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Face to Face with Jessen 

A brief encounter with Spokane's infamous CIA torture architect

click to enlarge Bruce Jessen lives in a million-dollar mansion south of Spokane.
  • Bruce Jessen lives in a million-dollar mansion south of Spokane.

A red tractor idles in the courtyard of Dr. Bruce Jessen's massive $1.2 million home south of Spokane. Pillars and stone arches line the entryways. Red ceramic tiles cover the roof of the estate. When the former Fairchild Air Force Base psychologist and now-infamous architect of the CIA's interrogation program steps out, he freezes for a moment before realizing I am just a reporter. He's a little on edge.

"There's a lot going on," he tells me. "It's a difficult position to be in."

Jessen explains nondisclosure agreements prohibit him from discussing the U.S. Senate's newly released CIA torture report, despite what he called "distortions." Polite, but clearly upset, Jessen notes he has a "No Trespassing" sign near the end of his driveway. As he heads toward the tractor, he adds an ominous observation.

"You know, they didn't prosecute Zimmerman," he says.

In hindsight, his statement seems a chilling reference to the acquittal of George Zimmerman, a controversial case over the legal use of deadly force in so called "stand your ground" situations. At the time, I assumed he was alluding to something in the CIA report that I was not familiar with. The comment confused me, but did not seem threatening.

Jessen and his colleague, Dr. James Mitchell, both formerly with the Fairchild Air Force Base survival school, put together many of the techniques used for interrogating prisoners after Sept. 11, such as waterboarding and sleep deprivation. The report indicates their Spokane-based company received more than $80 million for its services.

While Mitchell has publicly disputed parts of the report, Jessen had rejected calls from reporters across the country. So as a last resort, I drove to his house recently and happened to catch him taking out the garbage. Jessen tells me he would like to "set the record straight," but declines to offer any details.

"There's nothing more I can say," he says.

Jessen then shakes my hand to end the conversation. I wish him a merry Christmas, but ask once more if there was anything he would like to add. He suggests I leave while we are still on "amiable terms." He then closes the door of the tractor cab and puts the machine in gear. ♦

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