WASHINGTON (Reuters) - One of the two psychologists who devised the CIA’s harsh Bush-era interrogation methods said on Wednesday that a scathing U.S. Senate report on the torture of foreign terrorism suspects “took things out of context” and made false accusations.
“It’s a bunch of hooey,” James Mitchell told Reuters from his home in Florida when asked for his response to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s findings released on Tuesday. “Some of the things are just plain not true.”
A day after the Senate report was issued, the U.S. Defense Department said it was shutting its detention facility at Bagram and no longer has custody of any prisoners in Afghanistan, closing another controversial chapter of Washington’s long fight against Islamic militancy.
The United States faces mounting criticism from the United Nations as well as foreign governments that Washington often reprimands for human rights violations.
The Senate report concluded CIA interrogation tactics were ineffective and often too brutal.
The CIA paid $80 million to a company run by the two former Air Force psychologists without experience in interrogation or counter-terrorism who recommended waterboarding, slaps to the face and mock burial for prisoners captured after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, according to the Senate investigation.
Mitchell and his colleague, Bruce Jessen, are referred to in the report by pseudonyms but intelligence sources have identified them by name. Jessen could not be reached for comment.
The report accused them of violating professional ethics as architects of a system that committee chair Dianne Feinstein said amounted to the torture of some CIA detainees.
In a brief telephone interview, Mitchell declined to specify what he considered wrong in the report, citing a non-disclosure agreement with the government.
But he suggested political bias was behind the report, which was put together by the committee’s Democratic majority and which he said sought to “smear” those involved in the program.
The CIA outsourced more than 80 percent of its interrogation program to the company, Mitchell Jessen & Associates of Spokane, Washington, for its work from 2005 until the termination of the arrangement in 2009.
The American Psychological Association called the details in the report “sickening and reprehensible” and while saying that Jessen and Mitchell were not members and therefore outside the reach of its disciplinary process, it said they should be held “fully accountable” for violations of human rights and laws.
Also on Wednesday, the Pentagon said it had closed its last detention facility at Bagram airfield, the largest U.S. base in Afghanistan, with the transfer to Afghan custody of two Tunisians and the release of a Jordanian.
The U.S. military had rushed to empty the small jail of prisoners it would no longer be allowed to keep in Afghanistan when the mission for U.S.-led force there ends later this month.
A U.S. official said the prisoner transfers was a legal requirement under a U.S.-Afghan security pact and was not related to the Senate report.
But among those handed over to Afghan authorities was Redha al-Najar, a Tunisian who is one of the longest-serving detainees from the U.S. “war on terror.” He was captured as a suspected bodyguard of Osama Bin Laden in May 2002.
Najar was one of the first objects of harsh interrogation techniques in a CIA “dungeon” near Kabul, his lawyer told Reuters, and the Senate report said his treatment became a model for other detainees at secret CIA prisons.
Some U.S. allies either condemned the CIA’s methods or played down any involvement, fearing embarrassment or legal liability for any role in the CIA’s “enhanced interrogations” during the administration of former President George W. Bush.
“The CIA’s practice of torture is gruesome,” German Justice Minister Heiko Maas told German newspaper Bild. “Everybody involved must be legally prosecuted.”
Zeid Ra‘ad Al-Hussein, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said according to the Convention Against Torture, not even a state of war justified torture.
The White House said the Justice Department had reviewed the interrogations and found no reason to indict anyone.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney told Fox News the report was “full of crap.” “How nice do you want to be to murderers of 3,000 Americans on 9/11?” Cheney asked. “We were perfectly justified in doing it and I’d do it again in a minute.”
China, Iran and North Korea, regularly under fire for their human rights records, prodded Washington on its methods.
“China has consistently opposed torture,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said. “We believe that the U.S. side should reflect on this, correct its ways and earnestly respect and follow the rules of related international conventions.”
A Twitter account associated with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the report showed the U.S. government was a “symbol of tyranny against humanity.”
North Korea’s Foreign Ministry accused the United Nations of ignoring “inhuman torture practiced by the CIA” while focusing too much on Pyongyang’s human rights practices.
Additional reporting by Frank Jack Daniel in Kabul and Peter Cooney in Washington; Editing by James Dalgleish and Lisa Shumaker