Depiction of waterboarding in a film by Amnesty International. (Photo: Amnesty International)
Weeks after President Obama took office, the CIA extended its contract with a firm run by two psychologists who helped introduce waterboarding and other harsh methods to the agency's interrogation techniques, according to a news report.
Two months later, CIA Director Leon Panetta fired Mitchell, Jessen & Associates and all other contractors that aided the CIA in its interrogations of alleged terrorists, the New Yorker reported this weekend.
The firings took place in April, around the same time the Senate Armed Services Committee reported on the role played by James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen in developing "countermeasures to defeat" the resistance of captured enemy detainees from whom intelligence was being sought.
Mitchell and Jessen, who run the firm, had worked on a Pentagon program that taught U.S. service members how to survive harsh enemy interrogation methods. They relied on elements of that training in proposing an interrogation program for the CIA. It included methods such as sleep deprivation and other actions based on "theories of 'learned helplessness,'" the New Yorker reported.
Panetta told the magazine he "didn't support these methods that were used, or the legal justification for why they did it." He also said he supported at one time the creation of a "truth commission" to look into the subject. But after Obama said in late April that he did not want to look as if he was going after either former president George W. Bush or former vice president Richard B. Cheney, Panetta said, "everyone kind of backed away from it."
Panetta said that once he was assured there was no criminal liability associated with current CIA employees, he "didn't want to spend a lot of time dealing with the past and what mistakes were made."
Panetta told the magazine that "most of the individuals who managed the secret interrogation program have since left the agency." But the magazine noted that CIA Deputy Director Stephen R. Kappes, whom Panetta told senators in February would be his "full partner," held at least a nominal role in oversight of the program. Kappes was deputy director for operations from 2002 to 2004; during that time, he was responsible for the agency's Counterterrorism Center, the arm that directed and monitored the harsh interrogation program.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) insisted that Panetta retain Kappes as deputy because of the director's lack of experience with the CIA. Feinstein is now chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, which is investigating the interrogation program.
Panetta said John Helgerson, the recently retired CIA inspector general who investigated the interrogation program in 2004, told him that no officer still working at the agency went beyond the legal boundaries set by the Bush Justice Department. But the magazine reported that Helgerson, who is not a lawyer, said he told Panetta only that he knew of no prosecutable cases but that "continuing work was being done."
Helgerson also said he had sent several cases involving CIA interrogations to the Justice Department for possible prosecution. In one from November 2003, termed a homicide, an Iraqi detainee at the Abu Ghraib prison died from asphyxiation after being hooded and hung by his arms while suffering from broken ribs.
At Justice, according to the magazine, the cases have languished.