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US rights group sues over CIA interrogation tactics

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Washington: The American Civil Liberties Union today sued two former Air Force psychologists who designed a CIA program that used harsh interrogation techniques to elicit intelligence from suspected terrorists, saying the pair endorsed and taught torture tactics under the guise of science.

The lawsuit comes 10 months after the release of a damning Senate report that said the interrogation techniques had inflicted pain on al-Qaida prisoners far beyond the legal limits and did not yield lifesaving intelligence.

The suit accuses the psychologists, James E. Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen, of developing an interrogation program that relied on beatings, sleep deprivation, starvation, waterboarding and other methods that caused physical and psychological suffering on prisoners in CIA custody.

Henry Schuelke III, a lawyer who has represented the pair in the past, said Tuesday that he was not yet involved in the case and did not have any comment.

The suit was filed in federal court in Washington state on behalf of three former CIA prisoners. One, Gul Rahman, was interrogated in a dungeon-like Afghanistan prison called the Salt Pit, subjected to isolation, darkness and extreme cold water, and was later found dead of hypothermia.

The other two men, Suleiman Abdullah Salim and Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud, were held in CIA prisons but were never charged with any crimes and are now free.

The lawsuit was brought under the Alien Tort Statute, which allows noncitizens to sue in U.S. Courts over human-rights violations.

A 2010 Associated Press report, citing former US officials, said the CIA had promised to cover at least $5 million in legal fees for the psychologists if the program ran into trouble.

“They claimed that their program was scientifically based, safe and proven, when in fact it was none of those things. The program was unlawful and its methods barbaric,” Steven Watt, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Human Rights Program, said in a statement.