Psy­chol­o­gists face trial for harsh CIA in­ter­ro­ga­tions

Suit over de­tainees mis­treated in the war on ter­ror­ism is set to go be­fore a jury.

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By Rick An­der­son An­der­son is a spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent.

SEAT­TLE — A law­suit brought by for­mer de­tainees held at CIA “black site” pris­ons over­seas will in­deed go to trial — the first such pro­ceed­ing in the post-Sept. 11 era and one that aims to hold two civil­ian psy­chol­o­gists re­spon­si­ble for help­ing to de­velop harsh in­ter­ro­ga­tion tech­niques.

The gov­ern­ment and at­tor­neys for the two psy­chol­o­gists have at­tempted to halt the trial, and even the fed­eral judge hear­ing the case, Justin Quack­en­bush, urged the plain­tiffs and de­fen­dants to con­sider a set­tle­ment in­stead. “If you want to go on and try this case be­fore a jury, you may,” he told at­tor­neys for the ex-de­tainees, who are su­ing for un­spec­i­fied mon­e­tary dam­ages.

“But I cau­tion you,” Quack­en­bush added, the lit­i­gants and the CIA, which has been an in­ter­ested party in the case, would be bet­ter off to “sit down and reach a rea­son­able con­clu­sion.”

The lit­i­gants were un­moved, and on Fri­day, af­ter al­most three hours of ar­gu­ments in the last of a se­ries of pre­trial hear­ings, Quack­en­bush de­cided the his­toric case was trial-ready. The hear­ing was held in Spokane, Wash., with au­dio of the pro­ceed­ings car­ried on a call-in tele­phone line.

Though ear­lier at­tempts by oth­ers to sue the CIA for al­leged tor­ture were de­railed by claims of threats to na­tional se­cu­rity, a par­tially re­leased Se­nate re­port in 2014 ex­posed much of the his­tory of “ex­tra­or­di­nary ren­di­tions” and harsh in­ter­ro­ga­tion meth­ods dur­ing the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion, and the CIA agreed to com­ply with most doc­u­ment re­quests in this case.

The Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union brought the suit on be­half of Suleiman Ab­dul­lah Salim, a Tan­za­nian fish­er­man ab­ducted by the CIA in So­ma­lia in 2003, al­legedly tor­tured, and re­leased five years later with a doc­u­ment stat­ing he posed no threat to the U.S.

An­other ACLU plain­tiff, Mo­hammed Ahmed Ben Soud, a Libyan also ab­ducted in 2003, was al­legedly tor­tured in Afghanistan, then held by au­thor­i­ties in Libya af­ter the Kadafi regime was over­thrown.

The ACLU also rep­re­sents the Afghan fam­ily of Gul Rah­man, who was ab­ducted and died af­ter two weeks in CIA cus­tody, chained up, in di­a­pers and suf­fer­ing from hy­pother­mia. He was held at a fa­cil­ity in Afghanistan called Cobalt prison, or the “Salt Pit.”

The de­fen­dants, for­mer Air Force psy­chol­o­gists James Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen, were hired by the CIA to de­sign a pro­gram of “en­hanced in­ter­ro­ga­tion” tech­niques used to force ter­ror­ism sus­pects to give up use­ful in­tel­li­gence.

Their meth­ods in­cluded wa­ter­board­ing, beat­ings, forced rec­tal “feed­ing” and ex­per­i­ments with glar­ing lights and in­ces­sant mu­sic.

Mitchell and Jessen earned $81 mil­lion through a se­ries of gov­ern­ment con­tracts from 2003 un­til Pres­i­dent Obama ended the ar­range­ment, and tor­ture tac­tics, in 2009. The pair con­tended that be­cause they were con­trac­tors, the blame for any fail­ures be­longed to their em­ployer, the CIA.

In court, the psy­chol­o­gists’ at­tor­neys ar­gued that their clients couldn’t be held re­spon­si­ble for sim­ply do­ing “busi­ness with the CIA pur­suant to their con­tracts.” In an ef­fort Fri­day to get the case dis­missed, the de­fen­dants com­pared their sit­u­a­tion to that of World War II man­u­fac­tur­ers who sup­plied the Nazis with poi­son gas, and who later ar­gued they weren’t re­spon­si­ble for how the gas was used.

ACLU at­tor­ney Dror Ladin noted that the post­war Nurem­berg tri­bunals found that pri­vate con­trac­tors were in fact re­spon­si­ble if they pro­vided “un­law­ful means” that al­lowed them to profit from war crimes.

“In the same case that Mitchell and Jessen cite,” Ladin said, “the mil­i­tary tri­bunal found the owner of a chem­i­cal com­pany that sold Zyk­lon B to the Nazis guilty, even though only the Nazis had fi­nal say on which pris­on­ers would be gassed.”

The trial set for Sept. 5.

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