A federal lawsuit against two psychologists accused of being architects of the torture program for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency will go to court on Sept. 5.
Judge Justin Quackenbush of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington cleared the way for the case to move to the trial phase Monday, rejecting the psychologists’ lawyers request for a summary judgment.
It will now be up to a jury in Spokane, Washington, to decide if the psychologists, James Mitchell and John Jessen are financially liable for the physical and psychological effects of their torture.
The American Civil Liberties Union brought the lawsuit on behalf of three victims of the CIA’s torture program. Two of the men survived their ordeal in a secret CIA prison in Afghanistan in 2003 and are now free and living in their home countries. The third died as a result of the torture in the facility.
They allege that they were beaten, deprived of sleep, forced to endure extreme temperatures and subjected to a form of waterboarding, a technique that simulates drowning.
“This is a historic day for our clients and all who seek accountability for torture,” ACLU attorney Dror Ladin said in a press release. “The court’s ruling means that for the first time, individuals responsible for the brutal and unlawful CIA torture program will face meaningful legal accountability for what they did. Our clients have waited a long time for justice.”
A complaint initiating the case accuses Mitchell and Jessen, who reportedly were paid about US$81 million under their contract with the CIA, of having designed, promoted and shared responsibility for the interrogation methods to which the three men were subjected.
In overseeing the design of “torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment,” the complaint alleges, the psychologists violated international norms and were liable for “war crimes.”
While the pair have acknowledged they advised the government on techniques for questioning “high-value detainees,” their attorneys argue that their advisory role ceased in 2002, meaning “there is no connection” between the techniques they proposed and the treatment of the three men on whose behalf the ACLU is suing.
Judge Quackenbush, in a series of rulings over the past year, has repeatedly rejected moves by Mitchell and Jessen’s attorneys to dismiss the suit. His ruling on Monday made clear that there was strong evidence supporting the plaintiffs’ claim.
The judge called it “undisputed” that Jessen and Mitchell had participated in interrogating and waterboarding a detainee who is not among the three plaintiffs. He also cited a CIA inspector general report which found that Jessen “played a significant role” in the interrogation of Gul Rahman, the defendant who died in custody.
This is the lawsuit brought by victims of CIA’s torture programs even to reach the pretrial discovery phase. Previous administrations had intervened previous cases, arguing state secrets were at risk if proceedings continued.