POLITICS

CIA Psychologists Admit Role In 'Enhanced Interrogation' Program In Court Filing

It's the first time someone with responsibility for the torture program has legally acknowledged their actions.

WASHINGTON -- Two psychologists who helped the CIA develop and execute its now-defunct “enhanced interrogation” program partially admitted for the first time to roles in what is broadly acknowledged to have been torture.

In a 30-page court filing posted Tuesday evening, psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen responded to nearly 200 allegations and legal justifications put forth by the American Civil Liberties Union in a complaint filed in October. The psychologists broadly denied allegations that “they committed torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, non-consensual human experimentation and/or war crimes" -- but admitted to a series of actions that can only be described as such.

“Defendants admit that over a period of time, they administered to [Abu] Zubaydah walling, facial and abdominal slaps, facial holds, sleep deprivation, and waterboarding, and placed Zubaydah in cramped confinement,” the filing says. 

The American Psychological Association issued a lengthy report last year acknowledging members of the profession collaborated with the CIA and Pentagon on the torture program, and apologized. But until now, no psychologist has ever been called to account in court.

Mitchell has spoken publicly in the past about his role in the program and wrote an autobiographical account of the experience that had been scheduled for publication May 10, but was postponed indefinitely, likely due to the lawsuit. Jessen, however, has not previously admitted to the acts described in Tuesday’s court filing.

"This is historic. Until now, no one responsible for the CIA torture program has ever been forced to admit their actions in court,” Dror Ladin, the lead ACLU attorney in the case, said in a statement. “The psychologists' admissions include key details, and their denials are hard to square with the public record."

Mitchell and Jessen admitted to placing Zubaydah, the CIA’s first detainee, “in boxes of the variety described” by the ACLU. One box the ACLU wrote about in its complaint was the size of a coffin. The other was considerably smaller, forcing Zubaydah to crouch in a fetal position to fit inside.

The methodical response to a litany of torture allegations makes for bizarre reading. For example, the psycholgists admit to throwing Zubaydah into a wall repeatedly -- but they challenge the ACLU’s use of the term “wall slamming.” It's “walling,” they say.

The two psychologists also admit that they were paid $1,800 a day by the CIA for their work as contractors, and that their company received a total of $81 million from the agency.

... the psycholgists admit to throwing Zubaydah into a wall repeatedly -- but they challenge the group’s use of the term “wall slamming.” It's “walling,” they say.

Details of the torture program remain under seal, despite the public release of the executive summary of a Senate Intelligence Committee report. Government classification restrictions and a non-disclosure agreement with the CIA, the defendants say, hinders their "ability to respond fully to the Complaint’s allegations.”

Tuesday’s admissions came in an ongoing lawsuit brought by the ACLU, which is representing two former CIA prisoners and the family of a third who died in CIA custody.

Mitchell and Jessen both worked at the Air Force Survival Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape school in Spokane, Washington, before joining the CIA. They denied the allegations related specifically to the treatment of three men who are plaintiffs in the ACLU suit.

They admitted “upon information and belief” to knowing that Gul Rahman is dead. But they claimed to be unfamiliar with the other two plaintiffs, Suleiman Abdullah Salim and Mohamed Ben Soud.

The ACLU is likely to argue that their clients’ treatment was the direct result of the program Mitchell and Jessen admitted to developing for use against Zubaydah.

The first court hearing in the case was held in April in Spokane, Washington, where Senior Judge Justin L. Quackenbush of the Eastern District of Washington denied Mitchell and Jessen’s request to have the case thrown out.

Read Mitchell and Jessen's response to the ACLU complaint here: 

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