SPOKANE, Wash. >> A psychologist who helped design the CIA’s harsh interrogation methods in the war on terror has said his participation in the program that involved torturing suspects caused him “great, soulful torment.”
The comments were in videotaped depositions of Bruce Jessen ahead of a Sept. 5 trial in federal court in Spokane, Washington.
Jessen is one of two psychologists sued by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of three men who contend they were tortured with techniques designed by the defendants.
Jessen and James Mitchell ran a Spokane-based company that received $81 million from the U.S. government to develop harsh interrogation methods to pry information from suspected terrorists.
In comments first reported Wednesday by The New York Times, Jessen said he and Mitchell, who now lives in Florida, objected to some of the methods but were told they would be blamed for future terrorist attacks if they did not participate.
“They kept telling me every day a nuclear bomb was going to be exploded in the United States, and that because I told them to stop I had lost my nerve , and it was going to be my fault if I didn’t continue,” Jessen said in a deposition transcript posted on an ACLU website related to the lawsuit.
“I think the word that was actually used is that ‘you guys are pussies,’” Mitchell said in his deposition. “There’s going to be another attack in America and the blood of dead civilians is going to be on your hands.”
Jessen and Mitchell previously worked at Fairchild Air Force Base outside Spokane, where they had developed methods to help U.S. military members resist torture. They were hired after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks by the CIA to reverse-engineer those methods for the war on terror.
The psychologists personally conducted some interrogations at overseas CIA sites.
The depositions, taken since the beginning of the year and running for hundreds of pages, mark the first time Jessen has made comments on the case that have been made public. Mitchell has previously given interviews to some media outlets.
Jessen said the decision to participate in the program tormented him.
“I think any, any normal, conscionable man would have to consider carefully doing something like this,” Jessen said.
Both men insisted in their depositions that they were not the decision-makers for using the torture program.
Mitchell said he did not participate for the money, which amounted to $1,800 per day each for Mitchell and Jessen.
“I didn’t view the campaign against al-Qaeda as a business opportunity. I viewed it as a patriotic duty,” Mitchell said.
Jessen said he has received death threats to himself and his family over the years because of his work for the CIA.
“I did my duty and I stood up and I went to war and I’ll stand up to any of them again. But I don’t want them messing with my family,” he said.
The two men have said in court records that they used harsh tactics, but denied allegations of torture and war crimes.
President Barack Obama terminated their contract in 2009.
The ACLU sued the two psychologists in 2015 on behalf of Suleiman Abdullah Salim, Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud and the estate of Gul Rahman, who are seeking unspecified monetary damages.
The Justice Department became involved in the case to represent the government’s interests in keeping classified information secret.
Rahman, an Afghan, was taken from his home in Pakistan in 2002 to a secret CIA prison in Afghanistan. He died of hypothermia after being shackled to a floor.
The lawsuit contends Salim, from Tanzania, and Ben Soud, from Libya, underwent waterboarding, daily beatings and sleep deprivation while inside CIA facilities. They were later released after officials determined they posed no threat.
A U.S. Senate investigation in 2014 found that Mitchell and Jessen’s techniques produced no useful intelligence in the war on terror.