A federal jury will decide whether two psychologists who designed the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” will have to pay back some or all of the more than $80 million the U.S. government paid them to victims of the torture program.
Never before has someone affiliated with the CIA torture program been prosecuted. But now two contractors who developed the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques may face civil penalties that could claw at the approximately $81 million they were paid to teach the CIA tactics that ultimately amounted to torture, according to the 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture.
Last Friday in Spokane, Washington, U.S. District Judge Justin Quackenbush ruled that psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen would face a jury trial slated to begin September 5. The decision was welcomed by the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing three victims of the CIA’s controversial interrogation program.
Quackenbush specifically approved a jury trial for the case brought by the family of Gul Rahman, who died of hypothermia in CIA custody in November 2002. The ACLU will seek to persuade a jury that Mitchell and Jessen are liable for Rahman’s death and also responsible for covering damages to two living ex-detainees, Suleiman Abdullah Salim and Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud.
The CIA’s enhanced interrogation program infamously included waterboarding. Neither Mitchell nor Jessen has denied allegations that they were present during the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah at a CIA black site in Poland between 2002 and 2003. Zubaydah underwent other torturous methods in CIA custody and lost his left eye as a result.
The ACLU’s clients allege to have suffered similar treatment, including being forced to stand in stress positions, left naked or sleep deprived for days, being drenched in icy water, and crammed into confinement boxes.
Rahman’s interrogations, unlike the other two ex-detainees, personally and directly involved Jessen. The psychologist allegedly slapped Rahman and “also knew about the diapers, the sleep deprivation and recommended further deprivations” during Rahman’s six sessions, ACLU lawyer Dror Ladin said at the Friday hearing, according to Courthouse News Service.
Defense attorneys for Jessen and Mitchell stunned the ACLU when they compared their clients — favorably, mind you — to the German chemical firm Tesch & Stabenow, which supplied poison Zyklon B gas used in Nazi concentration camps like Auschwitz. Their court filing stated the psychologists “simply did business with the CIA pursuant to their contracts,” and that they held no influence over the CIA decision to implement their lessons.
“Making money by choosing to supply the tools for torture isn’t ‘simply doing business,’” the ACLU said, adding that the psychologists’ actions led to war crimes, not just a “political decision,” as the defense argued.