A lawsuit against two former Air Force psychologists who developed the CIA’s post-September 11, 2001 “enhanced interrogation” torture techniques, James Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen, appears to be all set to go to trial after the defendants ignored repeated exhortations to settle—including from the judge.
Mitchell and Jensen earned $81 million from the CIA between 2003 and 2009 to develop the techniques, which “included waterboarding, beatings, forced rectal ‘feeding’ and experiments with glaring lights and incessant music,” the L.A. Times reported. Their legal team tried to blunt the lawsuit by claiming that as contractors, the two psychologists couldn’t be held legally responsible for developing the torture regime and the CIA should be held liable instead.
The ACLU is suing Mitchell and Jensen on behalf of Abdullah Salim, Mohammed Ahmed Ben Soud, and Gul Rahman, all of whom were tortured using techniques designed by the duo. Rahman died after just two weeks in CIA custody of hypothermia when he was left in a cell at a facility in Afghanistan called the “Salt Pit” wearing just diapers.
The suit is just the latest consequence for mental health professionals who aided George W. Bush’s administration in medicalizing torture during the height of the US ground occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2015, the American Psychological Association faced claims it collaborated in torture when it created an “A.P.A. ethics policy on national security interrogations” permitting its members to sit in on the sessions, allowing Justice Department lawyers to argue the interrogations were conducted under medical supervision.
In one email, the New York Times reported, a CIA psychologist wrote to an APA official Mitchell and Jessen’s role was “doing special things to special people in special places.”
That virtually everyone has urged the two to settle reflects the fact that in any just world, their defense would lose, big time.
This week, the two defendants compared themselves to Joachim Drosihn, an employee of German chemical company Tesch & Stabenow who manufactured Zyklon B poison gas for Nazi death camps. Drohsin was acquitted on the grounds he lacked the ability to direct how Nazi authorities would use the gas.
“It is extraordinarily rare for anyone to willingly compare themselves to people who aided and abetted some of the worst crimes in human history,” ACLU attorney Dror Levin told the Daily Beast.
Update: As noted by a commenter, the phrase “height of the War on Terror” is a misnomer, as wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan are still ongoing, and has been changed.