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Settlement Reached in ACLU Lawsuit Against CIA Psychologists

— August 21, 2017

Settlement Reached in ACLU Lawsuit Against CIA Psychologists

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit in October 2015 against two psychologists, John “Bruce” Jessen and James Mitchell, allegedly responsible for creating the torture techniques used against three former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) prisoners following the 9/11 attacks.  On Thursday, a settlement was reached.

In the proceedings, the psychologists acknowledged that they worked with the CIA to design a plan for the agency to use specific coercive methods to interrogate prisoners. However, they said they were just following government orders in designing the plan.

Plaintiff Gul Rahman was one of the plaintiffs named in the lawsuit.  The methods used by agency members, the lawsuit claimed, resulted in Rahman’s death and pain and suffering for his family.  Plaintiffs Suleiman Abdullah Salim, a fisherman from Tanzania, and Mohamed Ahmed Be Soud, a former refugee, were also subjected to similar techniques which resulted in pain and suffering for the victims as well as their families.  

Settlement Reached in ACLU Lawsuit Against CIA Psychologists
Image Courtesy of Facebook

The settlement statement read, “Plaintiffs assert that they were subjected to some of the methods proposed by Drs. Mitchell and Jessen to the CIA, and stand by their allegations regarding the responsibility of Drs. Mitchell and Jessen.”  It was also discovered over the course of the investigation the doctors participated in the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah, the first detainee in CIA custody.  This is a torture technique in which a prisoner is strapped, face up, to a board that slopes downward at the head and large quantities of water are poured over the person’s face.

However, the doctors defended themselves, stating that they “assert the abuses of Mr. Salim and Mr. Ben Soud occurred without their knowledge or consent and that they were not responsible for those actions.  Drs. Mitchell and Jessen also assert that they were unaware of the specific abuses that ultimately caused Mr. Rahman’s death and are also not responsible for those actions.” Basically, they could not be held responsible for employing the methods used because the sessions occurred unbeknownst to them.

Judge Justin Quackenbush of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington had rejected the psychologists’ motion for summary judgment last week and the case was scheduled to go to trial September 5.  However, Mitchell and Jessen eventually reached an agreement with the plaintiffs after they were unable to have the case dismissed.  The settlement marks the first time anyone involved with the CIA interrogation program has publicly compensated a detainee.

Image Courtesy of Mitchel Lensink

“This is a historic victory for our clients and the rule of law,” ACLU attorney Dror Ladin said in a statement. “This outcome shows that there are consequences for torture and that survivors can and will hold those responsible for torture accountable. It is a clear warning for anyone who thinks they can torture with impunity.”

In 2013, investigators found Mitchell and Jessen had signed an indemnification agreement with the CIA.  This means they were guaranteed the government would pay for legal bills through 2021 if either was sued or prosecuted and the government will likely have to foot the bill to cover their legal fees in this case.


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