Meet James Mitchell, CIA's post-9/11 torture architect whose firm we paid $80 million

James Elmer Mitchell, a former Air Force psychologist credited with teaching the CIA how to torture war on terror detainees in the 2000s, is the subject of an on-camera interview with VICE correspondent Kaj Larsen.

This isn't the first time Dr. Mitchell has been profiled. We first heard about him in a 2005 New Yorker article, the New York Times, and the Guardian have explored the role he and Dr. Bruce Jessen played in designing the CIA's “Enhanced Interrogation Program.”

But VICE got him on camera for a sitdown interview for the first time. When you watch it, remember: the contracting firm this man ran with Jessen is said to have received more than $80 million from the CIA to teach the CIA how to torture people. And some of that torture included anal rape, freezing people to death, and shoving hummus and nuts up men's asses.

Oh, and taxpayers covered $5 million in legal fees to then cover Mitchell and Jessen's own asses.

Mitchell repeatedly refers to the book Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives, by James Rodriguez, who defends the torture tactics Mitchell and his colleagues designed.

Just yesterday, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a 500-page summary report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein says the document represents the most significant oversight effort in the history of the US Senate.

Detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Image: US Department of Defense.


Detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Image: US Department of Defense.

From the Vice video introduction:

The $40 million, five-year study concluded that CIA officials exaggerated the value of the intelligence they gleaned from dozens of “high-value detainees” held at black site prisons, where they were subjected to so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” such as sleep deprivation and waterboarding.

The committee reviewed more than 6 million pages of top-secret CIA documents and found that the architect of the interrogation program was a retired Air Force psychologist named James Mitchell, an agency contractor who — according to news reports — personally waterboarded alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The Senate report does not identify Mitchell by name. He is referred to as "Contractor A" throughout the executive summary.

Mitchell has a signed a non-disclosure agreement with the CIA and was unable to discuss his alleged role in the agency's enhanced interrogation program, but VICE News met up with him in suburban Florida to discuss the Senate's report and one of the darkest chapters of the war on terror. This is the first time Mitchell has ever appeared on camera.

Kaj Larsen, the Vice correspondent who conducted this interview with Mitchell, was the first (or one of the first) TV journalists to submit to being waterboarded on camera, as a way of showing the American public what the technique is. This video contains footage of that incident, which viewers may find disturbing.


James ("Jim") Mitchell, frame grab from ABC video (4/2009). ABC News, via New York Times.

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