August 24, 2007 in City

Group protests firm’s CIA ties

Staff writer
 
Dan Pelle photo

From left, Kim Stankowich, Willow Moline and Nancy Nelson protest outside the office of Mitchell Jessen & Associates at the corner of Washington Street and Riverside Avenue on Thursday. James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen reportedly helped develop the CIA’s interrogation program.
(Full-size photo)

More than two dozen people, some dressed in black hoods and orange jumpsuits to resemble Guantanamo detainees, gathered Thursday evening at Riverside and Washington to protest the work of a Spokane psychology firm in the spotlight for working with the CIA at its secret interrogation sites.

“Mitchell and Jessen – How Do You Sleep at Night?” and “Torture – Spokane’s Shame,” read two of the signs waved at motorists during the evening rush hour in front of the American Legion Building, where Mitchell Jessen & Associates leases offices on the second floor. During the protest, the office was locked and dark, and there were no vehicles in the firm’s parking spaces.

Some motorists honked and gave the thumbs-up as they drove by the line of protesters. One tattooed man in a muscle shirt, who said he worked in the building but refused to give his name, came outside to yell at the people picketing and call them “uneducated.” And one bemused worker at the Jaazz Salon & Day Spa in the same building jokingly said, “I hope they don’t think our haircuts are that bad.”

The protest was organized by the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane after The Spokesman-Review and three national magazines reported this summer that the work of James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen for the CIA at “black,” or secret, military detention sites was under investigation by the Senate Armed Services Committee. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., asked the Pentagon to retain all records of the work done by the Spokane-based psychologists.

In June, the online magazine Salon.com identified Mitchell and Jessen as key developers of the CIA’s interrogation program. Vanity Fair and the New Yorker followed suit with more details of the controversial interrogation methods, which violate the Geneva Conventions on the humane treatment of prisoners.

Mitchell and Jessen “should have to close up their office and do community service for the rest of their lives,” said Marianne Torres, one of the protesters. “Spokane is getting credit as a leader in torture policy – it makes me sick,” she said.

“We did this because so many people in Spokane are oblivious to what is going on in their backyards,” said Nancy Nelson of PJALS, who wore a black hood and orange jumpsuit.

According to a recently declassified Pentagon report reviewed by the newspaper, the techniques used at the CIA sites included painful stress positions, long periods of sensory deprivation and waterboarding, or simulated drowning.

Mitchell Jessen’s partners include Randall W. Spivey and Roger L. Aldrich, according to a 2005 city of Spokane business license. Other “governing people” include David M. Ayers, president of Tate Inc., a private contractor with training contracts at Fairchild and other military sites, and Joseph D. Matarazzo, an emeritus psychology professor at Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland and the former president of the American Psychological Association.

The Mitchell Jessen revelations have sparked controversy among psychologists about whether they should assist military interrogations of al-Qaida members. Last weekend in San Francisco at the American Psychological Association’s annual conference, members voted a compromise – not to participate in torture techniques but to stay at the military sites. The vote disappointed dissenting psychologists who had called for a moratorium on any involvement.

Willow Moline, who just finished her psychology degree at Eastern Washington University and joined Thursday’s protest, said the work of Mitchell and Jessen “gives psychology an extraordinarily bad name.”

In a June 29 Spokesman-Review story, Stephen Behnke, director of the APA’s Ethics Directorate, distanced the organization from Mitchell and Jessen, saying neither man is an APA member.

But after the newspaper reported on Aug. 12 that Matarazzo, the APA’s former president, is a partner in the Spokane company, the APA declined further comment.

Mitchell and Jessen have repeatedly declined interview requests and have released one statement since finding themselves in the media spotlight. In the statement, the company said it is proud of its work and opposes torture.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email