ACLU settles torture case with CIA-contracted psychologists
American Civil Liberties Union attorneys, acting on behalf of three plaintiffs who claimed they were tortured, said it's the first time the CIA, or its private contractors, had been held accountable for torturing suspects.
“This outcome show that there are consequences for torture and that survivors can and will hold those responsible for torture accountable,” Dror Ladin, an ACLU attorney said, according to AP. “It is a clear warning for anything who thinks they can torture with impunity."
CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou told RT that while the settlement is historic, he is disappointed on three fronts.
Kiriakou, a former CIA counter-terrorism officer who blew the whistle on the torture program in 2007, noted the historic victory “because nothing like this has ever happened before,” but added, “I am disappointed with a settlement.”
He said the American people will never know the details of what would have been released had the case gone to trial.
“Documents would have certainly been de-classified, there would have been a number of people testifying in open court, and so we I think we will probably never know the real details of the CIA torture program. That’s a disappointment,” he told RT.
Another disappointment is over the the sealed terms of agreement.
“I am happy for the victims and the families of the victims of CIA torture, but I wish that we were able to say definitively that the final terms were enough of a deterrent to stop the CIA from possibly doing this again,” Kiriakou said.
Kiriakou said his third disappointment was over the two psychologists – James Mitchell and John Jessen – being indemnified at the time they signed their contract with the CIA.
“So not one cent from this entire ordeal comes out of Mitchell and Jessen’s pockets, leaving taxpayers footing this bill for this lawsuit, and that is very sad,” Kiriakou added. “Especially as they made $81 million and they pay none of it to their own victims.”
Kiriakou said he wished the case had gone to trial but was nevertheless surprised it had gone as far it did. A trial date was set for September 5 in federal court in Spokane, Washington. He said the CIA had ample opportunity to invoke ‘national security’ and ask for a dismissal but they elected not to do that.
“That order would have to have come from the White House, the Obama White House. When Donald Trump became president, he did not invoke ‘national security’ either, so it seems the CIA made an internal decision to just to get this thing behind them and be done with it,” said Kiriakou. “And I think they were able to convince the Obama administration and the Trump administration that it was the right thing to do.”
The ACLU filed the suit in 2015 on behalf of Suleiman Abdullah Salim, Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud and the family of Gul Rahman under the Alien Tort Statute, which allows for federal lawsuits for gross human rights violations. Rahman froze to death in a secret CIA prison.
The two men and Rahman's family claimed the trio were tortured and experimented on using methods developed by the CIA-contracted psychologists, Mitchell and Jessen, following the terror attacks of 9/11.
During the interrogations, the plaintiffs claimed they were subject to waterboarding, slammed into walls, stuffed inside coffin-like boxes, exposed to extreme temperatures, starved, and kept awake for days, the ACLU argued.
James Smith, the lead attorney for the psychologists said his clients were public servants whose interrogation of suspected terrorists was authorized by the government.
“The facts would have borne out that while the plaintiffs suffered mistreatment by some of their captors, none of that mistreatment was conducted, condoned or caused by Drs. Mitchell and Jessen,” Smith stated, according to AP.
AP reported that as the two psychologists worked as government contractors, their legal bills will be covered by US taxpayer money.
The Justice Department got involved in the case to represent the government’s interest in keeping classified information secret but did not try to block the lawsuit.
As part of the settlement agreement, both sides agreed to release a joint statement in which Doctors Mitchell and Jessen acknowledged they worked with the CIA “to develop a program for the CIA that contemplated the use of specific coercive methods to interrogate certain detainees.”
The parties acknowledged that Rahman “was subjected to abuses in the CIA program that resulted in his death” and plaintiffs Suleiman Abdullah Salim and Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud were “also subjected to coercive methods in the CIA program, which resulted in pain and suffering.”
The ACLU said it had based its legal claims on the declassified facts in the executive summary of the Senate report on CIA torture. The ACLU claimed that in addition to torturing prisoners themselves, Mitchell and Jessen trained other CIA personnel in their methods. The pair founded a company in 2005 that the CIA contracted to run its entire torture program, including supplying interrogators for the agency’s secret “black site” prisons. The government paid the company $81 million over several years.
A US Senate investigation in 2014 found that the techniques developed by the two psychologists produced no useful intelligence. President Obama had terminated the contract in 2009.