Attorneys for two former military psychologists who developed the CIA's Bush-era interrogation program will ask a federal court in Washington state on Friday to dismiss a lawsuit brought by former U.S. prisoners who allege they were tortured.
The case in U.S. court in Spokane marks a step forward in efforts by rights groups to hold individuals accountable for a program that used methods its architects said stopped short of torture but that the American Civil Liberties Union said resulted in the torture of at least 119 men from 2002 until it was ended in 2008.
The ACLU, which filed the lawsuit last October on behalf of three men, one of whom died in CIA custody, argued that psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen encouraged the agency "to adopt torture as official policy" and made millions of dollars in the process.
The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, says Suleiman Abdullah Salim and Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud suffered lasting psychological and physical damage, and that Gul Rahman died from hypothermia caused by dehydration and exposure to cold.
The ACLU says the program used such tactics as prolonged sleep deprivation, forced nudity, starvation, beating, water dousing and extreme forms of sensory deprivation to break prisoners' will.
In seeking to dismiss the suit, attorneys for the psychologists argued in court filings last month that the prisoners were asking the court to "second-guess real-time decisions by the Executive Branch in the theater of war almost 15 years ago."
"Should this court indulge either of plaintiffs' unfounded requests," the lawyers wrote, "it would generate untenable, practical dilemmas - hamstringing our government's ability to combat the ongoing War on Terror."
The U.S. government, which was not named in the suit, has not tried to stop the case from going forward. In the past, government lawyers argued that similar cases would jeopardize national security if allowed to proceed.
The case came after a U.S. Senate report from 2014 found the CIA paid $80 million to a company run by two former U.S. Air Force psychologists without experience in interrogation or counterterrorism who recommended waterboarding, slaps to the face and mock burial for prisoners suspected of being terrorists.
The psychologists were not named in that report but U.S. intelligence sources later identified them as Mitchell and Jessen.
(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Peter Cooney)