The Consequences of Interrogation: Creator of CIA Interrogation Program Testifies

By: Savannah Young

“They kept pouring water and concentrating on my nose and my mouth until I really felt I was drowning and my chest was just about to explode from the lack of oxygen.” [1] This is how Abu Zubaydah described his experience of waterboarding at a CIA black site in Thailand [2] His sketches, depicting his torture, which was part of the notorious Post-9/11 interrogations, were published for the first time this past December.

The gruesome sketches reveal many other ways that Mr. Zubaydah was tortured by the CIA, including: being shackled to a bar above his head and having to stand on his tiptoes; being tethered to a cell bar to restrict his movement; being held by the neck while his head was forcefully pushed into a wall; being trapped in a wooden box, similar to a casket; being trapped in a painful, tiny box; and being deprived of sleep.[3] Mr. Zubaydah had no advanced knowledge of the 9/11 attacks and has never been charged with a crime.[4] He was the first person to be subject to the interrogation program.[5]

A little over a month after the sketches were published, James E. Mitchell, a psychologist and the creator of the Post-9/11 interrogation program, appeared for the first time in front of the military war court.[6] Dr. Mitchell appeared to have no regrets or remorse, stating that it was a time where a follow-up attack was feared by the entire administration.[7] He stated that he would do it again today if he had to and that he “thought [it was his] moral duty.”[8]

Dr. Mitchell also stated that CIA was never “interested in prosecutions” but was more worried about preventing another attack and to do so “They were going to go right up to the line of what was legal, put their toes on it and lean forward.”[9] The testimony in front of the military war court is expected to last about two weeks and take place in front of both the victims of the torture and the families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks.[10]

The sketches and testimony are grave reminders of the devastating consequences of escalating military tensions, and the aftermath of combatting terrorism and fears of terrorism. In the wake of the January 8 Iranian strikes targeting United States bases in Iraq, the United States is both reminded and humbled when we recount the devastation both at home and abroad that stemmed from the 9/11 attacks. The fear instilled throughout the country and administration led the government to perpetuate the now-illegal interrogation practices largely devised by Dr. Mitchell. The methods of interrogations that occurred at the black sites are archaic and inhumane. Even though Dr. Mitchell seems to have no remorse, one would hope that these methods will be forever discontinued in American policy.

[1] Carol Rosenberg, What the C.I.A.’s Torture Program Looked Like to the Tortured, N.Y. Times (Dec. 4, 2019),

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Carol Rosenberg, Architect of C.I.A. Interrogation Program Testifies at Guantánamo Bay, N.Y. Times (Jan. 21, 2020),

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

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