The two psychologists credited with creating the CIA’s torture program have reached a confidential settlement with victims of the brutal techniques.
On Thursday, a confidential agreement was reached between two psychologists tasked with designing and implementing the CIA’s torture program and the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU originally filed the lawsuit against James Mitchell and John Bruce Jessen in October 2015, accusing them of operating a “joint criminal enterprise” via their creation and promotion of violent torture methods. After the ACLU consistently overcame every legal barrier, the trial was schedule to begin on June 26. However, due to the Trump administration’s attempts to stop officials from testifying, U.S. District Court Judge Justin Quackenbush set a new date of September 5, 2017. The settlement allows the Mitchell, Jessen, and the CIA to avoid the release of more damaging information related to the controversial torture program.
“This is a historic victory for our clients and the rule of law,” said ACLU attorney Dror Ladin. “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.”
The ACLU filed the suit in defense of three men who endured the torture methods created by Jessen and Mitchell. Two of the men, Suleiman Abdullah Salim and Mohamed Ben Soud, actually survived the torture. Gul Rahman was not so lucky. He died from hypothermia as a result of his torture. None of the men were ever charged for a crime despite being kidnapped and forced to endure sleep deprivation, water torture, ear splitting music, stressful positions, and beatings. The ACLU fought the case as a violation of the Alien Tort Statute, a law which allows lawsuits from victims of human rights violations at the hands of government. The defendants asked the court to find that the psychologists were liable for aiding and abetting the illegal program.
Mitchell and Jessen are former U.S. military psychologists who are seen as the “architects” of the CIA’s torture program. They served in the U.S. military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape program (SERE), teaching U.S. troops how to resist and survive torture in the event of capture by foreign nations. SERE was supposed to help troops understand torture techniques while Jessen and Mitchell supervised their mental state. After 9/11, the psychologists were tasked with designing and developing the CIA’s detention, rendition, and interrogation operations. Using their knowledge of how to resist torture, the two reverse-engineered the SERE program to create a new program that would break detainees’ mental state in the hopes of creating loose-lipped zombies. By the (alleged) end of the program, Mitchell, Jessen & Associates were paid more than $80 million in taxpayer money.
Despite the settlement and the abundant evidence of Jessen and Mitchell’s role in the program, James T. Smith, lead defense attorney, called the men “public servants.”
“The facts would have borne out that while the plaintiffs suffered mistreatment by some of their captors, none of that mistreatment was conducted, condoned or caused by Drs. Mitchell and Jessen,” Smith said. However, it has been reported numerous times that both men were directly involved in the actual torture process.
Jessen and Mitchell both released statements stating that they had served the United States and were certain their efforts were “necessary, legal and helped save countless lives.”
“We brought this case seeking accountability and to help ensure that no one else has to endure torture and abuse, and we feel that we have achieved our goals,” the plaintiffs said in a joint statement released by the ACLU.
Although the ACLU celebrated the settlement, John Kiriakou, the former CIA analyst who went to prison for 23 months after exposing the torture program, says the psychologists settled to avoid further exposure. In an interview with The Real News, Kiriakou expressed his disappointment with the settlement. “First of all, the decision has been sealed so we don’t really know if justice has been served,” Kiriakou stated. “We don’t know what the terms of the agreement are, we don’t know if there is any kind of deterrent that has been written into the decision.”
Kiriakou also noted that Mitchell and Jessen did not have to pay anything out of pocket for the trial because the CIA picked up the tab. The former CIA analyst also rightly noted that ultimately it was the American taxpayer who paid for both Mitchell and Jessen’s $81 million payment for creating the program and the cost of the trial against the men.
The psychologists may have been seeking to avoid accountability and transparency, but it’s also likely the men realized they might actually lose the trial. Earlier this month, as part of a court ruling, the judge wrote, “The evidence would support a finding Defendants designed the [enhanced interrogation techniques] to be used on detainees, and thus they clearly had knowledge they would be so used.”
Apparently the case against Mitchell and Jessen was so strong the defense actually attempted to argue the psychologists were similar to the poison gas manufacturers who sold to the Nazis and thus could not be held responsible. “In an extraordinary legal filing, Mitchell and Jessen claim they aren’t legally responsible to the people hurt by their methods because they “simply did business with the CIA pursuant to their contracts,” the ACLU wrote. Essentially, the defense wanted to argue that the psychologists had no role or influence over the CIA’s decision to use the torture techniques.
According the the ACLU,
In the same case that Mitchell and Jessen cite, the military tribunal found the owner of a chemical company that sold Zyklon B to the Nazis guilty — even though only the Nazis had final say on which prisoners would be gassed.
It’s also possible the Trump Administration intervened in the trial. Shortly after Donald Trump became president, his administration made efforts to block CIA officials from testifying, including Gina Haspel, the agency’s new deputy director. The administration is attempting to use the state secrets privilege, claiming that revealing this information would damage national security. The Trump administration is seeking to block the testimony of Gina Haspel and a still unidentified official described as “John/Jane Doe.”
Haspel, who was chosen by Trump as the CIA’s deputy director, is accused of running one of the CIA’s secret detention sites in Thailand and having a direct role in the torture of the defendants. According to a recent article by John Kiriakou, Haspel was responsible for allowing some of the most brutal torture methods despite a lack of new information provided by the detainees. Kiriakou also accuses Haspel of directly overseeing the staff in Thailand, including Mitchell and Jessen.
Part of the reason the public is still in the dark about torture is because of the actions of Jose Rodriguez, former director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, In 2005 he ordered the destruction of more than 90 videotapes that showed detainees undergoing waterboarding and other torture methods. When recently questioned about why he ordered the videos destroyed, Rodriguez offers nothing but a sad excuse. “It would make the CIA look bad, and almost, in my view, destroy the clandestine service because of it.” No regard to morality or even law, but rather, acting from what will or will not make the State and its spy agencies look good.
The public may never know the full truth of these programs. It’s important to remember that there are still human beings locked away in secret prisons, without ever being charged with a crime or able to have a trial. There are human beings being held away from family and brutally tortured. As former CIA operative and former prisoner John Kiriakou noted, it is ultimately the taxpayer who pays for all of this violence and corruption. If the public wants to put an end to these acts of violence they must engage in mass tax avoidance and resistance. We will never be free until every victim of the Western empire is released.
Derrick Broze is an investigative journalist and liberty activist. He is the Lead Investigative Reporter forActivistPost.com and the founder of the TheConsciousResistance.com. Follow him on Twitter. Derrick is the author of three books: The Conscious Resistance: Reflections on Anarchy and Spirituality and Finding Freedom in an Age of Confusion, Vol. 1 and Finding Freedom in an Age of Confusion, Vol. 2