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8 Aug, 2017 17:05

Contractors who created CIA’s torture program will face trial by jury

Contractors who created CIA’s torture program will face trial by jury

The case against two psychologists who were paid over $80 million to devise the CIA’s torture program under the Bush administration will go to trial, after a federal judge in Spokane, Washington, denied their request to throw the lawsuit out.

A jury will hear the lawsuit, Salim v. Mitchell, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of three former detainees against James Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen, US District Judge Justice Quackenbush said in a written order on Monday, according to AP.

The plaintiffs are suing under the Alien Tort Statute, accusing Mitchell and Jessen of committing of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, non-consensual human experimentation and war crimes. 

All three plaintiffs were kidnapped by the CIA and tortured and experimented upon according to Mitchell and Jessen’s protocols, according to ACLU. One of the men died as a result of his torture. The other two continue to suffer the effects of the psychical and psychological torture inflicted on them.

“This is a historic day for our clients and all who seek accountability for torture,” ACLU attorney Dror Ladin told AP. “The court’s ruling means that for the first time, individuals responsible for the brutal and unlawful CIA torture program will face meaningful legal accountability for what they did. Our clients have waited a long time for justice.”

Under the program, the three detainees were subjected to physical assaults and sleep deprivation, forced to stand for days in diapers with their arms chained overhead, doused with ice water, and stuffed into boxes, the ACLU said.

Judge Quackenbush heard arguments from both sides on July 28 and issued a partial ruling in which he said he would consider whether all three detainees, Suleiman Abdullah Salim, Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud and the estate of Gul Rahman, who died in custody, should be considered in the lawsuit.

The evidence involving all three detainees warrants a trial on the issue, the judge said on Monday.

Defense attorneys for Mitchell and Jessen referenced the Nuremberg Trials, citing the case of a gas technician who worked for the firm that created Zyklon B gas used by the Nazis in the World War II to gas Jews in concentration camps. In that trial the technician was exonerated when the court noted that though the technician knew that he played an important role in the transfer of the gas, he was not complicit in how it was used.
They also argued the program was directly controlled by the US government.

Judge Quackenbush rejected those arguments and said that evidence supported claims that the psychologists recommended “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

He also said it was undisputed that the psychologists administered those techniques - including waterboarding - on the CIA’s first detainee, Abu Zubaydah, and that Jessen was “physically involved” in the interrogation of Rahman. 

Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times, according to the New York Times.

John Kiriakou, the CIA whistleblower who exposed the torture program, told RT the two psychologists were hired because the agency wanted to atone for 9/11 by capturing and interrogating alleged terrorists.

“The reason why Mitchell and Jessen were put in charge of this terrible, this important program was because the CIA simply had no experience in this kind of thing,” Kiriakou told RT. “Nobody at the CIA was trained in interrogation, that’s an FBI job but the CIA wanted to be the organization that do it themselves. Because they had nobody internally that could do these interrogations, they decided to hire Mitchell and Jessen…to come in and teach the CIA how to torture people.”

Mitchell and Jessen were paid $81 million to devise the program and flew to the CIA black sites to carry out the torture, Kiriakou told RT.

Retired US Air Force Captain Michael Kearns used to teach techniques to resist interrogation at the Survival Evasion Resistance Escape (SERE) school in the 1980s, and worked with Jessen to develop a course called SV-91.

Mitchell and Jessen have “taken and reverse-engineered the harsh parts of SERE and turned them into EITs – enhanced interrogation program, brutal techniques,” Kearns told RT. The techniques used were “grossly beyond anything at the SERE schools standards, in my opinion.”

Kearns said students had stop-codes to end the torture techniques, whereas in the EIT program, the methods used would go on for days.

“There was no discussion of ethics, there was no discussion of morality, and once the memo was signed by the president [George W. Bush] there was no discussion of legality,” Kiriakou told RT

The trial is scheduled to begin on September 5, 2017.