ACLU Settles Lawsuit Against CIA Torture Psychologists

Much was made of the ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ employed by the U.S. military and contractors in terrorism investigations. Often considered torture, the interrogation program was at the center of an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit filed against the alleged architects of that program, on behalf two men subjected to those techniques and the family of one man who froze to death in a CIA prison.

In what the ACLU says is a first for lawsuits involving CIA torture, the two defendants in the case, psychologists James Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen, have agreed to settle the lawsuit, for an undisclosed amount.

Enhanced Interrogation

“Government officials and contractors are on notice that they cannot hide from accountability for torture,” said director of the ACLU National Security Project Hina Shamsi in the wake of the settlement. “Our clients’ groundbreaking case has changed the legal landscape. It showed that the courts are fully capable of handling lawsuits involving abuses committed in the name of national security.” Due to issues of immunity and fears of classified information being made public, the case was set to be the first of its kind to go to trial, perhaps because the Justice Department did not try to block it.

Although both Mitchell and Jessen continue to claim that the abuse suffered by Suleiman Abdullah Salim, Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud, and Gul Rahman, and Rahman’s death, all occurred without their knowledge. But in an earlier ruling in the case, the court found “The evidence would support a finding Defendants designed the [enhanced interrogation techniques] to be used on detainees, and thus they clearly had knowledge they would be so used.”

Brutal and Ineffective

Those techniques embodied an effort to a state of “learned helplessness” in captives that would remove any resistance to interrogation. According to Dr. Jessen’s deposition in the case, he and Dr. Mitchell were tasked with coming up with those techniques, which included sensory and sleep deprivation, shackling for hours in uncomfortable positions, and waterboarding. “Jim and I went into a cubicle,” he said. “He sat down at a typewriter and together we wrote out a list.”

The interrogation techniques developed by the doctors were ultimately found to be brutal and ineffective, but caused lasting pain and suffering to those subjected to them.

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