In a landmark victory for torture victims, U.S. District Court Judge Justin Quackenbush ruled on Friday that a lawsuit against two psychologist CIA contractors who helped design the agency’s brutal interrogation program may move forward.
It is the first such case to proceed since before the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
By rejecting a motion to dismiss the civil case, Quackenbush gives the plaintiffs—Tanzanian Suleiman Abdullah Salim, Libyan Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud, and the family of Afghani Gul Rahman—a chance “to call their torturers to account in court for the first time,”said ACLU staff attorney Dror Ladin, who argued in court on Friday.
Ladin called it “a historic win in the fight to hold the people responsible for torture accountable for their despicable and unlawful actions.”
Salim, Soud, and Rahman are just three of 119 victims and survivors of the CIA program named in the Senate torture report, the ACLU claims. Rahman “froze to death while detained at a CIA black site,” Rudaw reports. His family is pursuing the case on his behalf.
The CIA-contracted psychologists are James Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen, who are charged under the Alien Tort Statute for “their commission of torture, cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment; non-consensual human experimentation; and war crimes,” all of which violate international law.
The ACLU says Mitchell and Jessen
helped convince the agency to adopt torture as official policy, making millions of dollars in the process. The two men, who had previously worked for the U.S. military, designed the torture methods and performed illegal human experimentation on CIA prisoners to test and refine the program. They personally took part in torture sessions and oversaw the program’s implementation for the CIA.
Torture methods devised by Mitchell and Jessen and inflicted on the three men include slamming them into walls, stuffing them inside coffin-like boxes, exposing them to extreme temperatures and ear-splitting levels of music, starving them, inflicting various kinds of water torture, depriving them of sleep for days, and chaining them in stress positions designed for pain and to keep them awake for days on end. The two victims who survived still suffer physically and psychologically from the effects of their torture.
According to the Guardian, attorneys for the psychologists and the three victims who sued, along with the Department of Justice (DoJ), must now come up with a plan for discovery within 30 days. “During the discovery process,” the newspaper explains, “depositions will be taken of the psychologists and the victims, among others, and the DoJ will help figure out how to navigate a plethora of classified information.”
As The Hill reports, “the case is expected to shed further light on one of the darker chapters of the CIA’s history, and may yield monetary damages for the former detainees.”
Previously, the DoJ has stopped similar suits from going forward on the grounds that a legal case would reveal classified information.
Of the United States’ track record on this front, Ladin wrote in advance of the ruling:
The government’s cynical use of secrecy has been devastatingly effective. Even after the details of CIA torture were splashed across the front pages of newspapers worldwide, courts uniformly gave in to administration claims that torture was too secret for the legal system. Despite numerous lawsuits, not a single victim has yet had his claims considered by a US court.
Now all that will change.
“This retreat from excessive secrecy, even if partial, is long overdue,” Ladin stated. “For years, victims of torture have been prevented from telling their stories in court, even as their mistreatment has been a matter of public knowledge and debate.”
Learn more about Suleiman Abdullah Salim—”a reggae-loving fisherman who had once been known as ‘Travolta’ for his prowess on the dance floor,” according to the ACLU—in this video: