Two contract psychologists who helped the CIA develop its coercive interrogation program have reached a settlement with former detainees who said they were tortured by agency officials using the pair’s brutal methods.
James Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen, who were involved in the creation of the CIA’s interrogation program following the 9/11 attacks, settled a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of the detainees.
The case was scheduled to go to trial on Sept. 5, but Mitchell and Jessen reached an agreement with the plaintiffs after they were unable to have the case dismissed, the ACLU said in news release Thursday. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.
“This is a historic victory for our clients and the rule of law,” ACLU attorney Dror Ladin in a statement. “This outcome shows that there are consequences for torture and that survivors can and will hold those responsible for torture accountable. It is a clear warning for anyone who thinks they can torture with impunity.”
The ACLU originally filed the case in October 2015, citing facts revealed in the declassified Senate report on CIA torture. The plaintiffs — Suleiman Abdullah Salim, Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud, and the family of Gul Rahman — allege CIA interrogators used Mitchell and Jessen’s methods to torture them. The punishments included beatings, starvation, waterboarding and confinement in boxes. Salim and Soud were eventually released without charges, and Rahman died of hypothermia while in CIA custody in 2002.
As the case progressed through the courts, Mitchell and Jessen claimed they were not the architects of the interrogation program and were simply following government orders. However, Senate investigators discovered that Mitchell and Jessen were key players in the program’s development and participated in the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah, the first detainee in CIA custody. The duo later former their own consulting company, which collected $81 million from the CIA before the interrogation program was terminated in 2009.
Although the full terms of the settlement are confidential, the plaintiffs and defendants agreed to the following joint statement:
Drs. Mitchell and Jessen acknowledge that they worked with the CIA to develop a program for the CIA that contemplated the use of specific coercive methods to interrogate certain detainees.
Plaintiff Gul Rahman was subjected to abuses in the CIA program that resulted in his death and in pain and suffering for his family, including his personal representative Obaidullah. Plaintiffs Suleiman Abdullah Salim and Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud were also subjected to coercive methods in the CIA program, which resulted in pain and suffering for them and their families.
Plaintiffs assert that they were subjected to some of the methods proposed by Drs. Mitchell and Jessen to the CIA, and stand by their allegations regarding the responsibility of Drs. Mitchell and Jessen.
Drs. Mitchell and Jessen assert that the abuses of Mr. Salim and Mr. Ben Soud occurred without their knowledge or consent and that they were not responsible for those actions. Drs. Mitchell and Jessen also assert that they were unaware of the specific abuses that ultimately caused Mr. Rahman’s death and are also not responsible for those actions.
Drs. Mitchell and Jessen state that it is regrettable that Mr. Rahman, Mr. Salim, and Mr. Ben Soud suffered these abuses.
The settlement is the first time anyone connected to the CIA interrogation program has publicly compensated a detainee subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques. The lawsuit did not name the U.S. government as defendants, but Mitchell and Jessen likely have access to CIA funds to cover their legal fees, reports The Intercept.
In 2013, Senate investigators found that Mitchell and Jessen had signed an indemnification agreement with the CIA, guaranteeing the government would pay for legal bills through 2021 if either were sued or prosecuted.
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