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ACLU files lawsuit against psychologists behind CIA's interrogation program

James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, two psychologists from Washington state, are named as defendants in the lawsuit.

By Doug G. Ware
ACLU files lawsuit against psychologists behind CIA's interrogation program
The ACLU filed a lawsuit in Washington state Tuesday against two psychologists it claims are legally liable for developing the CIA's intense interrogation program involving terror suspects -- which has been criticized by some for using techniques, such as waterboarding, that they say are tantamount to torture. File Photo by Dennis Brack/ Pool / UPI | License Photo

NEW YORK, Oct. 13 (UPI) -- The controversy involving alleged collusion of psychologists in the Bush administration's interrogations of suspected terrorists after 9/11 took a major legal step forward Tuesday, as the ACLU filed a lawsuit against two clinicians who engineered the CIA's aggressive program.

The suit names two psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, as the masterminds behind the agency's intensive interrogation program -- which used methods that critics say either crossed into or bordered on torture.

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The suit was filed Tuesday in Washington state, where both defendants reside.

According to the lawsuit, Mitchell and Jessen received more than $80 million in government contracts for their company, which employed 11 of the 13 interrogators the CIA used for its program. The ACLU filed the suit on behalf of Suleiman Abdullah Salim, Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud and the estate of Gul Rahman -- all of whom were interrogated by the agency at one time.

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Rahman froze to death at a CIA interrogation site in Afghanistan in 2002, the suit says, while Soud was kept naked for a month and was subjected to repeated sessions of waterboarding -- a controversial tactic intended to inflict simulated drowning upon suspects.

The ACLU contends that Mitchell and Jessen committed "war crimes" by developing the intense interrogation system, from which they each substantially profited.

"This case is about ensuring that the people behind the torture program are held accountable so history doesn't repeat itself," Steven Watt, one of the ACLU attorneys representing the three ex-detainees, told Britain's The Guardian.

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Before working for the CIA, both psychologists had been employed by the Department of Defense to develop techniques that would allow U.S. operatives to survive and withstand aggressive interrogations by enemies. Through reverse engineering, a Senate report earlier this summer said, Mitchell and Jessen designed the CIA's program.

The ACLU's suit is the first to rely on the conclusions of the Senate report.

The American Psychologists Association also released a report earlier this year that said ethics officials collaborated with the Pentagon and CIA to issue guidelines regarding the interrogations of terror suspects after 9/11.

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"Our internal checks and balances failed to detect the collusion, or properly acknowledge a significant conflict of interest, nor did they provide meaningful field guidance for psychologists," Dr. Nadine Kaslow, chair of the Independent Review's Special Committee, said after the release of the 542-page report. "The organization's intent was not to enable abusive interrogation techniques or contribute to violations of human rights, but that may have been the result."

The APA subsequently barred its members from participating in interrogations. But widespread criticism of the reports continues to call into question the legal and ethical integrity of the agency's program under President George W. Bush.

The lawsuit claims Mitchell and Jessen are legally liable for the interrogations and each of the plaintiffs is seeking at least $75,000 in damages.

"Defendants are directly liable ... because they designed, developed, and implemented a program for the CIA intended to inflict physical and mental pain and suffering on Plaintiffs," the lawsuit says. "And because Plaintiffs were tortured and subjected to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment as a consequence of their inclusion in that program."

Interrogations involving the disputed techniques were reportedly used at multiple CIA black sites around the world, as well as the U.S. Naval prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- which President Barack Obama has been trying for years to close -- Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan and Abu Ghraib in Iraq.

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"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 said. "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."

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