(CN) – A former CIA contractor who helped set up the agency’s torture program used to question detainees after the 9/11 terror attacks faced five men who were subjected to the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques in a pretrial hearing Tuesday.
Retired Air Force psychologist James Mitchell testified publicly for the first time on Tuesday at the U.S. military court in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The CIA paid a total of $80 million over several years for Mitchell and his colleague, Bruce Jessen, to design and implement the CIA interrogation program that included waterboarding, sleep deprivation, isolation and prolonged shackling of detainees in stress positions.
Mitchell’s testimony kicks off what is expected to be a two-week pretrial hearing intended to settle legal issues ahead of the trial of five accused masterminds of the Sept. 11 attacks. The actual trial is set to take place a year from now, in January 2021.
Alleged former al-Qaida operative Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and his four co-defendants will be tried by a military commission for their alleged roles in planning and assisting terrorists in the attacks that killed about 3,000 people in 2001.
Defense attorneys say all five defendants in the case, who face the death penalty for murder charges, were tortured by the CIA using Mitchell’s brutal tactics —some of which were later outlawed.
Mohammed was captured in 2003 in Pakistan. He was interrogated for about three years in various overseas black sites and was reportedly waterboarded 183 times before being transferred for FBI questioning at Guantanamo Bay.
The defendants are arguing that the government should not be able to use as evidence certain statements they gave to the FBI because those statements were influenced by torture. A 2006 law that established the military commission stipulates that any statements admitted into evidence must be voluntary.
Mitchell, Jessen and their associates were contracted by the Bush-era CIA until 2009. The team’s task was to help train U.S. forces to withstand torture techniques that they could encounter. Their reverse-engineering of that program led to the use of those methods in secretive overseas prisons overseas, known as black sites, beginning in August 2002.
Mitchell appeared in Guantanamo Bay on Tuesday without a subpoena before the military court where he will be questioned by Mohammed’s defense team as well as attorneys for the four other alleged plotters.
He fired back when defense attorney James Connell thanked him for appearing.
“I did it for the victims and families, not for you,” Mitchell reportedly said Tuesday.
He testified that the CIA was trying to prevent “another catastrophic attack” in the wake of 9/11.
“My sole focus was stopping the next attack,” he said.
Jessen is also expected to testify during the pretrial hearing.