CIA Psychologists Sue CIA For Documents To Prove Torture Program Wasn't Their Idea

The CIA suggested it could instead provide an anonymous witness to answer questions in writing.
An alleged CIA black site in a Polish village. Two CIA-contracted psychologists accused of helping create the CIA's torture p
An alleged CIA black site in a Polish village. Two CIA-contracted psychologists accused of helping create the CIA's torture program are suing the agency for documents about the program's inception.

WASHINGTON ― The two CIA-contracted psychologists accused of crafting the spy agency’s so-called “enhanced interrogation program” want the U.S. government to turn over documents they hope will show the torture program wasn’t their fault. 

The motion to compel the documents, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Monday, alleged that the CIA and Justice Department had been uncooperative in supplying James Elmer Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen with “documents critical to their defense.”

Their request is related to a separate ongoing lawsuit in Spokane, Washington, where the American Civil Liberties Union, on behalf of three former CIA detainees, is suing Jessen and Mitchell for their alleged role in creating and implementing an interrogation program that used techniques now considered to be torture.

The pair was hired by the CIA as contractors in 2002, as the agency was rounding up individuals suspected of having ties to al Qaeda and the Taliban and interrogating them in secret black sites around the world. Jessen and Mitchell’s company ultimately collected $81 million for their work.

The two psychologists have argued that they should have immunity from prosecution over the enhanced interrogation program because it was authorized by the executive branch during a time of war.

Mitchell and Jessen initially sought to have the lawsuit against them thrown out ― which is what has happened with past attempts to hold the CIA legally responsible for its torture program. But Senior Judge Justin L. Quackenbush of the Eastern District of Washington ruled in April that the case would continue and ordered both sides to begin discovery, the process of exchanging evidence before trial.

That’s where Mitchell and Jessen ran into problems.

According to the motion filed Monday, the subpoenas they submitted to the CIA and DOJ in June requested approximately 30 categories of documents. Back-and-forth correspondence between the government and lawyers for Mitchell and Jessen follows the same pattern, the motion alleged: “The Government claiming that it wants to provide Defendants with information, but is unsure how it can provide such information or when.”

The government has said that the psychologists’ request is overly vague and burdensome, ostensibly because of classification issues in documents related to the CIA’s now-defunct torture program.

In lieu of providing Mitchell and Jessen with the documents they have requested, the government has proposed “alternative and creative options,” the motion said. One option proposed by the CIA is to provide an anonymous witness who could answer questions in writing that could be used in court about the duo’s role in the torture program.

Lawyers representing Mitchell and Jessen rejected that option, “in part, because of the uncertain evidentiary value of such an affidavit and deposition,” the motion said. 

The court in Spokane, where the torture victims are suing Mitchell and Jessen, has set a discovery deadline of Feb. 17, 2017, although a list of expert witnesses and trial witnesses is due at the end of the year. The case is scheduled to go to trial next June.