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Here's How Two Psychologists Allegedly Tortured Three Former CIA Prisoners

A lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of three former CIA detainees accuses James Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen of commissioning torture, war crimes and non-consensual human experimentation.

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is suing two psychologists who allegedly devised and ran the CIA's torture program as detailed in last year's scathing Senate report on the agency's detention and interrogation policies during the Bush administration.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of three former CIA prisoners who were tortured using methods recommended by James Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen, two U.S. psychologists who were paid millions of dollars by the CIA to oversee, and at times, personally participate in torture sessions of detainees.

The ACLU is representing three men, Suleiman Abdullah Salim and Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud — who are now free — and Gul Rahman, who was allegedly tortured to death in his cell in 2002. The U.S. never accused or charged any of the three men with a crime, the ACLU said in a press release.

The lawsuit seeks damages from the two psychologists for their "commission of torture, cruel, inhuman treatment" as well as "nonconsensual human experimentation and war crimes."

The methods of torture included "slamming [prisoners] into walls, stuffing them inside coffin-like boxes, exposing them to extreme temperatures and ear-splitting levels of music, starving them, inflicting various kinds of water torture, depriving them of sleep for days, and chaining them in stress positions designed for pain and to keep them awake for days on end," the ACLU said.

Steven Watt, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Human Rights Program, called Mitchell and Jessen's torture program "barbaric" and "unlawful."

"Psychology is a healing profession, but Mitchell and Jessen violated the ethical code of ‘do no harm’ in some of the most abhorrent ways imaginable," Watt said in a statement.

Gul Rahman, an Afghan who lived in a refugee camp in Pakistan with his wife and four daughters, was abducted in a U.S.-Pakistan operation in Islamabad in 2002 and was detained in a CIA "black site" in Afghanistan. According to the lawsuit, Rahman was repeatedly subjected to several coercive techniques devised by Mitchell and Jessen, including facial holds and insult slaps, prolonged nudity, sleep deprivation, water dousing, stress positions and dietary manipulation.

After evaluating him, Jessen said Rahman was resistant and required an "aggressive phase" of torture to "break" his will, including "48 hours of sleep deprivation, auditory overload, total darkness, isolation, a cold shower and rough treatment" according to the lawsuit.

Rahman was also doused with cold water and moved to a sleep deprivation cell, where he was left shivering for hours with his hand chained over his head, the lawsuit said.

On Nov. 19, 2002, Rahman was shackled overnight in a stress position while he was partially nude on his knees on the concrete cell floor. The next day he was found dead in his cell. According to his autopsy he died of hypothermia caused "in part from being forced to sit on the bare concrete floor without pants,” with the contributing factors of “dehydration, lack of food, and immobility due to ‘short chaining,'" according to the lawsuit.

The ACLU said Rahman's family has never been officially notified of his death and his body has not been returned to them.

Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud, a Libyan citizen who fled his county after opposing Muammar Qaddafi’s dictatorship, lived in Pakistan with his wife and daughter. He was captured in a U.S.-Pakistan raid on his home in 2003 and was subsequently held and tortured in two secret CIA prisons over two years. Soud said he saw Mitchell in a room where he was being forcefully submerged in ice water.

Soud was confined to a tiny windowless cell with a small bucket as a toilet and two thin blankets to sleep on and was kept naked for more than a month, the lawsuit alleged. He was bombarded with "ear-splitting" music and was not permitted to wash himself for five months. He lost 49 pounds in three months after being deprived of regular meals and was continually kept chained to a metal ring on the wall by his wrists and legs.

He was subjected to prolonged sleep deprivation — including constant standing — and was forced to march naked around the prison through the night. Soud said he saw Mitchell during the "aggressive phase" of his torture, which included combinations of being repeatedly slammed against the wall, abdominal slaps, water torture sessions and physical beatings. He was also stripped of his clothes. Soud was also confined to small coffin-like boxes through which blaring Western music was played.

In 2005, the CIA sent him to Libya, where he was tortured and sentenced to life imprisonment. He was freed in 2011 after Qaddafi was deposed, and he now lives with his wife and three children, where he continues to endure the physical and psychological effects of the torture, the ACLU said.

Suleiman Abdullah Salim, a fisherman from Tanzania, was abducted by the CIA from Somalia in 2003 and was released by the U.S. military after five years with a letter saying he posed no threat to the U.S.

In the first of two secret CIA prisons, Salim was kept in a small, frigid, dark cell with no blankets. He was fed a piece of bread, broth and was given one bottle of water a day for both drinking and cleaning. He was subjected to many of the same torture methods as the other detainees; water torture sessions, beatings, slaps, humiliation, prolonged sleep deprivation, confinement in boxes, and prolonged nudity.

He also attempted suicide using painkillers he was provided with for his injuries. Salim was then transferred to a U.S. military prison where he spent more than four years after being released with no charges. The ACLU said Salim continues to suffer acute physical injuries, impaired sense of smell and taste and chronic pain. He also has frequent nightmares and suffers from various PTSD symptoms including depression.

In a statement, Salim said:

"The terrible torture I suffered at the hands of the CIA still haunts me. I still have flashbacks, but I’ve learned to deal with them with a psychologist who tries to help people, not hurt them.

This lawsuit is about achieving justice. No person should ever have to endure the horrors that these two men inflicted.”









Tasneem Nashrulla is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Tasneem Nashrulla at tasneem.nashrulla@buzzfeed.com.

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