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Architect of CIA torture program testifies it bordered on unlawful

Jan. 22 (UPI) -- One of the architects of the CIA's torture program for accused Sept. 11 terrorists testified Wednesday that he grew to believe the techniques had come close to breaking the law.

Psychologist and interrogator James Mitchell testified publicly about the program for the first time in a U.S. military courtroom at Guantanamo Bay, where he said he and other CIA contract psychologists who developed the interrogation program wanted it to stop but intelligence officials pressed them to continue.

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Mitchell specifically cited the treatment of Abu Zubaydah who was waterboarded more than 80 times.

He testified that he thought they had forced Zubaydah, who agreed to cooperate, to reveal all the information he had and helped draft a message to the CIA headquarters informing them "the intensity of the pressure applied to him thus far approaches the legal limit" and that Zubaydah's mental state was deteriorating.

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Mitchell said the CIA urged them to continue the torture program because Zubaydah may have still been withholding information about an imminent U.S. attack, so he agreed to waterboard him one more time but requested a senior CIA official be present.

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"If you think you want us to waterboard him, then you're going to witness it. We're going to do it one more time and then never again," he said.

A senior CIA official did attend the waterboarding and Mitchell testified that Zubaydah suffered involuntary body spasms and began crying.

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Mitchell said that he and other people in the room became tearful watching as he was waterboarded.

"I felt sorry for him. I thought it was unnecessary. He had agreed to work for us," he said.

The CIA paid Mitchell and his partner Bruce Jessen more than $80 million to develop the torture program for suspected terrorists that included waterboarding, stress positions and mock burials, among other techniques.

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The pair of psychologists said the methods were intended to be more uncomfortable than painful but said some interrogations got out of control. They also denied responsibility for other interrogators who used the techniques in abusive and unauthorized ways.

Mitchell said he sought to sever his ties to the program but officials told him he would bear responsibility if more people in the United States died in another terrorist attack and that their replacement may not share the same concerns about the program.

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"The implication was that if we weren't willing to carry their water, they would send someone else who would do it and they may be harsher than we were," he said.

Mitchell was asked to testify in the pretrial hearings for the Sept. 11 trial set to begin in January of next year, as defense attorneys seek to exclude evidence gathered by the FBI from the case, stating it was tainted by torture.

Jessen is also expected to testify about the torture program after Mitchell.

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