Psychologists Who Developed CIA Torture Program Get Court Approval to Depose their CIA Bosses
By Jamie Henneman, Courthouse News Service
SPOKANE, Wash. (CN) - Two psychologists who developed a post-Sept. 11 torture plan for suspected terrorists while working as government contractors will be able to depose some of their CIA bosses in a lawsuit they face from the American Civil Liberties Union.
U.S. District Judge Justin Quackenbush granted the deposition request on Tuesday, allowing psychologists James Mitchell and John Jessen to depose four CIA officers about the torture and interrogation program that aimed to teach detainees "learned helplessness."
The interrogation methods developed by Mitchell and Jessen for federal intelligence agencies were based on research from the 1960s that applied electric shocks to dogs. The research found that dogs that cannot escape the pain of being shocked eventually didn't try to avoid it, even when they had the opportunity.
Mitchell and Jessen developed a program applying this methodology to numerous terror suspects, including three detainees who are represented in the ACLU's lawsuit against the psychologists. Two of the detainees, Suleiman Abdullah Salim and Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud, were released from custody after being subjected to torture that included water boarding, sleep deprivation and other extreme methods.
The ACLU is also representing the family of a third detainee, Gul Rahman, who died of hypothermia while in custody after being "short-chained" to a wall and denied food and water, according to the lawsuit.
Mitchell and Jessen formed a company in 2005 that contracted with the CIA to run its interrogation and torture program, earning $81 million from the government over several years, according to congressional reports.
ACLU lawyer Dror Ladin said allowing the CIA officers to be questioned in the case is evidence that the federal court system can "handle" high-profile cases involving torture.
"No victim of terrorism interrogation has ever had their day in court," Ladin said. "The fact this case is moving forward shows that the victims will be able to seek accountability from two men who profited from their pain without the case being ignored due to 'state secrets.'"
Lawyers from the Justice Department did object to having CIA officers give depositions in the case, arguing that classified information may be "inadvertently shared" in the process. The department asked that several CIA officers, including an information review officer, be present at depositions.
However, Ladin said concerns about putting national security at risk in the course of the case are not valid, as much of the information is already public.
"After the disclosure of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA program, it's hard to understand how these issues could be too secret for the court to handle," he said.
Quackenbush refused to dismiss the lawsuit this past April, and had ordered both sides to work on both a discovery plan and a way to prevent leaks of confidential intelligence information.
The case goes before a jury on June 26, 2017.
To Learn More:
James Elmer Mitchell and John Jessen v. USA (U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Washington)
Psychologists Who Designed Torture Methods for CIA Admit to Torturing but Deny It Was Torture (by Nicholas K. Geranios, Associated Press)
Former CIA Prisoners Sue Psychologists Who Created Torture Program (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
CIA Paid $81 Million to Hire Psychologists to Teach Torture Techniques (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
Psychologists Move against One of Their Own Who Helped Torture (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)
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