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ACLU Sues Psychologists Who Developed CIA's Bush-Era Interrogation Program

( [email protected] ) Oct 13, 2015 12:44 PM EDT
The American Civil Liberties Union sued two psychologists who devised the CIA's Bush-era interrogation program on Tuesday, saying they encouraged the agency "to adopt torture as official policy" and made millions of dollars in the process.
An ACLU lawyer representing the former detainees says the Senate torture report is "really why our clients are able to pursue this case.” AP photo

The American Civil Liberties Union sued two psychologists who devised the CIA's Bush-era interrogation program on Tuesday, saying they encouraged the agency "to adopt torture as official policy" and made millions of dollars in the process.

James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, two former military psychologists, "designed the torture methods and performed illegal human experimentation on CIA prisoners to test and refine the program," the ACLU said in a statement.

"They personally took part in torture sessions and oversaw the program's implementation for the CIA," it said.

The CIA declined to comment on the suit.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Washington state on behalf of three U.S. prisoners - Gul Rahman, Suleiman Abdullah Salim and Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud.

It said Salim and Ben Soud suffered lasting psychological and physical damage and that Gul died from hypothermia caused by dehydration and exposure to cold.

A U.S. Senate report last year found the CIA paid $80 million to a company run by two former U.S. Air Force psychologists without experience in interrogation or counterterrorism who recommended waterboarding, slaps to the face and mock burial for prisoners suspected of being terrorists. The psychologists were not named in the report but U.S. intelligence sources later identified them as Mitchell and Jessen.

The ACLU said Mitchell and Jessen methods used on the three men included "slamming them into walls, stuffing them inside coffin-like boxes, exposing them to extreme temperatures and ear-splitting levels of music, starving them, inflicting various kinds of water torture, depriving them of sleep for days, and chaining them in stress positions designed for pain and to keep them awake for days on end."

The United States never charged the men with a crime.

The lawsuit said the psychologists were liable for war crimes including torture and non-consensual medical and scientific human experimentation.

The CIA outsourced more than 80 percent of its interrogation program to the company, Mitchell Jessen & Associates of Spokane, Washington, for its work from 2005 until the termination of the arrangement in 2009, the Senate report said. The CIA also paid the company $1 million to protect it and its employees from legal liability.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages of a minimum $75,000 for the men.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Bill Trott)