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Kelly File

CIA interrogation 'architect' reacts to Senate report

This is a rush transcript from "The Kelly File," December 15, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

MEGYN KELLY, HOST: Breaking tonight on a day marked by what looks like a lone wolf terror attack overseas and an ongoing debate about how America has waged the war on terror. We tonight get our first chance to interview the man singled out by a controversial Senate report produced by the Democrats alone, and then attacked by some in the media. The man who personally interrogated Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.

Good evening and welcome to an extraordinary edition of "The Kelly File" everyone. I'm Megyn Kelly.

We have new details tonight on what may have inspired the lone gunman who staged a dramatic hostage taking in Australia that ended with three dead including the hostage taker. He was a self- described Islamic cleric who demanded police deliver him an Islamic State flag as he held more than a dozen people at gunpoint. We will get to that later on in this broadcast.

But first, tonight, we examine the controversial CIA interrogation report from a perspective you have not heard. Dr. James Mitchell was approached by the CIA in the months after 9/11, asked to help develop a program to get more information from terror suspects. At the time Intel suggested bin Laden wanted to get a hold of nuclear weapons, and Washington was very worried.

Before he was done, Mitchell himself would not only help shape the controversial enhanced interrogation effort, but he was personally part of the team that questioned 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Joining me now, Dr. James Mitchell, who is a psychologist. Dr. Mitchell, good to see you tonight. Thank you for being with us. You were in the Air Force, then the CIA, 9/11 happened, you were asked to help.  How?

DR. JAMES MITCHELL, FORMER U.S. AIR FORCE PSYCHOLOGIST: Well, they asked me to take a look at the Manchester manual initially and figure out -- which is a manual that lists their resistance to interrogation strategies -- and figure out what sorts of resistance behaviors you might see on the part of detainees. After that later they asked me if I would look at the behavior that Abu Zubaydah was engaging to see if he was using any of those resistant strategies.

KELLY: So you reviewed the manual, the Manchester manual that Al Qaeda was using to teach its own fighters how to resist things like waterboarding and so on. You did that. And then at some point -- and you suggested means of overcoming that resistance. At some point they came to you and asked you personally to participate and actually conducting the interrogations?

MITCHELL: Right. That's correct. What happened was he shut down at one point in spite of what you hear in the Senate report. He shut down and refused to give any additional information.  

KELLY: Zubaydah.  

MITCHELL: Zubaydah shut down. And they asked me to come back to the campus. And it was clear to me when I was at the campus listening to what people were saying that there was so much pressure about trying to head off this second wave that was coming that they were going to use some kind of physical coercion.

And so I have spent a lot of time in the Air Force sere school and I see what happens when people sort of make stuff up on the fly.  And in the course of the conversations I said, if you're going to use physical coercion, not that you should use physical coercion, but if you're going to use physical coercion, then you should use physical coercion that has been demonstrated over 50 years not to produce the kind of injuries we would like to avoid.  

KELLY: All right. Let's just step back. The Air Force sere program is something that you developed. In a line or two tell us what it is.  

MITCHELL: Well, I didn't develop it. I was just a part of it. It's survival of Asian resistance and escape. It's a program that's designed really to teach men and women to -- who are shot down behind enemy lines or taken captured or taken hostage to survive and return with their honor intact.

KELLY: So they had already, the CIA was already conducting interrogations of Abu Zubaydah, who worked for bin Laden, who worked for Al Qaeda, prior to coming to you and saying, all right, James, we're now at the point where we need your help with that?

MITCHELL: No. I initially went out when Abu Zubaydah was being interrogated by the FBI and CIA and was providing insight into the kinds of resistance behavior that he was using.

KELLY: All right. Let me just jump in. Let's just walk our audience through it. So, were you here in the United States and then asked to fly to this other location to participate in that?

MITCHELL: Correct. I was here in the United States.

KELLY: And can you tell us where you went?

MITCHELL: No. Of course not.  

KELLY: All right. It was a CIA black site where they had him.

So, you're sitting here, you spend a career in the Air Force, you're a psychologist, you evaluate these counterterrorism methods. You look at ways to possibly break their resistance to our methods. And the next thing you know you're on a plane to go to a CIA black site to participate in the interrogation of one of the worst terrorists we're fighting.

I mean, as a man, what was that like for you? You land, you walk into the room, are you scared? Are you -- is he scared? What is going through your mind?

MITCHELL: Well, I'm lost now in terms of which one you're talking about?

KELLY: We're starting with the very first one which was Zubaydah, right?  

MITCHELL: Right. But I didn't do the first interrogations on Zubaydah.

KELLY: Okay. But the first one that you did. The very first one you did, who was it of?

MITCHELL: First one I did was of Zubaydah.  

KELLY: Okay. So, I'm just wondering, you as a man, you walk into this, you know, this room, this remote country, you're a regular guy to this point. I mean, you've been doing Intel, but you know, you're just a man, like any other man. You happen to have a certain area of expertise.  What is it like to walk into that room and see this guy?

MITCHELL: Well, it was clear that we were going to end up probably having to use physical coercion. And we were hoping that it wouldn't go to that. And really, it wasn't that scary. I mean, it was a job. In terms of dealing with him it was like engaging just about any other person.  Because once you're into the mix of it, it's not, for me at least, it wasn't, you know, the coercive part of it I didn't enjoy at all. But the engaging with him initially and attempting to get information out of him it was like engaging with anyone else. I didn't feel any particular thrill, I didn't feel like I was on particular adventure. It felt like I was working because I was concerned about these attacks that were potentially coming in the second wave.

KELLY: I want to tell our audience that up until tonight, you have not fully told your story because you've been under a disclosure agreement that's been loosened over the weekend. And now, this is the first chance you had to really respond directly to this Senate report that was really put out, just by the Senate Dems, no Republicans. And so, this is an extraordinary moment for you to be able to come on camera and tell this story.

When you went into the room, the interrogation room, and of course you'll tell me what you can and cannot say, but how many men on our side were participating? Men or women?

MITCHELL: I'm not allowed to give numbers at all.  

KELLY: Okay. So, were you the one actually conducting the techniques on Abu Zubaydah or were you more of a background role?

MITCHELL: It depends on when you're talking about. Initially I was in a background role. And then after he shut down and the enhanced interrogations were approved, I was in an administration role.  

KELLY: Okay. So, did you personally waterboard him?

MITCHELL: Yes.  

KELLY: And are you able to tell us how many men that required to perform that operation?

MITCHELL: No, I can't tell you anything about numbers.  

KELLY: Okay. I understand that when the CIA first told you that waterboarding had been authorized they explained, I assume, the Justice Department has said this is OK, the White House has said this is OK, Congress has said this is OK. Do I overstate the message?

MITCHELL: You don't overstate it at all. In fact, he probably won't remember it. But I was in a meeting briefly to discuss it with George Tenet and Rizzo --

KELLY: The head of the CIA and the top lawyer at the CIA.  

MITCHELL: Correct. And Tenet turned to Rizzo and said, "Make sure this is legal before we go forward." I heard him as he said in a private conversation. They were very, very careful to make sure that this thing has been approved.

And so, the situation that I found myself in personally was one where it was clear that we had been attacked. It was clear that there was a second wave coming. There was all these fears about nuclear devices and anthrax and, you know, multiple people dying and a catastrophic thing, and there was all this pressure not just from the CIA but from Washington and everywhere. They were saying the gloves are off, you know, we have to take extraordinary measures, that sort of stuff. And it was in the context of that that they were putting this program together. And they just wanted to be sure it was legal.  

KELLY: And when you first administered the waterboarding that had been approved by the DOJ, they had actually approved the number of seconds you could do, pour the water on the person's face and then breaks you'd have to take in between. When you did that, did you find that method too severe or too light?

MITCHELL: That actually is a good question because it explains one of the issues that I have a problem with that's out in the press. OLC basically says you can hold a single waterboard session for 20 minutes. That means the person can lay on the board for 20 minutes. And then you can administer water from 20 to 40 seconds, allow the person to get a full breath, and then go another 20 to 40 seconds. But it became clear to me during the first time we were doing that waterboarding that that was too much water. So what I did was I reduced the amount of time that we did pours. So, for example if you look at page 76 of the CIA I.G. report down at the bottom, it says the average pour lasted about 10 seconds. So what we decided to do was to do lots of very small ones and only a couple of longer ones. We would do two that were 20 seconds and one that was 40 seconds. I don't know if you want to get that far in the weeds. And the result --

KELLY: But essentially that you changed the protocol. You wound up to make it to be less harsh than you were allowed to do. Let me ask you this --

MITCHELL: Let me finish what I'm saying.  

KELLY: Yes. Go ahead.  

MITCHELL: The net result of that though is the number of pours went up. The number of repetitions went up. So when they look there and they say, he was waterboarded 83 times. He wasn't waterboarded 83 times. There were 83 separate pours and each pour was on average about 10 seconds.  Some were 40 seconds. Some were 20 seconds. But we didn't feel it was -- I don't know how to say it any other way, we didn't feel it was right to use as much water as we were authorized.  

KELLY: We're going to get to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a minute, but sticking with Abu Zubayda for now. Were all of the methods that were recited in the Senate report employ, like nudity, standing sleep deprivation, the attention grab, the insult slap. Were those all used?

MITCHELL: The ones you mentioned were used.  

KELLY: The facial grab, the abdominal slap, the kneeling stress position, walling?

MITCHELL: Walling was used. If they showed up on the list, they were used. We didn't typically use a lot of those stress positions. We didn't use any stress positions with Zubaydah because he had an injury.  

KELLY: OK.  

MITCHELL: You know? So what happened just so that people know -- because this is the thing that the people don't know when they hear -- is we didn't just go in there and start waterboarding Abu Zubaydah. We practiced. We got briefings from the medical people. We practiced the emergency responses that we were going to do, we went through where each person was going to be if there happened to be an emergency. And then and only then that when we felt that we could do it safely without, you know, causing permanent damage or violating the rules, we did it.  

KELLY: And there was medical personnel in the room.  

MITCHELL: There was always medical personnel. There were medical personnel there. There were psychologists that were independent of the interrogation there. There were language experts, although he spoke English pretty well. There were language experts. There were subject matter experts. And there were the people who had the command and control. There was also a traditional interrogation expert that, you know, traditional law enforcement expert.  

KELLY: How many days -- need a quick answer, and we're going to go to break, we're going to come right back with you. But how many days of interrogations did it take to employ all of those methods?

MITCHELL: Oh, actually, it's been so long ago I don't remember for a specific thing.  

KELLY: Just a several day, was it a couple of weeks? Couple of months?

MITCHELL: It was -- it was at least a couple of weeks.

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