The men who should first be sued by the ACLU are leaders like George Tenet, not instruments of their policy like James Mitchell, a psychologist and retired career airman who has repeatedly stepped forward to clarify his role in waterboarding. Mitchell claims he raised concerns about abuse and excess, and calls the Senate Report partisan because it fails to mention this. Last year, in a Vice interview, he also said:
“I was told that [President George W. Bush] had authorized my action, I was told that the highest law enforcement office in the land had judged those actions to be legal, I was told that the intelligence committees in Congress had been briefed. The interrogations I engaged in were monitored in real time by medical personnel and leadership who could have stopped what I was doing at any time. I was told for years that my activities had saved lives and prevented attacks. And now I’m being denigrated by some of the very people who pushed me to use harsher measures.”
Mitchell also identifies himself as one of the interrogators in the Senate report who were moved to tears when CIA superiors told him to continue waterboarding Abu Zubayda.
In my opinion, James Mitchell, not a reckless man, should not be the scapegoat for the torture policy hatched in the minds of zealots whose positions of power and influence demanded greater wisdom. Mitchell believed he was doing his duty, however foolishly. He and his partner, John Jessen, are not immune from accountability, nor should anyone be for his or her actions in this life, but let’s remember that they would have been replaced instantly had they refused.
With the human species, history shows it’s never been a tough task for leaders to find servants who are willing to brutalize others on behalf of an existing orthodoxy, or to serve a scheme to help achieve a short-sighted goal. Leaders therefore have a special responsibility to honor the laws that govern our nature — and should be the first to account for any dishonorable consequences that result from their decisions.
Below, links to two articles that speak to this matter.