Psychologists Told CIA Waterboarding Was Safe

Photo: Psychologists Bruce Jessen and Jim Mitchell shaped the CIAs interrogation program of al Qaeda detainees

There is new scrutiny into the role of two psychologists who made an estimated $1,000 a day to oversee and advise the CIA's interrogation of captured terrorists.

Both men, doctors Jim Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, assured the CIA that their methods could 'break' a terrorist and would be safe, according to two former high-ranking CIA officials and a collection of recently declassified Bush administration memos.

The major problem, according to those who knew the two retired military psychologists, was that neither Mitchell nor Jessen had ever conducted a real interrogation, or been involved in an intelligence operation.

When they became involved in interrogations for the CIA, "that was their first step into the world of intelligence," says Air Force Colonel Steve Kleinman, a career military interrogator and former colleague of both Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen. "That was their very first experience with it. Everything else was role-play."

Kleinman and two other former colleagues tell ABC News that neither Mitchell nor Jessen had any experience with al Qaeda, Islamic extremists or battlefield interrogations.

And yet, more than anyone else, Mitchell and Jessen, long-time friends and colleagues, shaped the CIA's interrogation program, according to the two former CIA officials.

The debate over the CIA's so called "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" has picked up in recent weeks after the Obama administration released a set of legal memos written during the Bush presidency, and a Senate committee report that details the origins of interrogation policy during the Bush administration.

"If the psychologists told the CIA or the Office of Legal Counsel that these methods wouldn't amount to torture as a matter of science, I think those psychologists were essentially aiding in torture," says Jameel Jaffer, who directed the American Civil Liberties Union's fight to secure the memos' release.

In addition to questions of legality investigations have begun in Congress into the effectiveness of Mitchell and Jessen's program.

According to Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), chair of the Armed Services Committee, whose report identifies Mitchell and Jessen as important to the creation of interrogation policies, little could have been gained by the harsh methods.

"These tactics are more likely to produce unreliable evidence than they are to produce any reliable information," he told ABC News. "The use of these tactics tends to increase resistance on the part of the detainee to cooperating with us. So they have the exact opposite effect of what [the U.S. would] want."

Declassified Memos Contradict 2007 ABC News Interview with John Kiriakou

The memos also revealed that waterboarding was used "with far greater frequency that initially indicated," according to an excerpt from a report by the CIA Inspector General. Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded at least 83 times and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed 183 times, according to the memos.

The new figures sharply contradict an interview with former CIA intelligence officer John Kiriakou who told ABC News in December, 2007 that Zubaydah had only been waterboarded once and talked freely afterwards.

Kiriakou, who led the capture of Zubaydah and was the first from inside the CIA to publicly confirm the use of waterboarding, now says he, too, was unaware of the many times Zubaydah was waterboarded.

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