Two psychologists who were under contract with the CIA to design an overseas interrogation program have settled legal claims brought against them by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for the institutionalized torture of people suspected of terrorism.
The case involved alleged human rights abuses that took place at secret sites in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks by terrorist plane hijackers on U.S. soil under President George W. Bush. The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of two suspected enemy combatants, who were later released, and another man who died of hypothermia while in custody.
The two psychologists, James Elmer Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen, were accused of war crimes, including unlawful human experimentation and aiding and abetting torture. The so-called enhanced interrogation techniques used included stripping the men naked and hanging them by their arms, sleep deprivation, and prolonged exposure to loud music.
“Government officials and contractors are on notice that they cannot hide from accountability for torture,” said Tina Shamsi, director of the ACLU National Security Project, on Thursday in a statement, as reported by Bloomberg. “Our clients’ groundbreaking case has changed the legal landscape. It showed that the courts are fully capable of handling lawsuits involving abuses committed in the name of national security.”
While denying personal wrongdoing, Mitchell and Jessen acknowledged that the plaintiffs had been subjected to coercive methods and abuses.
“Drs. Mitchell and Jesse assert that the abuses of Mr. Salim and Mr. Ben Soud occurred without their knowledge or consent and that they were not responsible for those actions,” the psychologists’ joint statement with the ACLU said. “Drs. Mitchell and Jesse 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.”