In the October 2015 filing, the ACLU accused James Elmer Mitchell and John "Bruce" Jessen of torture, cruel and degrading punishment, war crimes and conducting an "experimental torture program," as part of a "joint criminal enterprise" with the nation's top intelligence agency. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of three victims of the torture program, one of whom died in custody.
"This ruling is a critical step towards accountability, and it charts a way forward for torture victims to get their day in court," said Dror Ladin, an ACLU attorney.
"This order affirms that our judicial system can handle claims of CIA torture, including when those claims involve high-level government officials," he added, referring to the fact that the ACLU plans to question top officials who have long denied any wrongdoing
The lawsuit is the first to rely extensively on the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation into the agency's top-secret efforts to unearth terrorist plots following the 9/11 attacks. The investigation report found that the torture program, authorized by former President George W. Bush, failed to provide any substantial information regarding terror attacks, as well as misrepresenting the results of the CIA program to the Geroge W. Bush Administration.
According to the ACLU, the two defendants received some $80 million for developing an interrogation program that included waterboarding, hunger punishment, extreme closed-confinement and other torture practices.
Mitchell and Jessen requested depositions, to defend themselves.
"I'm just a guy who got asked to do something for his country by people at the highest level of the government and I did the best that I could," Mitchell told the Guardian in 2014, referring to his careful development of a program designed to circumvent international law, while inflicting pain and suffering.
Both Mitchell and Jessen, as well as the Bush Administration and the CIA, earlier had denied that torture was used, claiming that interrogation techniques were legal, safe, and useful in discovering that Osama bin Laden was in Pakistan in 2011.
These claims were proven false, and the extent of the torture program shocked the world.