Two psychologists who have been accused of helping the CIA torture detainees admitted Tuesday for the first time that they were involved in the agency’s interrogation program but denied they created it.
The psychologists, James Elmer Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen, posted a response to a criminal complaint made by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which had alleged that the two men were behind “an experimental torture program for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.”
While the psychologists’ legal response says the “defendants deny that they committed torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, non-consensual human experimentation and/or war crimes,” the documents also include an admission that they used techniques that many, including President Barack Obama, consider to be torture.
During the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, an al Qaeda operative captured in Pakistan in 2002, the documents state that Jessen “placed a rolled up towel behind Zubaydah’s neck and ‘walled’ him three or four times.”
Walling involves “quickly and firmly” pushing a suspect into a wall, according to documents declassified by the CIA last week.
Those same declassified memos also included guidelines that required medical and psychological personnel to be onsite during all interrogations using the techniques and that those personnel “shall suspend the interrogation if they determine that significant and prolonged physical or mental injury, pain, or suffering is likely to result if the interrogation is not suspended.”
Jessen and Mitchell also admit “that they used facial slaps, abdominal slaps and facial grabs” on Zubaydah in connection with asking him for information about terrorist operations planned against the United States.
The defense documents also say that many of the details sought by the criminal complaint are classified by the CIA.
The two psychologists were working as CIA contractors and founded a company in 2005 to help run the CIA’s interrogation program.
Between 2005 and 2009, the company received about $81 million from the government, according to a 2014 Senate investigation into the interrogation program.
Mitchell and Jensen had both previously been involved in the Air Force’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) school, which teaches Air Force personnel how to evade capture and resist interrogation by enemy forces.