Washington — Despite the Central Intelligence Agency’s best efforts, at least two former high-level officials must sit for depositions as part of a lawsuit against the two men who were responsible for designing and implementing torture techniques for the CIA.
On Tuesday, October 3, U.S. District Court Senior Judge Justin Quackenbush ruled CIA officials would be required to answer questions under oath as requested by defendants James Mitchell and John Bruce Jessen. Both men are former U.S. military psychologists who are seen as the “architects” of the CIA’s torture program.
According to the recent Senate report on CIA torture “neither psychologist had experience as an interrogator, nor did either have specialized knowledge of al-Qa’ida, a background in terrorism, or any relevant regional, cultural, or linguistic expertise.”
The two men served in the U.S. military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape program (SERE), teaching U.S. troops how to resist and survive torture in the event of capture by foreign nations. SERE was supposed to help troops understand torture techniques while Jessen and Mitchell supervised their mental state.
After 9/11, the psychologists were tasked with designing and developing the CIA’s detention, rendition, and interrogation operations. Using their knowledge of how to resist torture, the two reverse-engineered the SERE program to create a new program that would break detainees’ mental state in the hopes of creating loose-lipped zombies.
In October 2015, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against Mitchell and Jessen, accusing them of operating a “joint criminal enterprise.” The ACLU is representing Suleiman Abdullah Salim, Mohamed Ben Soud, two survivors of the CIA torture program, and Gul Rahman, who died as a result of his torture. The plaintiffs are suing Mitchell and Jessen under the Alien Tort Statute — which allows federal lawsuits for gross human rights violations — for their commission of torture; cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment; non-consensual human experimentation; and war crimes.
Mitchell and Jessen requested that former high-ranking CIA officials be forced to answer questions about the program and also that the government turn over documents related to the torture program. Judge Quackenbush agreed and ordered the government to produce some of the requested documents. The trial is set to begin on June 26, 2017, but the ACLU says the depositions will likely happen in the next few months as part of the discovery process.
“No victim of terrorism interrogation has ever had their day in court,” ACLU lawyer Dror Ladin told Courthouse News. “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.‘”
Thanks to the judge’s ruling, the American public may soon find out previously unknown details about how the CIA operated their brutal program of psychological and physical torture. According to the ACLU, two of the officials who will face questioning are John Rizzo and Jose Rodriguez. Rizzo was the CIA’s head lawyer during the George W. Bush administration while Rodriguez was the head of the CIA Counterterrorism Center and then deputy director of operations. Both men played a vital role in the decision to torture detainees. The ACLU writes:
“Rizzo was the CIA’s acting general counsel for much of the George W. Bush administration. President Bush nominated him to be confirmed in the position in 2007 but was forced to withdraw the nomination amid objections over Rizzo’s involvement in the torture program. Rizzo went along with the now-discredited Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel memos that purported to approve torture, privately acknowledging the OLC’s ‘ability to interpret over, under and around Geneva, the torture convention, and other pesky little international obligations.’ Rizzo also helped draft Bush’s still-secret order authorizing the CIA to establish secret detention facilities overseas and to interrogate detainees.”
Rodriguez has also been a vocal defender of the CIA torture program. In 2005 he ordered the destruction of more than 90 videotapes that showed detainees undergoing waterboarding and other torture methods. When Rodriguez and Rizzo are questioned on the stand, the public may finally learn the truth about what these men (and thousands of others) have suffered thanks to the propaganda of the Global War on Terror.
Disgraced psychologists Mitchell and Jessen initially sought to dismiss the charges against them. In late April, Judge Quackenbush ruled against them after they attempted to have the suit terminated by claiming the decision to torture the three men was a political one and “not appropriate for determination by a judge.” The men also argued they are entitled to the same legal immunity as diplomatic officials. The court disagreed with the psychologists, stating contractors do not qualify for immunity unless they are merely acting under the direction of the government whereas Mitchell and Jessen went beyond simply following orders. The two men designed and sold the torture program, making millions of dollars in the process.
Judge Quackenbush’s ruling is historic in that it will force at least some of the people responsible for the horrific CIA torture program to answer for their crimes. The ruling is a sign that perhaps some justice will be served, but unfortunately, some damage cannot be undone. Both Salim and Ben Soud suffer psychologically and physically from the effects of their torture while Gul Rahman died of hypothermia at a secret prison. His body has never been returned to his family. CIA documents released in June 2015 reveal Rahman was singled out for especially harsh torture because of “pressure” to “break him.” Rahman was captured in October 2002 in Islamabad, Pakistan, for suspicion of connection to Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin, an insurgent group headed by Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and allied with al-Qaeda. The CIA interrogators sought to “break” Rahman because he was uncooperative with his torturers and threw food, water bottles, and buckets full of feces at guards.
Rahman was shackled using the “short chain” method. His hands were chained together. His feet were chained together. Then, a short chain was used to shackle his hands to his feet.
“This position forced Rahman, who was naked below the waist to sit on a cold concrete floor and prevented him from standing up,” according to the declassified CIA inspector general’s report about his death. Rahman was found dead the next day. According to the report, “a palm-sized pool of dried blood was present in and around the mouth and nose of [the] subject. Rahman was observed still shackled and slumped over in the seated position.” The cause of his death would later be reported as “undetermined,” but the clinical conclusion found he died of hypothermia. No one has been charged in death of Gul Rahman.
These men and their families suffer while the architects of CIA torture still walk free. To be clear, Mitchell and Jessen are deeply disturbed, using their profession as a way to manipulate and break the human mind. There will be no justice until the architects, the decision makers, and the order followers are held accountable for their actions.
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