James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, two psychologists and former U.S. Air Force trainers, are being held accountable for their design and oversight of a CIA interrogation program that allegedly tortured al Qaeda suspects. Mitchell and Jessen were experts teaching members of the military methods to avoid interrogations through a technique called learned helplessness.
The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of three men (Gul Rahman, Suleiman Abdullah Salim, and Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud) who were all held captive by the CIA. Mitchell and Jessen were accused of violating human rights by committing torture, cruel and inhuman treatment, and war crimes. A500-page executive summary of the Senate report discusses the CIA’s involvement with utilizing enhanced interrogation techniques for members suspected of al Qaeda activity after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. The CIA claims that enhanced interrogation techniques were a mistake in the past, but the program did effectively obtain vital details that protected the national security of the U.S.
The Senate report stated that Rahman was tortured at a CIA site known as the Salt Pit in Afghanistan by Jessen and CIA employees and died due to hypothermia. Salim was also taken to the Salt Pit where he endured torture techniques that included sleep deprivation, being soaked in cold water while nude, being dressed in a diaper, and being restrained in small boxes. Salim said, “The terrible torture I suffered at the hands of the CIA still haunts me,” and continued by saying, "This lawsuit is about achieving justice.” Ben Soud was taken to black sites in Afghanistan and claimed that Mitchell was involved with his interrogations. The Justice Department has investigated this CIA interrogation program three times, but a prosecution never ensued because doing so would expose classified information.
The big controversial question portrayed in this article is whether or not torture is lawful if the intent is to protect national security and potentially prevent future terrorist attacks. Discussion in the last few weeks of classes has focused on detention and interrogation. The Torture Victims Protection Act defines torture to include “any act, directed against an individual in the offender’s custody or physical control, by which severe pain or suffering…whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted…” By this definition, the three men in the article who were held captive at CIA black sites were indeed tortured. Did torturing these men contribute the future safety of the United States? Was torture the only way to get the necessary information out of them? These are some questions that were raised in my mind after reading this article. El Maseri v Macedonia and Mohamed v UK Secretary of State are two related cases that were also discussed in class and that both involved extraordinary rendition and enhanced interrogation techniques. Similar to the article, both cases were dismissed on grounds of state’s secret privilege. I can see both sides to this argument about the use of torture and state’s secret privilege. On one side, it is important that the United States do everything they can to protect the citizens and not cause panic. On the other side, it is difficult to determine if what the CIA is doing is actually lawful if we cannot hear the full story in court because the state’s secret privilege has been enacted.