Historic Legal Victory for CIA Torture Victims
For the first time, a federal judge allowed a CIA torture lawsuit to continue. The civil suit, filed by victims of “enhanced interrogation” against James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, two CIA-contracted psychologists will move forward despite urgings from the psychologists’ lawyers to throw out the case.
“I cannot summarily dismiss the complaint plaintiffs have filed,” senior federal judge Justin Quackenbush of the Eastern District of Washington said. “It’s thorough to say the least. On its face, the complaint alleges not only aiding and abetting but participation and complicity in the administration of this enhanced interrogation program.”
Mitchell and Jessen claim they cannot be sued because they were government employees, and that the CIA is ultimately responsible for the work they did. For now, the federal judge's ruling, sets that argument aside.
The three plaintiffs, Suleiman Abdullah Salim, Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud, and the family of Gul Rahman, who died in CIA custody in 2002, are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and seeking damages from the pair of psychologists who “designed, implemented, and personally administered an experimental torture program for the [CIA],” according to the filed complaint.
The lawsuit seeks compensatory damages of more than $75,000, plus punitive damages and attorneys' fees.
Mitchell and Jessen, two former U.S. Air Force psychologists who contracted with the CIA to develop and oversee the agency's detention, rendition and interrogation operations, were previously in charge of survival training at Fairchild Air Force Base, then later founded Mitchell, Jessen & Associates consulting firm.
The pair "developed the list of enhanced interrogation techniques and personally conducted interrogations of some of the CIA's most significant detainees using those techniques. The contractors also evaluated whether the detainees' psychological state allowed for continued use of the techniques, even for some detainees they themselves were interrogating or had interrogated."
Thanks to the partial release of the Senate report on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program in 2014, unavoidable evidence outlining the CIA’s torture methods has come to light.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence exposed the dark depths of the U.S. rendition and torture programs overseas, including waterboarding, beatings, mind-bending experiments and rectal feedings intended to provoke reluctant detainees to talk, reports the LA Times. Committee Chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) urged Americans not to let such history be "forgotten and grievous past mistakes to be repeated."
The ACLU believes Suleiman Abdullah, the lead plaintiff on the case, was sold to the U.S. by a Somali warlord under a bounty system, and was beaten, hung by his arms, chained in stress positions for days, starved, deprived of sleep and stuffed in a small box from time to time, according to court documents.
Abdullah was never charged with a crime, and was released in 2008 with a document from the Department of Defense stating he posed “no threat to the United States Armed Forces or its interests in Afghanistan.”
Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud was abducted in 2003 and tortured in Afghanistan at two black sites, or secret prisons operated by the CIA outside the U.S.
The CIA used torture methods on Ben Soud that were similar to the ones they inflicted on Abdullah
Ben Soud was similarly tortured with beatings, confinement in boxes, water torture, forced stress positions, blaring music, forcing him to be naked for prolonged periods of time, and denying him light, food or sleep, according to court documents.
Gul Rahman is the only prisoner known to have died in the CIA’s interrogation program. According to the Senate torture report, Jessen personally examined Rahman at the COBALT facility to assess which interrogation techniques would be most effective in breaking him down. Jessen participated in and oversaw parts of the interrogation techniques applied to Rahman, which included depriving him of sleep for two days; subjecting him to frigid showers; and “rough takedowns,” a technique that involved Rahman being stripped naked, hooded, beaten and dragged across concrete and dirt floors.
The CIA found Rahman dead in his cell only a few weeks after he was taken into custody. The Senate torture report revealed that the CIA concluded his cause of death was likely hypothermia, caused “in part from being forced to sit on the bare concrete floor without pants,” as well as “dehydration, lack of food, and immobility due to ‘short chaining.’”
As the case moved one step closer to a possible trial, Quackenbush ordered attorneys for both sides and the DOJ to develop a plan in the next 30 days to facilitate evidence collection, depositions of the victims and psychologists, in addition to the handling of classified information.
“The judge has said these are claims that can go forward,” said ACLU attorney Dror Ladin. “They will be decided on the facts of this case, which has never happened.”
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