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The Torture Shrink: What Does James Mitchell Know, and What Will He Tell Us Under Oath?


Reporters such as Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti have a nice long article up today at some newspaper. [sorry, I couldn’t resist. *g*]

In it, they detail the origins of the decision to use the "enhanced interrogation techniques" on prisoners in the "war on terror." They specifically mention that the idea originated with a psychologist with the SERE program:

By late 2001, the agency had contracted with James E. Mitchell, a psychologist with the SERE program who had monitored many mock interrogations but had never conducted any real ones, according to colleagues. He was known for his belief that a psychological concept called “learned helplessness” was crucial to successful interrogation.

Martin Seligman, a prominent professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania who had developed the concept, said in an interview that he was puzzled by Dr. Mitchell’s notion that learned helplessness was relevant to interrogation.

“I think helplessness would make someone more dependent, less defiant and more compliant,” Dr. Seligman said, “but I do not think it would lead reliably to more truth-telling.”

Still, forceful and brainy, Dr. Mitchell, who declined to comment for this article, became a persuasive player in high-level agency discussions about the best way to interrogate Qaeda prisoners.

Eventually, along with another former SERE psychologist, Bruce Jessen, Dr. Mitchell helped persuade C.I.A. officials that Qaeda members were fundamentally different from the myriad personalities the agency routinely dealt with.

“Jim believed that people of this ilk would confess for only one reason: sheer terror,” said one C.I.A. official who had discussed the matter with Dr. Mitchell.

Now, if somebody were to give me subpoena power, this Dr. Mitchell guy is someone I would definitely want to talk to under oath. For a long time. With no immunity offer on the table. Why? Because the White House just threw him under the bus and fingered him as the criminal mastermind behind all this evil.

And chances are very high he knows where the truth actually lies. . . and probably has a nice set of notes. Shrinks are usually pretty good about keeping notes.

Golly, I’m in danger of drooling all over my laptop. This would be such a juicy investigation. Why isn’t Eric Holder slavering all over it?

Thirtieth in a series on torture and the law.

[Editor’s note: The photo by takomabibelot features a banner created and designed by Firedoglake reader BonnieT of Austin, Texas, where she operates]

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