08 August 2017 | Larry Siems | The Guardian
“A civil lawsuit brought by three victims of the CIA’s torture program against the two psychologists who created it will go to court on 5 September in Washington state, after a judge ruled that more than a year of discovery had yielded sufficient evidence to support the plaintiffs’ claims.
Judge Justin Quackenbush issued a written opinion on Monday in the suit, in which James Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen are accused of designing, promoting and sharing responsibility for the interrogation methods to which the three men were subjected.
It will now be up to a jury in Spokane, Washington, to decide if the psychologists, who reportedly were paid $75m-$81m under their contract with the CIA to create the so-called enhanced interrogation program, are financially liable for the physical and psychological effects of their torture.
Two of the men, Suleiman Abdullah Salim, a Tanzanian national, and Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud, who is Libyan, survived their ordeal in a secret CIA prison in Afghanistan in 2003; they are now free and living in their home countries. The third, an Afghan national named Gul Rahman, died as a result of torture in the facility.
“This is a historic day for our clients and all who seek accountability for torture,” said Dror Ladin, one of the ACLU attorneys who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the three men in October 2015. “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.”
This is the first lawsuit brought by victims of torture in the CIA’s secret prisons even to reach the pretrial discovery phase. In previous cases, the Bush and then Obama administrations intervened to persuade courts to dismiss the suits, arguing state secrets were at risk if proceedings continued. But the publication of a 2014 Senate intelligence committee report revealed many details the government had long suppressed, including the names of the 39 men who endured Mitchell and Jessen’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” in a prison code-named Cobalt and other secret CIA facilities.
That report confirmed that Salim and Ben Soud were among those who had been subjected to torments including shackling in painful stress positions, walling, water dousing and confinement in closed, claustrophic boxes, and that Rahman had been stripped, doused with water, and shackled to a concrete floor on a freezing night and died of hypothermia.
With so much information officially confirmed, the Obama administration signalled early that it would not claim state secrets to scuttle the suit. 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, and has ordered an unprecedented level of discovery, including the depositions not only of Mitchell and Jessen but also of Jose Rodriguez, the former director of the CIA’s counterterrorism center, and John Rizzo, the deputy counsel of the agency when the black sites were in operation.
At a final pretrial hearing on 28 July, Quackenbush indicated he was satisfied that the claim brought by Rahman’s family should go before a jury, but said he wanted to review “the sufficiency of the evidence as it applies to plaintiffs Salim and Ben Soud”. His ruling on Monday made clear that they too had submitted strong evidence supporting their claim that Mitchell and Jessen bear responsibility for their torture.
Suleiman Abdullah Salim, a Tanzanian fisherman who was abducted by the CIA and Kenyan security forces in 2003 and rendered to a CIA prison codenamed COBALT, then to a second prison known as the “Salt Pit,” and finally to a prison at Bagram Air Base. He was released after four years of being held in solitary confinement and tortured.
Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud, a Libyan who fled to Pakistan in 1991 fearing persecution over his involvement in an anti-Qaddafi group. He was captured in a joint U.S.-Pakistani raid, rendered to COBALT, tortured for a year and then moved to another CIA prison codenamed ORANGE and again tortured before being sent to Libya in 2005, where he was imprisoned.
Sul Rahman, an Afghan refugee, fled to Pakistan with his wife and four daughters after the post-9/11 U.S.-led invasion. In 2002, he was abducted in a joint U.S.-Pakistani raid and rendered to COBALT, where he was found dead in his cell of hypothermia after being tortured for two weeks by a CIA team that included John “Bruce” Jessen.
News of the ruling reached attorneys for both sides as they gathered in the Carribbean island of Dominica to take testimony of Ben Soud to present to the jury in September. Both Ben Soud and Salim were denied visas to travel to the US earlier this year for depositions, and neither is likely to be allowed to appear in person at the trial proceedings. US embassy officials in Kabul did grant a visa to Obaidullah, the nephew of Rahman, who is representing his family in the lawsuit.
In his deposition in New York in January, Obaidullah described his family’s anguish at the disappearance of his uncle, and the gradual discovery that he had been kidnapped and tortured to death in a secret CIA prison. The family still has not received confirmation of his death or been able to recover Rahman’s body. “If they killed him, I wish they would let us know, ‘Here is your dead body,’” Obaidullah testified, explaining what his family is seeking with this lawsuit. “Hold it up. At least present the dead body to us.”
Hawkins Bay: The Freedom Bunker. This civil war will not be televised