Psychologists Told CIA Waterboarding Was Safe

The Senate Armed Services Committee recently released a study of interrogation policies in the military after 9/11. The report describes the influence Dr. Jessen had as chief psychologist of JPRA, and his colleague, Dr. Mitchell on the role of SERE tactics in shaping interrogation policy.

According to the report, Mitchell and Jessen's SERE expertise, "lies in training U.S. military personnel who are at risk for capture, how to respond and resist interrogations (a defensive mission), not in how to conduct interrogations (an offensive mission)."

Despite a flurry of red flags from Mitchell and Jessen's colleagues, senior Pentagon and CIA officials agreed to adopt their program.

Col. Kleinman says Mitchell and Jessen were way out their league advocating and creating an interrogation model.

"What they failed to understand was they were stepping out of their area of expertise," he says. "There was nobody, apparently, at the decision-making level that had enough expertise and experience in the area of interrogation to quickly see the disconnect between the SERE model, a resistance model, and an actual interrogation for intelligence purposes."

CIA: Interrogation Program Guided by Legal Opinions from DOJ

Now, investigators will look to see if the harsh techniques worked and the ACLU and Jameel Jaffer are interested in determining if Mitchell and Jessen misled the U.S. government about the intensity of their interrogation program. Jaffer points out that according to a CIA Inspector General report, the "expertise of the SERE psychologists/interrogators on the waterboard was probably misrepresented." As a result, the IG report continued, there is no reason to believe that the technique was effective, or "medically safe."

So how did it happen that the CIA and the U.S. government came to rely so heavily on two inexperienced interrogators for the nations more important interrogations?

Kleinman is dumbfounded. "The best I can come up with was the people doing the hiring did not even understand the challenge in front of them."

The CIA told ABC News that the "agency's terrorist interrogation program was guided by legal opinions from the Department of Justice."

Matthew Cole is a freelance national security reporter. His book, about the CIA rendition program, will be published later this year by Simon & Schuster.

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