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From their office in Spokane, two psychologists who once worked with an Air Force survival school there launched an extraordinary covert business that, after the 2001 terror attacks, offered one-stop shopping for a CIA wanting to use harsh interrogation tactics.

James Mitchell and John Bruce Jessen provided the CIA a list of tactics that ranged from facial slaps to waterboarding, deployed them against some terror suspects, and assessed the effectiveness of the efforts, according to a U.S. Senate report released this week that identified the two contractors under pseudonym.

The CIA even turned to the two men in June 2007 to help gain support for the interrogation program from then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, according to the Senate report.

In return, the CIA paid a total $81 million to the company formed by the two men before their contract was ended in 2009. At one point, in 2008, 85 percent of personnel in the CIA’s main unit for detention and interrogation were outside contractors, and most were employed through Mitchell and Jessen.

The controversial Senate report — released by Democrats on the Select Committee on Intelligence but attacked by Republicans on the same committee — reaches a blunt verdict on the interrogation program.

The CIA, aided by the contractors, ended up using “brutal interrogation techniques in violation of U.S. law, treaty obligation, and our values,” the report concluded.

In the year after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when the two psychologists began working with the CIA, they had no experience as interrogators, no specialized knowledge of al-Qaida and no background in counterterrorism, according to the Senate report.

The psychologists advocated an interrogation approach called “learned helplessness,” which predicted that detainees would become passive and depressed in response to adverse or uncontrollable events, and thus would cooperate and provide information, the report said.

In a June 2013 written response to Senate investigators, the CIA said the contractors’ expertise was so unique that the agency would have been “derelict” had it not hired them as the agency headed into “the uncharted territory of the interrogation program.”

The CIA has disputed the Senate report’s findings. And Wednesday, one of the two psychologists joined in the criticism, saying the report was “flat wrong” to suggest he had no experience as an interrogator or understanding of al-Qaida.

“What I would love the American people to know is that the way the Senate Democrats on that committee described the credentials and backgrounds of the two psychologists is just factually, demonstrably incorrect,” Mitchell said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press from his current home in Florida.

Mitchell declined to be specific about what he considered inaccurate in the report, and said a secrecy agreement prevented him from confirming his involvement in the CIA program or fully defending himself.

He also said that using these interrogation tactics is less troubling than the current policy to use CIA drones to kill terrorists overseas.

“It’s a lot more humane, even if you are to subject them to harsh techniques, to question them while they are still alive, than it is to kill them and their children and their neighbors with a drone,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell and Jessen are no longer business partners.

At one point, the two men retained a defense attorney while U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was weighing whether to open a criminal investigation. But the Justice Department decided against it in 2012, and Holder’s office Tuesday again said it will not reopen the case.

The Seattle Times tried to contact the two men but was unable to reach them for comment.

In the Senate report, Mitchell is identified under the pseudonym Grayson Swigert, and Jessen is identified as Hammond Dunbar, The Associated Press reported, citing a U.S. official with knowledge of the program.

Earlier in their careers, both men were part of the Survival, Evasion, Resistance Escape training program — known as SERE that was used at an Air Force survival school, part of Fairchild Air Force Base outside Spokane.

In addition to teaching survival skills, the school exposed U.S. military personnel to tough interrogation tactics to prepare them for the possibility of capture by an enemy that would not abide by the Geneva Convention and international law.

The SERE program interrogation tactics, conducted in a controlled environment, included techniques such as stress positions, forced nudity, use of fear and sleep deprivation.

At one point, a Navy survival school also used waterboarding as part of its training, according to an 2008 report by the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The Senate Intelligence report released Tuesday said the tactics were intended to simulate what U.S. service members might face from a ruthless, lawless enemy. Yet Mitchell proposed a list of 12 of these techniques for possible CIA use on terror suspects, and he and Jessen “played a role in convincing the CIA to adopt such a policy,” the Senate report said.

The CIA thought so highly of the two men that, in August 2002, they were the only ones approved to apply waterboarding and other enhanced techniques against Abu Zubaydah, a Saudi citizen of Palestinian origin who was the first person detained as an enemy combatant after the 2001 terror attacks.

Waterboarding simulates drowning by pouring water into the nose and mouth.

Zubaydah, held in Thailand, was suspected of having knowledge of plans for terrorist operations against the United States. In at least one waterboarding session, he became unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open mouth, according to the Senate report.

Zubaydah remained unresponsive until medical intervention, when he regained consciousness and expelled copious amounts of fluid.

The report cited a CIA email that said the tactics affected some members of the interrogation team, “some to the point of tears and choking up.”

Later Mitchell and Jessen participated in waterboarding on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The North Carolina-educated Mohammed, a citizen of Kuwait, planned the 2001 terror attacks and was captured in March 2003 in Pakistan.

In all, Mohammed was waterboarded at least 183 times, the report said. The site was believed to be in Poland, according to news reports.

There also was dissent within the ranks of the CIA’s Office of Medical Services about the sweeping responsibilities the CIA assigned to the contractors. Critics were concerned about a psychologist whose traditional role is to prevent an interrogator from applying too much pressure reversing roles and actually conducting the interrogation.

In a 2003 memorandum, an Office of Medical Services official noted concerns about the contractor’s conflict of interest.

The memorandum said that conflict was “nowhere more graphic than in a setting where the same individuals who applied an enhanced interrogation technique, which only they were approved to employ, then judged the effectiveness and detainee resilience, and implicitly proposed continued use of the technique.”

All this was done at a compensation rate of $1,800 per day, which was four times more than the rate of interrogators not approved to use the technique, according to the memorandum.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or Kyung Song: 202-383-6108 or Twitter @KyungMSong.