For the first time in U.S. history, the CIA and U.S. government will not exercise immunity for war crimes and other atrocities.
Numerous CIA officials are being charged with war crimes against humanity and human experimentation in a court case lawyers are calling “literally unprecedented.”
The case was filed last October by four former detainees, all of whom claimed to be subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques by the CIA. The prisoners were captured and held in the days following the September 11th terrorist attacks. Conditions at the CIA black sites were so dismal that one plaintiff and Afghan refugee, Gul Rahman, froze to death while detained and interrogated in CIA custody.
So what makes this case so obscure? For the first time ever, the United States government is not blocking all legal action against the agency, which has been the case in previous instances. Namely, the U.S. Senate granted the CIA total immunity for the sake of national security. This immunity, however, ended in December 2014 following the release of the 6,700-page Senate Torture Report, in which specific details of methods used to interrogate persons of interest were revealed. Since then, the concept of enhanced interrogation has arrived at the forefront of many political minds, with both support and rejection expressed by prominent leaders.
The American Civil Liberties Union is bringing the case forward, adamant that “neither the United States government nor the CIA is a defendant in this case.” Rather, it explains that the plaintiffs are seeking action against “two individual psychologists, whom Plaintiffs allege worked as contractors for the CIA and, in that capacity, designed, implemented, and participated in the detention and interrogation program.” The nature of this action is likely due to the virtually unlimited access to funding and power of both the government and the CIA; and it is more tactful to target individual people.
Plaintiffs Suleiman Abdullah Salim, Mohamed Ahmed, Ben Soud, and Gul Rahman all allege to have been subjected to a host of abuses, including extreme darkness, cold and noise; solitary confinement; starvation; repeated beatings; sleep deprivation and water torture, among several other methods. The suit explains the plaintiffs have “multiple claims for violations of international law under the Allen Tort Statute” against psychologists James Mitchell and John Jessen “for their commission of torture, cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment; nonconsensual human experimentation; and war crimes, all of which violate well-established norms of customary international law.”
Unsurprisingly, the two are denying all personal responsibilities, claiming actions they performed were sanctioned by the U.S. government; and their lack of physical participation of interrogation pardons them against all charges. According to their lawyer, Christopher W. Tompkins, the pair “did not create or establish the CIA enhanced interrogation program” and had absolutely no part in decisions made about the plaintiffs’ “capture, treatment, confinement conditions, and interrogations.” Essentially, the stance the defendants will take is that if anyone should be held accountable it should be the United States government, not the individuals hired to proceed in the direction sought.
The plaintiffs are seeking compensatory and punitive damages and the monumental case is set to move forward as planned. As Jameel Jaffer, an ACLU lawyer representing the case stated, “For the first time people who were involved in implementing and designing the CIA’s torture program will be compelled to answer for their conduct in federal court.”
Perhaps this is a step in the right direction for finally holding the government and its agencies accountable for their crimes.
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