in conducting such interrogations, related academic publications or relevant language skills, the New York Times reported yesterday. A 2007 Vanity Fair article profiling the work done by CIA psychologists James Elmer Mitchell and Bruce Jessen describes the two, like the CIA, as having "famously little experience" with such interrogations.

Meanwhile, a U.S. Department of Justice ethics office report is expected to be finished soon concerning the lawyers who declared the CIA interrogation program for suspected terrorists legal.

The two psychologists, who declined through a criminal defense lawyer to comment for the Times article, told Vanity Fair in a statement that "We are proud of the work we have done for our country."

Both articles detail what the Times describes as brutal CIA interrogation techniques implemented after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. They included 83 so-called waterboardings within about a two-week period of suspect Abu Zubaydah. The al-Qaida lieutenant was initially cooperative, Vanity Fair says, with rapport-building interrogation by theFBI after he was hospitalized in bad condition with a gunshot injury to his groin.

“I feel their primary motivation was they thought they had skills and insights that would make the nation safer,” Air Force Colonel Steven Kleinman, who knows both psychologists, tells the Times. “But good persons in extreme circumstances can do horrific things.”

Related earlier coverage:

ABAJournal.com (2007): "Waterboarding is Torture—and Ineffective, Military Witnesses Tell House Panel"

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