In late April, Senior Judge Justin Quackenbush ruled against two Central Intelligence Agency contract psychologists, James Mitchell and John Bruce Jessen, as they attempted to dismiss a case brought against them on behalf of three victims of the torture program they helped created. Both men are former U.S. military psychologists who are seen as the “architects” of the CIA’s torture program. The lawsuit accuses Jessen and Mitchell of operating a “joint criminal enterprise” and seeks compensatory damages of at least $75,000.
The two men attempted to have the suit dismissed by claiming that the decision to torture Suleiman Abdullah Salim, Mohamed Ben Soud, two survivors of the CIA program, and Gul Rahman, who died as a result of his torture, was a political one and “not appropriate for determination by a judge.” The men also argued that they are entitled to the same legal immunity as diplomatic officials.
The court disagreed with the psychologists, stating that years of case law “demonstrate the present fallacy of Defendants’ argument that the court must decline jurisdiction because the case falls within the realm of war and foreign policy.” Further, the court found that contractors do not qualify for immunity unless they are merely acting under the direction of the government, whereas Mitchell and Jessen went beyond simply following orders. The two men designed and sold the torture program, making millions of dollars in the process.
Judge Quackenbush’s ruling is historic in that it will force at least some of the people responsible for the horrific CIA torture program to answer for their crimes. “Thanks to this order, we now enter into the pretrial discovery phase of the litigation, an essential step before any trial of Mitchell and Jessen for their key role in the torture of our clients,” the American Civil Liberties Union writes.
The judge’s ruling is a sign that perhaps some justice will be served, but unfortunately some damage cannot be undone. Both Salim and Ben Soud suffer psychologically and physically from the effects of their torture, while Gul Rahman’s body has never been returned to his family. These men and their families suffer while the architects of CIA torture still walk free. To be clear, both of these men are deeply disturbed, using their profession as a way to manipulate and break the human mind.
According to the Senate report on CIA torture “neither psychologist had experience as an interrogator, nor did either have specialized knowledge of al-Qa’ida, a background in terrorism, or any relevant regional, cultural, or linguistic expertise.”
The two men 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 a loose-lipped zombie.
The ACLU writes,
Integral to the program was the idea that once a detainee had been psychologically destroyed through torture, he would become compliant and cooperate with interrogators’ demands. The theory behind the goal had never been scientifically tested because such trials would violate human experimentation bans established after Nazi experiments and atrocities during World War II.
Although neither Mitchell and Jessen were present for the torture, the lawsuit says the men are responsible because the CIA employed techniques provided to them by the psychologists. In August 2015, the American Psychological Association’s Council of Representatives voted to adopt a new policy that bars psychologists from participating in national security interrogations. This decision reversed the APA’s decade-old policy of allowing psychologists to participate in torture sessions.
United Nations Special Rapporteur Juan Méndez, a lawyer and a human rights activist who experienced torture at the hands of the Argentinian military, criticized the United States’ decisions on torture, stating the U.S. is focused on the short-term and not thinking of the long-term consequences. “What they do not realize is, fighting terrorism with state terror, which is what torture is, in the long run is much more counter-productive and does not reflect the values of the American people,” Méndez said.
Derrick is available for interviews.
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