ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
The first trial ever to involve the CIA’s secret interrogation of foreign terrorist suspects was to happen next month. It was supposed to be at a federal court in Spokane, Wash. But today the plaintiffs and the defendants, two former Army psychologists, reached a settlement out of court. As NPR’s David Welna reports, the case is being dismissed.
DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: It was the American Civil Liberties Union that brought the lawsuit on behalf of three men the ACLU says were tortured by the CIA. Hina Shamsi, one of the ACLU lawyers involved in the lawsuit, says she’s happy with today’s out-of-court settlement of the case.
HINA SHAMSI: It is absolutely a victory for our clients. It’s also a victory for the rule of law.
WELNA: The terms of the settlement remain confidential. The ACLU had been seeking unspecified monetary compensation for the three plaintiffs. Shamsi calls the deal a victory for the larger society as well.
SHAMSI: What this settlement shows is that there are consequences for torture. And it is a clear warning that anyone who thinks they can torture with impunity needs to hear.
WELNA: It was the Obama administration Justice Department that waived the State Secrets Act and allowed this lawsuit to proceed. Shamsi says it was a sharp departure from earlier attempts to seek justice.
SHAMSI: Until now, every single lawsuit trying to hold people accountable for the CIA torture program has been dismissed at the initial stages, meaning that there was no information exchanged. Information didn’t further become public. And that was largely because the government successfully argued to the courts that letting cases proceed would reveal secrets. But this time that didn’t happen.
WELNA: The two defendants, psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, tried repeatedly and without success to have the lawsuit thrown out.
JAMES MITCHELL: I feel like the settlement was adequate for both sides.
WELNA: That’s James Mitchell speaking by cell phone earlier today. He says it’s regrettable that the three defendants, one of whom died in detention after being interrogated, were abused. But he claims neither he nor Jessen are to blame for that.
MITCHELL: Even though we’re not responsible for what happened, they were treated badly – you know? – by – and I know exactly who did it. And never…
WELNA: Do you know who did it?
MITCHELL: Yeah. I’m not going to be able to tell you.
WELNA: Was it somebody who worked for the CIA?
MITCHELL: Yeah, it was a CIA officer who did it.
WELNA: Mitchell says he and Jessen simply drew up a list for the CIA of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques that they had earlier trained U.S. military personnel to endure. One of them was waterboarding, which Mitchell acknowledges having carried out himself on three other CIA captives.
MITCHELL: I don’t regret doing that. I think it’s regrettable that in the process of trying to protect Americans there were CIA officers and others who did things that they weren’t supposed to do.
WELNA: If there was indeed a payment made to the plaintiffs in the out-of-court settlement today, it’s not clear where the money would have come from. Because Mitchell and Jessen were government contractors with the CIA, American taxpayers had to foot the bill for their legal expenses. As for the two surviving plaintiffs – one a Tanzanian, the other a Libyan – the ACLU’s Shamsi says they’re happy with today’s settlement.
SHAMSI: They are happy about what they were able to achieve through the case. It has been a long and difficult journey for them. And they are now looking forward to turning to healing from the effects of the terrible torture that are still ongoing.
WELNA: Shamsi says if this lawsuit proves anything, it’s that the federal courts are indeed capable of handling cases of state-sponsored torture. David Welna, NPR News, Washington.
(SOUNDBITE OF JOSE GONZALEZ’S “INSTRUMENTAL”)