Bruce Jessen

Torture Connection: 
The shrink
  • Born in 1949, raised in Idaho
  • Joined the Air Force as an enlisted man, attended college and graduate school while in the service
  • Ph.D. in psychology, Utah State University. Dissertation on family therapy.
  • In late 2001, obtained copy, possibly through CIA channels, of alleged "Al-Qaeda training manual" that discussed resistance to standard interrogation procedures.
  • From 2002 on, left air force to work with fellow psychologist James Mitchell in private corporation, Mitchell Jessen Associates, that contracted with the CIA to supervise "enhanced" interrogation procedures--i.e., torture.

Jessen's military background, contacts, draw him into CIA planning for detainee interrogation

As chief psychologist for the air force's SERE (Survival Evasion Resistance Escape) program, Jessen helped train special forces and aviation officers and enlisted men in dealing with abuse that might be expected if they were captured by enemy forces. SERE training, based on the experience of American soldiers captured in the Korean and Vietnam wars, included isolation, mock interrogations, and exposure to waterboarding and other forms of torture. Jessen reported to Col. Roger Aldrich, a Special Forces officer regarded as a "legendary military survival trainer." Aldrich is believed to have well-developed contacts within the CIA, who may have brought him into the early post-9/11 discussion/planning stages regarding interrogations of suspected enemy combatants. Perhaps through Aldrich, a copy of a document alleged to represent an "al-Qaeda training manual" was obtained by Jessen, who shared it with James Mitchell, a fellow psychologist recently retired from the military, who had worked with Aldrich and Jessen in the SERE program.

Aldrich had already contacted the CIA regarding SERE, which he considered the military's most valuable resource with respect to interrogation expertise. In truth, however, SERE only orchestrated mock interrogations; no one in the program, certainly not Mitchell or Jessen, had expertise in actual interrogations.

Jessen retires from the military for a private-sector opportunity as a civilian torturer

Although the "training manual" that wound up in the hands of Jessen and Mitchell does not mention al-Qaeda by name and may in fact be a CIA-produced document, they were able to use it as the basis for a torture contract proposal. Their argument was that al-Qaeda was familiar with standard interrogation techniques, as described in the "training manual," and thus was prepared to counter them. Only SERE-like torture could crack these "trained terrorists" and induce them to reveal helpful information regarding their organization and its plans. The proposal utilized psychological jargon in asserting that the goal of the torture should be "learned helplessness," a conditioned response to dehumanizing treatment. Jessen and Mitchell wrote up the proposal as though these ideas were original to them, but it is likely that military colleagues, perhaps including Col. Aldrich, helped them tailor the write-up to the interests of the CIA.

During the immediate post-9/11 period, when interest in military service peaked dramatically, Jessen bucked the trend by resigning his commission. He and Mitchell formed a company known as Mitchell Jessen Associates (MJA), which consisted basically of a phone answering service and possibly a small office in Spokane, WA. MJA contracted with the CIA to conduct torture sessions at black sites around the globe. Mitchell and Jessen often personally led the "enhanced interrogations" and/or trained others. While Mitchell maintained something of a public profile, participating in conferences and other activities so as to sustain MJA's reputation as a "professional" outfit, Jessen apparently remained more or less under cover for long periods, quietly completing CIA torture assignments.

Sources on Bruce Jessen

The Intercept
The New York Times
Slate Magazine
Huffington Post
The Daily Beast
IB Times
The Spokesman-Review
Eurasia Review
The Guardian
Eurasia Review
The Atlantic
American Torture
American Torture
American Torture
Global Research