Psychologist reported to work for CIA slams Senate torture report

Dr. James Mitchell, a psychologist who is reported to be one of the contractors who helped craft and carry out the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program, said the so-called Senate torture report is « not balanced » and an attempt by Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein, D-California, to « smear » the CIA.

Mitchell could not confirm whether he is or is not one of the contractors identified in the report because he has a non-disclosure agreement with the U.S. government, but others have identified him as one of the two outside psychologists dubbed « Swigert and Dunbar » who took a lead in crafting the program. The CIA eventually handed over 85 percent of the detention and interrogation program to their company, which was paid $81 million. CBS News Congressional Correspondent Nancy Cordes spoke with him by phone Wednesday.

« I think that it’s not balanced, » Mitchell said of the report, qualifying that his opinion was « as an American. » He said he believes the truth « lies somewhere between what the Senate Democrats, Democrats on the Select Intelligence Committee and what the minority report was, and what the CIA’s response to it was. »

But he was particularly critical of Feinstein, saying he believed « there is some sort of a beef with the CIA and Senator Feinstein and this is just her effort on the way out as the chairman to smear the men and women there. »

Feinstein will lose her spot at the helm of the Intelligence Committee in January when Republicans assume control of the Senate. She will be replaced by Sen. Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, one of many Republicans who objected to the report that was released Tuesday.

The Senate report said that the CIA hired two outside contract psychologists to develop, operate and assess its interrogation operations. Their past experience came from the Air Force Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) school, and one of the critiques in the report was the psychologists had no experience as interrogators, or any relevant cultural or linguistic experience.

That, Mitchell says, is « demonstrably false. »

« It’s just false, it’s a narrative that was put out, » he said. « I was unable to respond to because I have a non-disclosure agreement. So I can’t even defend myself. You know, I can’t say what’s true and what’s not true. I can’t say this is accurate, that’s not accurate. I can’t do that. If I could, I would. »

He declined to discuss the interrogation techniques described in the report, which ranged from waterboarding to the use of confined spaces to rectal feeding and rectal hydration without documented medical need.

« Those tactics have been talked about for years, with people who are not offended by them, are not offended by them, with who are, who will be, and you know I think this should be an open and honest discussion with the public and people can make up their own minds, » he said.

Both Republicans and the CIA have refuted many of the report’s findings, and one of the major criticisms they offered was that the investigators did not conduct interviews with most of the people directly involved in the program.

While Mitchell reiterated that he could not confirm or deny whether he was one of the psychologists, he said, « If I was that person, they should have contacted me. « 

« I can tell you as an American, who won’t say that I was involved or not involved, that the Senate has not contacted me, » he added. « The Senate has not contacted me, they didn’t talk to the CIA directors, they didn’t talk to the CIA interrogators, they didn’t talk to the CIA analysts, they didn’t do any of that stuff. Instead they cherry-picked and I think deliberately manipulated the way the thing was written in a way to inflame people. »

Cordes also spoke with Dr. Martin Seligman, the renowned University of Pennsylvania psychologist who developed the theory of « learned helplessness » in the 1960s when he noticed that dogs who learned they could not avoid electric shocks would eventually become passive and endure the shocks even after they were given a chance to escape.

According to the Senate Intelligence report, the contractors applied the notion of « learned helplessness » to the enhanced interrogation program they were heavily involved in developing. According to the report, « ‘learned helplessness’ in this context was the theory that detainees might become passive and depressed in response to adverse or uncontrollable events, and would thus cooperate and provide information. »

Reached by email, Seligman said he had not worked on or seen an interrogation and has only a passing knowledge of the literature on the subject.

« With that qualification, my opinion is that the point of interrogation is to get at the truth, not to get at what the interrogator wants to hear. I think learned helplessness would make someone more passive, less defiant and more compliant, but I know of no evidence that it leads reliably to more truth-telling, » he said.

« I am grieved and horrified that good science, which has helped so many people overcome depression, may have been used for such dubious purposes. Most importantly, I have never and would never provide assistance in torture. I strongly disapprove of it. »

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