For more than a decade, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen didn’t face any consequences for devising a torture program that inflicted irreparable psychological damage on several of its survivors.
A federal judge has finally given torture victims a go-ahead to sue the two contract psychologists who were reportedly paid more than $80 million to help develops brutal interrogation methods for the CIA, such as sleep deprivation, starvation and waterboarding, during the so-called War on Terror.
There are three men at the heart of the court case: Suleiman Abdullah Salim and Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud are living victims, while third plaintiff Gul Rahman was an Afghan refugee from Pakistan who froze to death in CIA custody at a black site in 2002. His family is filing the complaint on his behalf. They are being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The lawsuit seeks compensatory damages of more than $75,000, in addition to punitive damages and attorneys' fees.
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It’s the first time ever that such a lawsuit is being allowed to proceed since cases of this nature are usually thrown out once the government claims national security is at risk.
The judge’s “unprecedented” decision is all the more important for the survivors, none of whom were al-Qaeda members or affiliated to any terrorist organization.
As per ACLU’s description of the interrogation methods, torturers slammed them into walls, stuffed them inside coffin-sized boxes, sometimes exposing them to extreme temperatures and non-stop loud music, and chained them in stress positions to inflict excruciating pain.
This treatment of suspects was common at CIA’s undocumented prisons, aka black sites, and at U.S. military prisons such as Guantánamo Bay detention camp in Cuba, Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan and Abu Ghraib in Iraq.
“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. “Thanks to this unprecedented ruling, CIA victims will be able to call their torturers to account in court for the first time.”
And while it is indeed a major win for the plaintiffs who will finally see the two architects of the gruesome torture program in the dock, the chances of seeing their accomplices, the top-level Bush-era leaders, remain slim.
As has been pointed out before, the only body that can prosecute CIA torturers and top members of former president George W. Bush's administration, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the former president himself, is the Department of Justice.
Since the DOJ, so far, has not been able to find sufficient evidence “to obtain and sustain convictions beyond a reasonable doubt,” all U.S. officials responsible for inflicting abuses against innocent detainees are still at large.