ACLU settles suit against psychologists who created CIA interrogation program

By Ray Downs  |  Aug. 17, 2017 at 10:17 PM
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Aug. 17 (UPI) -- The American Civil Liberties Union announced a settlement Thursday with two psychologists who were involved in the creation of the CIA's controversial interrogation program.

The ACLU sued CIA-contracted psychologists James Mitchell and John "Bruce" Jessen in 2015 on behalf of Suleiman Abdullah Salim and Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud -- who were interrogated using torture tactics -- as well as the family of Gul Rahman, who the CIA said "likely" froze to death in a secret agency prison.

"We brought this case seeking accountability and to help ensure that no one else has to endure torture and abuse, and we feel that we have achieved our goals," the plaintiffs said in a joint statement praising the settlement. "We were able to tell the world about horrific torture, the CIA had to release secret records, and the psychologists and high-level CIA officials were forced to answer our lawyers' questions. It has been a long, difficult road, but we are very pleased with the results."

"This outcome shows that there are consequences for torture and that survivors can and will hold those responsible for torture accountable," said ACLU attorney Dror Ladin. "It is a clear warning for anyone who thinks they can torture with impunity."

Terms of the settlement are confidential. A jury trial had been scheduled for a Sept. 5 start.

The ACLU said there have been many lawsuits against the CIA interrogation program, but this was the first that had not been dismissed by a federal court.

"Government officials and contractors are on notice that they cannot hide from accountability for torture," said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU National Security Project. "Our clients' groundbreaking case has changed the legal landscape. It showed that the courts are fully capable of handling lawsuits involving abuses committed in the name of national security."

Mitchell and Jessen are two former survival trainers who started a private firm that was paid more than $80 million by the CIA to develop an interrogation program after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, The Spokesman Review reported.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence found in 2014 that the CIA's program implemented a variety of torture techniques into their interrogation program -- including waterboarding, beatings, rectal feedings and mental experiments.

One of the mental experiments was described as "learned helplessness," which involved inducing a depressed or helpless state due to a stressful environment in an effort to "encourage a detainee to cooperate and provide information."

The Senate panel's report said, "the CIA itself determined from its own experience with coercive interrogations that such techniques 'do not produce intelligence,' 'will probably result in false answers,' and had historically proven to be ineffective. Yet these conclusions were ignored."

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