SPOKANE, Wash. – A lawsuit against two Spokane-based psychologists dubbed the “architects” of an interrogation program used on CIA detainees in 2002 will be heard by a jury in September, a federal judge ruled Friday.
The lawsuit against James Mitchell and Bruce Jensen, who were contractors for the CIA, is being brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of three men who were held in secret CIA facilities and interrogated for information the feds suspected they had regarding terrorist groups.
One of the men, Gul Rahman, died while being held at a CIA facility when he was short-chained to a wall in a diaper and died of hypothermia.
The other two men, Suleiman Abdullah Salim and Mohamed Amed Ben Soud, say they were tortured using methods to “instill fear and despair” including stress positions, confinements in coffin-like boxes and starvation, according to the ACLU complaint. Soud and Salim were later released after being interrogated.
The ACLU lawsuit claims Mitchell and Jensen are liable for the harm the men experienced, and the group’s lawyer recently likened their development of the interrogation program to those who supplied the Nazi regime with gas to kill prisoners at Auschwitz.
“Just like in the case of Bruno Tesh, the issue isn’t about who administered the gas,” ACLU lawyer Dror Ladin said at a hearing in an Eastern District of Washington courtroom. “What matters is if you provided the means.”
Lawyers for Mitchell and Jensen refuted any liability on the part of their clients, arguing that the firm of Mitchell Jensen Associates did not know how a two-page memo they wrote recommending certain interrogation techniques was going to be used. The pair were paid $80 million for their work with the CIA between 2002 and 2009.
“My clients provided a memo in 2002 that suggested certain interrogation techniques to the CIA that was merely providing options and doing nothing further,” said attorney Brian Pazamant of the firm Blank Rome. “The other conditions the plaintiffs were exposed to – the noise, the temperatures, being short-chained – none of that did my clients have anything to do with.”
However, discovery in the case showed that Jensen did play a role in the interrogation of Rahman, including slapping him in the face.
“Jensen did not just slap Rahman, but also knew about the diapers, the sleep deprivation and recommended further deprivations,” Ladin said.
But neither Mitchell or Jensen were present at the interrogations of Salim or Soud, which may affect which claims are allowed to go to trial in September. Senior U.S. District Judge Justin Quackenbush said Rahman’s claims would go to trial, but did not indicate if he would allow the claims of Salim or Soud to be included.
“If you want to try this before a jury, you may. But I have advised caution and I now admonish you to see if there is a reasonable solution between the parties in the interest of the clients,” Quackenbush said. “I will not let this be a political trial.”
The trial is currently scheduled for Sept. 5 at the federal courthouse in Spokane, Washington.