Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell: CIA Torture Program Developers
(Defense Claim: We were just following orders)
He also made the claim: “I was only following orders.”
He also made the claim: “I was only following orders.”
Pretty startling headlines from the NY TIMES:
Settlement Reached in CIA Torture Case
A settlement in the lawsuit against former Air Force psychologists (*Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell, both unskilled, unqualified, and inexperienced interrogators) who helped devise the CIA’s brutal interrogation program (Buzzword: “Enhanced interrogation techniques”) was reached bringing to an end an unusual effort to hold any government individuals accountable for the techniques the agency adopted after the 9/11 – conducted at Gitmo and “black sites” worldwide.
Lawyers for three plaintiffs, a suit filed in 2015 in the Federal District Court, Spokane, WA said the former detainees were tortured at the secret (black sites which the CIA operated). The settlement was reached after a judge urged resolving the case before it headed to a jury trial that was scheduled for early September.
The plaintiffs — two former detainees and the family of a third who died in custody — had sought unspecified punitive and compensatory damages. The terms of the settlement are confidential, and it is unclear whether a financial payout was involved. The parties agreed to a joint statement in which the psychologists said that they had advised the CIA and that the plaintiffs had suffered abuses, but that they were not responsible.
In a phone interview, one of the plaintiffs, Mohamed Ben Soud, said through a translator: “I feel that justice has been served. Our goal from the beginning was justice and for people to know what happened in this black hole that was run by the CIA offices.”
The plaintiffs said that Jessen and Mitchell profited richly from their work as contractors for the CIA – each received up to $1,800 a day. They later formed a company that was paid about $81 million to help operate the interrogation program over several years.
Our government (in our name) agreed to indemnify the men and their company, including paying their legal fees, judgments, and settlements up to $5 million. Some of those funds were used to cover legal bills during DOJ investigations. As of November 2011, there was close to $4 million left, according to a document made public in the lawsuit.
James T. Smith, their lead counsel, said in a statement that his clients were “public servants whose actions in regard to the interrogation of suspected terrorists were authorized by the U.S. government, legal and done in an effort to protect innocent lives.”
Speaking by phone after the settlement was announced, Dr. Mitchell said he found it “regrettable that one guy died and those other guys were treated badly,” and he added: “We had nothing to do with it. We’re not responsible for it. They say we are, but in my view they’re wrong.”
Related case documents linked below are .pdf transcripts of the depositions and the latest declassified CIA documents:
The psychologists produced a memo in 2002 proposing harsh techniques to be used on terrorism suspects thought to be resisting interrogations. The CIA adopted nearly all of these methods, including waterboarding, stuffing prisoners into small boxes, forcing them to hold painful positions for hours, and slamming them into flexible walls.
The so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” were based on those used in military survival schools (SERE schools) that are used to simulate what our service members might undergo if captured.
Those “enhanced (a fancy word for torture that cannot be dressed otherwise) were later condemned as illegal under U.S. and International law (i.e., Geneva conventions), and were ultimately banned and agreed to by our signing of treaties.
Also, the American Psychological Association consequently prohibited its members from participating in national security interrogations.
The case against Jessen and Mitchell proceeded despite multiple attempts by their lawyers to have it dismissed. They argued that the men acted solely under the authority of the government and were entitled to the same immunity as government officials. The judge, Justin L. Quackenbush, also denied motions by both sides requesting that he rule summarily in their favor before a trial.
Although there will be no public trial, the case — over its nearly two-year course — expanded public knowledge about the CIA torture program. Previously secret documents were declassified, including CIA cables from the covert prisons known as black sites. Jessen and Mitchell, along with the former CIA officials Jose Rodriguez and John Rizzo, were subjected to lengthy questioning by opposing lawyers in video depositions. Their sometimes sterile description of the techniques contrasted with the emotional accounts, in separate depositions, of the men who underwent them.
The plaintiffs and some of their experiences are described in the executive summary of the 6,700-page Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture. The report, published in December 2014 and based on a five-year review of over six million pages of documents, lists 38 men known to have been subjected to the techniques in CIA prisons. It denounced the methods as brutal and criticized the CIA for providing false and misleading information to federal officials about the interrogation program’s effectiveness.
The psychologists came into direct contact with only one of the three detainees, Gul Rahman, who died in CIA custody in Afghanistan in 2002, probably of hypothermia, according to an agency investigation into his death.
The judge ruled last week that a trial could also proceed on behalf of the two other former prisoners — Ben Soud and Suleiman Salim — whose lawyers argued that the psychologists had aided and abetted their torture.
Mr. Ben Soud, a Libyan detained by the CIA in 2003 and held in Afghanistan, was locked in small boxes, slammed against a wall and doused with buckets of ice water while naked and shackled. Mr. Salim, a Tanzanian also captured in 2003 and held by the CIA in Afghanistan, was beaten, isolated in a dark cell for months, doused with water and deprived of sleep.
The ACLU and the Gibbons law firm of Newark brought the lawsuit under the Alien Tort Statute, which allows foreign citizens to seek justice in United States courts for violations of their rights under international law or United States treaties.
My summary: This undisclosed “settlement” does not in the minds of many “settle” anything – this shameful stain will remain on the United States in perpetuity.
Thanks for stopping and sharing your thoughts.