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Lawsuit Could Deliver First Prosecutions of CIA’s Post-9/11 Torture Program

Monday, November 28, 2016 11:18
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A lawsuit filed by two men the CIA tortured after 9/11 and the representative of a third who died in custody may hold two psychologists contracted by the agency to design the program accountable.

In October, one of the plaintiffs, Suleiman Abdullah Salim, told New York Times report James Risen that he can’t escape “the Darkness” of his experience of torture.

The New York Times reported Sunday:

Nearly 15 years after the United States adopted a program to interrogate terrorism suspects using techniques now widely considered to be torture, no one involved in helping craft it has been held legally accountable. Even as President Obama acknowledged that the United States “tortured some folks,” his administration declined to prosecute any government officials. …

Dr. Mitchell alleges that harsh interrogation techniques he devised and carried out, based on those he used as an Air Force trainer in survival schools to prepare airmen if they became prisoners of war, protected the detainees from even worse abuse by the C.I.A.

Dr. Mitchell wrote that he and Dr. Jessen sequestered prisoners in closed boxes, forced them to hold painful positions for hours and prevented them from sleeping for days. He also takes credit for suggesting and implementing waterboarding — covering a detainee’s face with a cloth and pouring water over it to simulate the sensation of drowning — among other now-banned techniques. “Although they were unpleasant, their use protected detainees from being subjected to unproven and perhaps harsher techniques made up on the fly that could have been much worse,” he wrote. C.I.A. officers, he added, “had already decided to get rough.”

Legal experts say President-elect Donald Trump could scuttle the case on alleged grounds of national security. As a candidate, Trump endorsed the effectiveness of torture and said he would bring back waterboarding.

If the former detainees succeed, “it would be the first time a United States civilian court has held individuals accountable for their role in developing counterterrorism policies after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks,” the Times continues. Jonathan Hafetz, a professor at Seton Hall Law School, told the newspaper: “All of the other cases have been thrown out on procedural grounds. … If this is successful, it could pave the way for other torture victims to seek redress.”

Mitchell and Jessen deny responsibility for the fate of Gul Rahman, who died in CIA custody. The Times reports:

In one instance, Dr. Mitchell describes his and Dr. Jessen’s experiences with Gul Rahman, an Afghan citizen captured in November 2002 in Peshawar. He was found dead, naked from the waist down on a bare concrete floor in the freezing cold at a secret C.I.A. prison that month, shackled and short-chained to a wall. A representative of Mr. Rahman’s estate is a party to the lawsuit against the two psychologists.

Dr. Mitchell writes that he and Dr. Jessen raised concerns about Mr. Rahman’s well-being before their departure from the site, just days before his death. “To imply that his death was part of the program I was involved with is simply false,” Dr. Mitchell writes.

But a January 2003 C.I.A. memorandum outlining an investigation into Mr. Rahman’s death, released to the A.C.L.U. in late September, found that Dr. Jessen interrogated Mr. Rahman after he was subjected to “48 hours of sleep deprivation, auditory overload, total darkness, isolation, a cold shower, and rough treatment.” (The document had previously been released, but in a more redacted form without the psychologists’ names.) During that interrogation, Mr. Rahman resisted answering questions and “complained about the violation of his human rights.”

Dr. Jessen also said he “thought it was worth trying” a so-called rough takedown, during which Mr. Rahman was forced out of his cell, secured with Mylar tape after his clothes were cut off, covered with a hood, slapped, punched and then dragged along a dirt floor, the memo said. Mr. Rahman died of what an autopsy suggested was hypothermia.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly

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