The American Civil Liberties Union, on behalf of three former CIA prisoners, is suing the contractors who designed, implemented and assessed one of the most sadistic torture programs of the post-9/11 era.
Psychologists James Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen raked in more than $80 million for developing and overseeing the interrogation program. They relied on severe beatings, sleep deprivation, starvation, water-boarding, extreme temperatures, force-feeding and other methods that caused physical and psychological suffering on prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. naval base in Cuba.
The ACLU filed the lawsuit in federal court in the state of Washington on behalf of torture survivors Suleiman Abdullah Salim, Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud, and the family of Gul Rahman – a detainee who froze to death in a CIA black site in Afghanistan.
“Mitchell and Jessen conspired with the CIA to torture these three men and many others,” said Steven Watt, an attorney with the ACLU Human Rights Program. “They claimed that their program was scientifically based, safe, and proven, when in fact it was none of those things. The program was unlawful and its methods barbaric. Psychology is a healing profession, but Mitchell and Jessen violated the ethical code of "do no harm" in some of the most abhorrent ways imaginable.”
The plaintiffs seek compensatory damages of at least $75,000 and argue that Mitchell and Jessen charged professionally as psychologists, but ordered “torture, cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment; non-consensual human experimentation; and war crimes, all of which violate well-established norms of customary international law.”
“This lawsuit is different from past ones because public government documents now provide exhaustive details on the CIA torture program, and they identify the people who were tortured and how it happened,” Watt told The Guardian. “The government has long abused the ‘state secrets’ privilege to prevent accountability for torture but at this stage, any claim that the torture of our clients is a state secret would be absurd.”
The complaint comes 10 months after the release of a Senate executive summary that claimed the interrogation techniques inflicted pain on al-Qaida prisoners far beyond the legal limits, but did not yield anything other than faulty and useless intelligence.
As The Intercept reports, Mitchell and Jessen previously served as psychologists at the U.S. Air Force’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape school. The CIA first contacted them in 2001 to devise a program to bypass the prisoners’ resistance methods.
Since neither of them had any experience with the interrogation, they took inspiration from Martin Seligman – a psychologist who determined that dogs would be submissive if repeatedly inflicted with physical and mental suffering – and concluded that this state of “learned helplessness” would force detainees to confess to their alleged crimes.
However, in an extraordinary move, it seems like the two psychologists would soon pay the price for inflicting such inhumane horrors on the prisoners in CIA custody.
The picture above depicts the “Waterboarding Thrill Ride” installation by artist Steve Powers at the Coney Island arcade in New York on Aug. 6, 2008. The creation was an animatronic diorama built to criticize water-boarding.