The lobby of the CIA Headquarters on Aug. 14, 2008 in Langley, Va.
Saul Loeb—AFP/Getty Images
By Daniel White
October 13, 2015

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against the psychologists who allegedly helped design a program of intense interrogation for terror suspects.

The ACLU filed the suit on behalf of Suleiman Abdullah Salim, Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud and the estate of Gul Rahman, the Guardian reports, faulting psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen for their role in shifting the CIA toward more aggressive interrogation techniques.

Rahman froze to death in a CIA interrogation site in Afghanistan and Ben Soud alleges that he was subject to “a form of waterboarding” and was kept naked for over a month.

The complaint argues Mitchell and Jessen were outside contractors for the CIA who secured some $81 million in contracts for the company the two founded, Mitchell and Jessen Associates, which employed some 11 of the 13 alleged interrogators used by the agency. The two were formerly employed by the military to develop survival techniques for countering aggressive interrogation, which they reverse engineered for the CIA, according to a Senate report released in July.

The suit describes CIA’s interrogation as a “war crime,” from which Mitchell and Jessen financially profited. Though the two psychologists were not present, each plaintiff in the suit is seeking compensation of at least $75,000 in damages, arguing that Mitchell and Jessen are liable for the hand they played in designing CIA’s tactics.

The ACLU hopes a victory in the case will set a precedent for future litigation. “Defendants are directly liable,” the suit charges, “because they designed, developed, and implemented a program for the CIA intended to inflict physical and mental pain and suffering on Plaintiffs, and because Plaintiffs were tortured and subjected to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment as a consequence of their inclusion in that program.”

The CIA declined a request for comment on the lawsuit, and Mitchell previously told the Associated Press that he could not confirm his involvement with the agency. However, Mitchell did dispute the Senate report’s findings, on which much of the ACLU lawsuit is based, telling the AP that the program did produce valuable intelligence: “What they are asking you to believe is that multiple directors of the CIA and analysts who made their living for years doing this lied to the federal government, or were too stupid to know that the intelligence they were getting wasn’t useful,” said Mitchell.

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