Human Rights

Psychologists Who Designed the CIA Torture Program Can Be Sued by Victims, Federal Judge Rules

The first time such a case has been allowed to proceed.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

For the first time, a federal judge is allowing torture victims to sue the psychologists who devised the CIA’s brutal interrogation methods that included sleep deprivation, starvation and forcing captives into coffin-like boxes.

Gul Rahman, an Afghan refugee who formerly lived in Pakistan, froze to death at a CIA black site, so his family is bringing the case on his behalf. The other men, Suleiman Abdullah Salim and Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud, are also levying the suit with the backing of the ACLU.

The defendants are James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who received millions of dollars from the government for a company they established in 2005 to run the CIA torture program. In a searing report released in December 2014, Physicians for Human Rights slammed Mitchell and Jessen for their role in "conceptualizing and designing strategies for the direct infliction of a combination of physical and psychological harm on detainees." Mitchell dismissed the atrocities highlighted in the Senate torture report as a “load of hooey” in 2014.

Mitchell, like other high-level architects of CIA torture, has so far faced no consequences for his role in the systematic atrocities perpetrated by the post-9/11 U.S. government and its contractors. But this impunity could change after U.S. District Court Senior Judge Justin Quackenbush on Friday instructed lawyers that they will have 30 days to present their plan for discovery, making this the first CIA torture lawsuit that will be allowed to proceed.

“Until now, every lawsuit trying to hold people accountable for the CIA torture program has been dismissed before reaching the merits because the government successfully argued that letting the cases proceed would reveal state secrets,” the ACLU explained.

“This is a historic win in the fight to hold the people responsible for torture accountable for their despicable and unlawful actions,” said ACLU staff attorney Dror Ladin, who argued in court today. “Thanks to this unprecedented ruling, CIA victims will be able to call their torturers to account in court for the first time.”

"James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen not only violated their ethical duty to do no harm, they helped commit war crimes,” said Sarah Dougherty, a senior fellow at Physicians for Human Rights. “They must be held accountable for the cruelty they inflicted, not only on these plaintiffs, but on all those who suffered in the CIA’s unlawful torture program."

Suleiman Abdullah Salim tells his story:

 

Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet. A former staff writer for Common Dreams, she coedited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahlazare.

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