Architect Of CIA's Waterboarding Program And Fox & Friends Host Mislead About Torture

Fox host Brian Kilmeade praised waterboarding, claiming it “yield[ed] tremendous results,” during an error-filled interview with psychologist James Mitchell, the man who created the CIA’s so-called “enhanced interrogation” program. Mitchell and Kilmeade promoted numerous misleading arguments about the supposed effectiveness of torture as a form of interrogation while promoting Mitchell's upcoming memoir. Fox figures have previously spoken out in support of reinstating waterboarding as an interrogation technique, even though experts have condemned the practice, saying that it constitutes torture, is illegal under American and international law, and “yielded no intelligence.” 

Fox Praises Waterboarding And Whitewashes The Record Of The Architect Of Bush-Era “Enhanced Interrogation” Techniques

Fox’s Brian Kilmeade Promoted Waterboarding And Said It “Clearly Worked” In Interview With One Of The Architects Of The CIA’s “Enhanced Interrogation” Program. Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade interviewed psychologist James Mitchell, who designed and implemented the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program, to discuss his forthcoming memoir. In the interview, Kilmeade whitewashed Mitchell's record and claimed that his program helped “protect Americans in the face of upcoming catastrophic attacks, similar to what happened on 9/11.” The program included waterboarding, which was later deemed to be an ineffective torture technique that is illegal under American and international law. Kilmeade agreed with Mitchell’s claims and praised the program, which he said “clearly worked” and “end[ed] up yielding tremendous results.” Kilmeade also bizarrely claimed that one detainee subjected to waterboarding was “so relaxed when you waterboarded him, he would fall asleep on the gurney.” From the November 30 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:

BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): You describe in this book, you know, you were going to be a private contractor. The CIA asked you, and you didn't want to take the job. After 9/11, they asked you, and you got take the job. Sooner or later, they realize your skills, and they're going to develop enhanced interrogation practices. How would you define that, first off?

JAMES MITCHELL: Well, one important thing to remember is that it wasn't Jim Mitchell's enhanced interrogation program, it was America's. And the CIA was trying to protect Americans in the face of upcoming catastrophic attacks, similar to what happened on 9/11. And so they asked me to pitch in and help when we were in crisis, and I agreed to do that.


KILMEADE: So it ends up yielding tremendous results. It enabled you, perhaps, to capture Ramzi bin al-Shibh, who led you to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who you spent countless hours in [sic]. The one thing that you describe that broke him was when you had the ability to waterboard him. You only waterboarded him five times, despite all the rumors. And one thing that happened after you did that is that you went back to him to try to get his advice on how to handle [Abd al-Rahim al-] Nashiri. He’s another high-value target. And you said, “I don't want to waterboard this guy, what should I do?” He insisted you do. In your book, he's quoted, Abu Zubaydah said, “You must do this for all the brothers. If you don't and he talks, the brothers have sinned. Allah will punish him.” “I’m not following. You think we should use harsh techniques?” you say. “Allah does not expect more of a man than he's capable of. You have to bring him to his limits.” So, Zubaydah was recommending that you bring these guys to their limits in order to get them to speak.

MITCHELL: Right. To put that in context, what he was actually saying is that everyone is different. And that in their religion, the one that the Islamists follow, if a person helps the enemy without resisting to the best that they can, then it's a sin and Allah will punish them. And what he was saying is, you have to help the brothers so that they don't get sideways with their God. But he wasn't suggesting that we waterboard everybody or he wasn't suggesting that we use harsh interrogation techniques on everybody. What he was saying is that everybody is different. For some, there won't be any need to use anything at all. And for others, nothing you do to them will get them to talk to you. Your task is to figure out where they are and provide them with enough coercion, or tea and sympathy, so that they feel that they've done the best of their ability.

KILMEADE: What you're saying, Dr. Mitchell though, it clearly worked. It allowed you to roll up these guys and prevent attacks, some of which we don't know, other [of] which we absolutely do know. And when Senator [Diane] Feinstein [(D-CA)] inaccurately portrays your role, and others in the FBI, inaccurately portray your role, this has been very aggravating for you, and this is the first time you can plea -- you can make your case.

MITCHELL: That's true. That’s true. This is the first time that I've been actually allowed to tell my side of the story. It took a long time to get it out. But I thought Americans have a right to know what the CIA did, the men and women of the CIA, many of whom sacrificed their lives to protect them. The sorts of things that we were trying to do.

KILMEADE: And by the way, Khalid Sheik Mohammed actually found a way to beat, amazingly -- found a way to get the water out of his nose, out of his mouth. He was so relaxed when you waterboarded him, he would fall asleep on the gurney. But you ultimately broke him and got invaluable information that helped keep America safe, and you should be proud of that. For those critics, what do you say to them?

MITCHELL: Well, what I would say to them is that the question that President-elect Trump has to ask himself is what is he going to do when there's credible evidence of another catastrophic attack planned for a city in the United States and they capture a guy like Khalid Sheik Mohammed -- not some run-of-the-mill, mujahideen, jihadist brother, but the worst of the worst who wants to protect his secrets but has the information that could stop those attacks. What are they are going to do? I'm telling you, the Army Field Manual is not going to work. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 11/30/16]

Fox Has Previously Called For Reinstating Waterboarding

Fox’s Brian Kilmeade: “Clearly Waterboarding Was Effective.” Hours after his glowing interview with James Mitchell, Fox host Brian Kilmeade suggested that President-elect Donald Trump should embrace waterboarding as “a form of interrogation,” while trying to argue that torture is permissible so long as it is not employed as “a form of punishment.” Kilmeade then falsely claimed that “clearly waterboarding was effective in getting the worst of the worst to speak” before pivoting to Islamophobic talking points about a recent knife attack in Columbus, OH. From the November 30 edition of Fox News’ Outnumbered:

BRIAN KILMEADE: Waterboarding should be a form of interrogation, it shouldn’t be a form of punishment. But if you see what works, clearly waterboarding was effective in getting the worst of the worst to speak because they weren't. And you will see that. But I say this about this guy, he leaves Somalia, spends some quality time in Pakistan, and finds his way over to Columbus. You can't treat that the same way [as] someone coming from Aruba or Bermuda coming over here. You have to say, what were you doing in Pakistan? Got a little problem. Maybe we're going to take the other guys or other family that hasn't [come] from the terror dens. [Fox News, Outnumbered, 11/30/16]

Fox's Eric Bolling Defended Trump’s Plan To Reinstate Waterboarding: “God Forbid We Splash Some Water On A Terrorist’s Face.” While discussing then-candidate Donald Trump’s supposedly “tough” rhetoric on combating terrorism -- including his various comments about possibly reinstating waterboarding -- Fox’s Eric Bolling mocked co-host Julie Roginsky for her opposition to waterboarding, sarcastically saying, “God forbid we splash some water on a terrorist’s face.” From the June 29 edition of Fox News’ Outnumbered:

JULIE ROGINSKY (CO-HOST): They may be hungry for it, but I also think you want to see it backed up with action. And when you have Donald Trump tweeting out, essentially saying these are people who are beheading westerners and we should fight fire with fire, which a lot of people took to say we should do waterboarding and worse, endorsing torture. There are plenty of Republicans --

ERIC BOLLING: God forbid we waterboard. God forbid we splash some water on a terrorist’s face to get some information. [Fox News, Outnumbered, 6/29/16]

Fox’s Pete Hegseth: ISIS Thinks The U.S. Is “Weak” For Not Waterboarding. Fox commentators Pete Hegseth and Ben Collins both supported Trump’s call to reinstate waterboarding, claiming that ruling out waterboarding “reduces our ability” and makes the U.S. seem “weak,” “unwilling to do what’s necessary,” and lacking the stomach for the fight. [Fox News, The Real Story, 6/29/16]

Fox’s The Five Co-Hosts Agreed That Waterboarding Should Be Reinstated. On the November 23, 2015, edition of Fox News’ The Five, co-hosts Eric Bolling, Greg Gutfeld, and Kimberly Guilfoyle all argued that waterboarding should be reinstated. Gutfeld said he was “pro-waterboarding,” Bolling claimed that “waterboarding produces results,” and Guilfoyle incorrectly argued that “enhanced interrogation tactics are legal” and that using enhanced interrogation techniques on detainees is acceptable because “these are not innocents.” [Fox News, The Five, 11/23/15]

Fox’s Steve Doocy: Trump “Hit It Out Of The Park” With His Call To Reinstate Waterboarding. On November 23, 2015, Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy praised then-candidate Trump’s call to reinstate waterboarding, saying Trump “makes a great point ... considering [ISIS terrorists are] chopping off heads.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 11/23/15]

Fox’s Sean Hannity Defends CIA's Use Of Torture: “I Am Certain That American Lives Were Saved.” On the December 8, 2014, edition of his radio show, Fox News host Sean Hannity criticized the upcoming release of the Senate's “report on CIA torture,” saying that “people are going to die” over the release of the report. Hannity defended the CIA's use of “enhanced interrogation” techniques and said he is “certain that American lives were saved” through the use of torture. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 12/8/14]

Fox Contributor And Former Bush Adviser Karl Rove: Torture Techniques Kept America Safe. On the December 8, 2014, edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O’Reilly and Fox contributor Karl Rove celebrated torture techniques employed by American intelligence agents during Rove’s time as a senior adviser to President George W. Bush. O'Reilly mentioned the “thousands of lives saved by the information [the CIA] got, by waterboarding,” and Rove urged viewers to remember that torture techniques “developed useful information, vital information that kept America safe,” and helped us kill Osama bin Laden. [Fox News, The O'Reilly Factor, 12/8/14]

Mitchell’s Practices Were Highly Criticized And Resulted In A Lawsuit Against Him

ACLU: “Torture Was A Key Component … From The Outset” Of Mitchell’s Interrogation Program, Which Was Supported By “No Legitimate Science.” According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Mitchell and his colleague Bruce Jessen “intensified and manipulated” techniques used to train U.S. troops for the possibility of interrogation and torture to the point that they “were designed … to break detainees and turn their minds into putty” and “bore little relation to those” techniques the military uses. According to the ACLU’s findings, neither Mitchell nor Jessen “had ever conducted a real-world interrogation” nor did they have “specialized knowledge of al-Qa'ida, a background in terrorism, or any relevant regional, cultural, or linguistic expertise.” Mitchell’s plan, based on a theory derived from experiments conducted on dogs in the 1960s, included “torture [as] a key component ... from the outset” and was not supported by “legitimate science.” From the ACLU report:

Neither psychologist had ever conducted a real-world interrogation. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence confirms this in its landmark report on the CIA detention and interrogation program, the executive summary of which was released at the end of last year. “Neither psychologist had experience as an interrogator, nor did either have specialized knowledge of al-Qa'ida, a background in terrorism, or any relevant regional, cultural, or linguistic expertise,” the Senate report notes.


Mitchell and Jessen were interested in applying the psychological concept of “learned helplessness” to interrogation. Psychologist Martin Seligman pioneered studies on the phenomenon in experiments he conducted on dogs in the 1960s. Seligman used the term “learned helplessness” to describe the state of utter passivity prompted by a series of negative events that leads subjects to believe there is nothing they can do to escape their suffering.


Mitchell and Jessen posited that this theory could be applied to interrogation — that harsh measures could be used to break any resistance of al-Qaida captives by inducing a state of learned helplessness. Torture would “shape compliance” with interrogation, Mitchell and Jessen theorized. Once detainees were abused to the point of learned helplessness, resistance would crumble, and the detainees would divulge information that they might otherwise withhold.

No legitimate science backs up this assumption. Research on inducing a sustained state of learned helplessness in humans through abuse, or on the role of learned helplessness in eliciting truthful information, does not exist for the simple reason that it can’t be legally or ethically conducted.


But torture was a key component of Mitchell and Jessen’s plan from the outset. And even under the Bush administration’s skewed reinterpretation of the term, the intentional infliction of physical or psychological pain or suffering severe enough to cause a prolonged mental condition, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, violates the prohibition on torture. [, Out Of The Darkness, accessed 11/30/16]

American Psychological Association: Waterboarding And Other Torture Techniques Are “Patently Unethical.” The Associated Press reported that the American Psychological Association (APA) sent a letter to a Texas licensing board “supporting an attempt to strip” Mitchell of his license. The letter said that Mitchell’s alleged actions, some of which he admitted to years later, “represent ‘patently unethical’ actions inconsistent with the organization’s ethics guidelines.” From the July 10, 2010, article:

Psychologists in the United States have been warned by their professional group not to take part in torturing detainees in U.S. custody.

Now the American Psychological Association has taken the unprecedented step of supporting an attempt to strip the license of a psychologist accused of overseeing the torture of a CIA detainee.

The APA has told a Texas licensing board in a letter mailed July 1 that the allegations against Dr. James Mitchell represent “patently unethical” actions inconsistent with the organization's ethics guidelines.

If any psychologist who was a member of the APA were found to have committed the acts alleged against Mitchell, “he or she would be expelled from the APA membership,” according to the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press. APA spokeswoman Rhea Farberman confirmed its contents.

The letter is the first of its kind in the board's history, Farberman said.

“The allegations put forward in the complaint and those that are on the public record about Dr. Mitchell are simply so serious, and if true, such a gross violation of his professional ethics, that we felt it necessary to act,” Farberman said. [The Associated Press, 7/10/10]

Mitchell Is Being Sued By Former CIA Detainees Who Allege He “Designed, Implemented, And Personally Administered An Experimental Torture Program.” According to The New York Times, a lawsuit “filed in October 2015 in Federal District Court in Spokane, Wash., by two former detainees” alleges that Mitchell and Jessen “designed, implemented, and personally administered an experimental torture program.” From the November 27 article:

But now, one lawsuit has gone further than any other in American courts to fix blame. The suit, filed in October 2015 in Federal District Court in Spokane, Wash., by two former detainees in C.I.A. secret prisons and the representative of a third who died in custody, centers on two contractors, psychologists who were hired by the agency to help devise and run the program.

One of them, James E. Mitchell, has written a book to be released Tuesday about his involvement in the program. In the book, he argues that he acted with government permission and that he and Bruce Jessen, the other psychologist and his co-defendant in the lawsuit, received medals from the C.I.A.


Lawyers for Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen have clashed with the Justice Department over what classified evidence is needed to defend against the suit’s allegations that the men “designed, implemented, and personally administered an experimental torture program.” [The New York Times, 11/27/16]

Waterboarding Is Ineffective And Blatantly Illegal Under American And International Law

Senate Select Committee On Intelligence Deemed Mitchell’s “Enhanced Interrogation” Program To Be “Brutal” And “Ineffective.” According to an NBC News summary of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s report on “enhanced interrogation,” the “gruesome” program “never led to ‘imminent threat’ intelligence — the figurative ticking time bomb often cited as justification” for the program. The select committee revealed that “the most aggressive techniques were used 'in combination and nonstop,’" even though the “aggressive interrogation yielded no intelligence," and "others provided useful information without being subjected to the harsh techniques.” From the December 9, 2014, article and report:

The harsh interrogation techniques used by the CIA in the years after Sept. 11 were essentially useless and far more brutal than the spy agency told Congress and the public, according to a long-awaited Senate report released Tuesday.

It found that CIA interrogation tactics, employed for days or weeks at a time, never led to “imminent threat” intelligence — the figurative ticking time bomb often cited as justification. In some cases, the means were counterproductive, the report found.

Among the techniques described were waterboarding so severe it produced convulsions, sleep deprivation so prolonged it induced hallucinations, the slamming of detainees into walls, the denial of medical care and unnecessary rectal feeding.


“It is my personal conclusion that, under any common meaning of the term, CIA detainees were tortured,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said in an introduction to the report.


According to a summary provided to reporters, the most aggressive techniques were used “in combination and nonstop,” including keeping detainees awake for as long as 180 hours, standing or in stress positions.


According to the Senate report, the CIA's own records found that seven of 39 detainees subjected to especially aggressive interrogation yielded no intelligence, and that others provided useful information without being subjected to the harsh techniques. [, 12/9/14; Senate Select Committee On Intelligence, 12/9/14]

Former FBI Agent Ali Soufan: “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” Are “Ineffective, Slow, And Unreliable.” Retired FBI agent Ali Soufan, who has interrogated Al Qaeda members, explained that the CIA's interrogation techniques were “ineffective, slow, and unreliable” and are detrimental in counterterrorism efforts. He also noted that the “amateurish” methods were “untested,” were “advocated by contractors with no relevant experience,” and went against the “the cumulative wisdom and successful tradition of our military.” From Soufan’s May 13, 2009, testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee:

From my experience -- and I speak as someone who has personally interrogated many terrorists and elicited important actionable intelligence -- I strongly believe that it is a mistake to use what has become known as the “enhanced interrogation techniques,” a position shared by many professional operatives, including the CIA officers who were present at the initial phases of the Abu Zubaydah interrogation.

These techniques, from an operational perspective, are ineffective, slow and unreliable, and as a result harmful to our efforts to defeat al Qaeda. (This is aside from the important additional considerations that they are un-American and harmful to our reputation and cause.)


In summary, the Informed Interrogation Approach outlined in the Army Field Manual is the most effective, reliable, and speedy approach we have for interrogating terrorists. It is legal and has worked time and again.

It was a mistake to abandon it in favor of harsh interrogation methods that are harmful, shameful, slower, unreliable, ineffective, and play directly into the enemy's handbook. It was a mistake to abandon an approach that was working and naively replace it with an untested method. It was a mistake to abandon an approach that is based on the cumulative wisdom and successful tradition of our military, intelligence, and law enforcement community, in favor of techniques advocated by contractors with no relevant experience.

The mistake was so costly precisely because the situation was, and remains, too risky to allow someone to experiment with amateurish, Hollywood style interrogation methods- that in reality- taints sources, risks outcomes, ignores the end game, and diminishes our moral high ground in a battle that is impossible to win without first capturing the hearts and minds around the world. It was one of the worst and most harmful decisions made in our efforts against al Qaeda. [United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary, 5/13/09]

MSNBC Terrorism Analyst Malcolm Nance In 2007: “Waterboarding Is A Torture Technique - Without A Doubt. There Is No Way To Sugarcoat It.” In a 2007 column titled “I know waterboarding is torture - because I did it myself,” MSNBC terrorism analyst Malcolm Nance wrote that “when performed on an unsuspecting prisoner, waterboarding is a torture technique - without a doubt. There is no way to sugarcoat it.” Nance wrote that the practice requires the interrogator “to overcome basic human decency” and argued that it “would leave you questioning the meaning of what it is to be an American.” From the October 31, 2007, New York Daily News column:

I have personally led, witnessed and supervised waterboarding of hundreds of people. It has been reported that both the Army and Navy SERE school's interrogation manuals were used to form the interrogation techniques employed by the Army and the CIA for its terror suspects. What is less frequently reported is that our training was designed to show how an evil totalitarian enemy would use torture at the slightest whim.

Having been subjected to this technique, I can say: It is risky but not entirely dangerous when applied in training for a very short period. However, when performed on an unsuspecting prisoner, waterboarding is a torture technique - without a doubt. There is no way to sugarcoat it.

In the media, waterboarding is called “simulated drowning,” but that's a misnomer. It does not simulate drowning, as the lungs are actually filling with water. There is no way to simulate that. The victim is drowning.


One has to overcome basic human decency to endure causing the effects. The brutality would force you into a personal moral dilemma between humanity and hatred. It would leave you questioning the meaning of what it is to be an American.


Our own missteps have already created a cadre of highly experienced lecturers for Al Qaeda's own virtual school for terrorists. [New York Daily News, 10/31/07]

International Red Cross Spokesperson: Waterboarding “Qualifies As Torture” Under American And International Law. Anna Nelson, a spokesperson for the International Red Cross, told the International Business Times, “'The definition of torture is any technique that causes severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, inflicted for a purpose, such as obtaining information or a confession, exerting pressure, intimidation or humiliation,'” and concluded that “'waterboarding fits into this category and therefore qualifies as torture' under U.S. and international law":

The United Nations has defined torture as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person.” The International Committee of the Red Cross officially declared waterboarding torture earlier this year.

“The definition of torture is any technique that causes severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, inflicted for a purpose, such as obtaining information or a confession, exerting pressure, intimidation or humiliation,” Anna Nelson, the International Red Cross spokeswoman in Washington, said at the time. “Waterboarding fits into this category and therefore qualifies as torture” under U.S. and international law, she added. [International Business Times, 8/7/14]

Former Army Judge Advocate General: “There Is No Way Any Competent And Knowledgeable Attorney Can Say That Waterboarding Is Legal.” According to retired Maj. Gen. Thomas Romig, who served as judge advocate general for the U.S. Army, “There is no way any competent and knowledgeable attorney can say that waterboarding is legal under the Geneva Conventions, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, or the Convention Against Torture.” [, 2/7/16]