The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), on behalf of three former CIA detainees, have filed a lawsuit against two psychologists contracted to design the agency’s post 9/11 interrogation program, accusing the pair of torture, non-consensual human experimentation and war crimes.
ACLU has accused CIA-contracted psychologists James Mitchell and John "Bruce" Jessen of helping to "convince the agency to adopt torture as official policy", while "making millions of dollars in the process".
Mitchell and Jessen operated a firm that was paid $81 million over a four-year period by the CIA to help develop the agency’s "enhanced interrogation" program.
The two men, who had previous experience working for the US military, are alleged to have "designed the torture methods and performed illegal human experimentation on CIA prisoners to test and refine the program".
"They personally took part in torture sessions and oversaw the program’s implementation for the CIA," according to ACLU.
Suspects Beaten, Starved, Denied Sleep
The lawsuit is being filed on behalf of three men — Gul Rahman, Suleiman Abdullah Salim, and Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud – who were all abducted and interrogated in CIA prisons in Afghanistan. However, none were ever charged with a crime.
As part of the alleged torture, the men were subjected to "solitary confinement; extreme darkness, cold, and noise; repeated beatings; starvation; excruciatingly painful stress positions; prolonged sleep deprivation; confinement in coffin-like boxes; and water torture," according to the ACLU lawsuit, which claimed that Mitchell and Jessen were responsible for their clients’ suffering.
"Defendants are directly liable because they experimented on plaintiffs by seeking to induce in them a state of 'learned helplessness' to break their will by means of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment."
While Salim, a Tanzanian, and Ben Soud, who was captured after fleeing his native Libya, have both been released and now live with their families, the men say they are still scarred – mentally and physically – as a result of their treatment at the hands of CIA interrogators.
The third plaintiff, Gul Rahman, died in a CIA prison in 2002 after being interrogated by US officials.
ACLU, quoting an internal CIA review, said that Rahman died as a result of hypothermia, caused "in part by being forced to sit on the bare concrete floor without pants," while contributing factors such as "dehydration, lack of food, and immobility due to 'short chaining'," also played a part in his death.
Methods ‘Unlawful and Barbaric’
On top of being accused of torturing suspects themselves, Mitchell and Jessen allegedly took part in training and supervising other CIA staff in their 'interrogation' methods.
Through their company Mitchell Jessen & Associates, ACLU says that the CIA contracted the men “to run its entire torture program, including supplying interrogators and security for black sites and rendition operations.
"According to the Senate report, the government paid the company $81 million over several years. The CIA let Mitchell and Jessen themselves evaluate the effectiveness of their torture in 'breaking’ detainees, and the agency has since admitted that this was a mistake."
Steven Watt, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Human Rights program, said the methods implemented by the pair were "barbaric".
"They claimed that their program was scientifically based, safe, and proven, when in fact it was none of those things. The program was unlawful and its methods barbaric. Psychology is a healing profession, but Mitchell and Jessen violated the ethical code of ‘do no harm’ in some of the most abhorrent ways imaginable."
Fellow attorney Dror Ladin, from ACLU’s National Security Project, said the men had broken decades-long international rules on human experimentation.
"These psychologists devised and supervised an experiment to degrade human beings and break their bodies and minds. It was cruel and unethical, and it violated a prohibition against human experimentation that has been in place since World War II."
Mitchell Admitted to Waterboarding
In an interview late last year, James Mitchell, one of the men in the ACLU lawsuit, admitted that he had personally waterboarded three terrorism suspects detained by the CIA, telling VICE News that "whole point of the waterboard was to induce fear and panic”.
"We didn't think [detainees were] going to provide actionable intelligence in a state of fear and panic," he said.
"You have to start the session with the waterboarding, but the questioning happens the next time you come in the room. It's like any sort of thing you fear: the closer you get to it the next time, the more you struggle to get out of it and find an escape. So the moment [a detainee] was most susceptible to beginning to provide information was just before the next waterboarding session. Not in the original one."