Lawsuit against psychologists who designed CIA torture program settles

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  • The terms of the settlement were not disclosed
  • The ACLU hailed the settlement Thursday as a "historic victory" for their clients

(CNN)Two foreign-born men who claimed they were brutally tortured while held in CIA prisons and the family of one man who died in custody have settled their lawsuit against the two psychologists who developed the agency's program, bringing an end to what would have been a landmark case just weeks before trial.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit in 2015 against James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, initially basing it on findings in the bombshell executive summary of the Senate "torture report," which put a spotlight on the CIA's use of enhanced interrogation techniques on suspected al Qaeda members in the years following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Mitchell and Jessen, along with other former CIA officials, were deposed and other declassified agency documents were eventually produced in the case.
    In a court ruling earlier this month, US District Court Judge Justin Quackenbush denied the psychologists' attempt to dismiss the lawsuit, laying out the interrogation methods in vivid detail and citing extensive evidence against the doctors.
    The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the family of Gul Rahman, an Afghan man who died while in CIA custody; Suleiman Abdullah Salim, a Tanzanian man who was held in US custody in Afghanistan for five years before being released; and Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud, a Libyan man who was held by the US in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005 before the CIA sent him to Libya, where Moammar Gadhafi's regime imprisoned him until 2011.
    They men alleged being repeatedly subjected to "coercive methods," including "prolonged sleep deprivation, walling, stress positions, facial slaps, abdominal slaps, dietary manipulation, facial holds, and cramped confinement," according to court documents.
    The ACLU hailed the settlement as a "historic victory" for their clients and "the rule of law."
    "This outcome shows that there are consequences for torture and that survivors can and will hold those responsible for torture accountable," said ACLU attorney Dror Ladin in a statement Thursday. "It is a clear warning for anyone who thinks they can torture with impunity."
    The terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but the parties issued a striking joint statement in which the two psychologists "acknowledge that they worked with the CIA to develop a program for the CIA that contemplated the use of specific coercive methods to interrogate certain detainees," but denied any explicit knowledge of specific abuses.
    "Drs. Mitchell and Jessen state that it is regrettable that Mr. Rahman, Mr. Salim, and Mr. Ben Soud suffered these abuses," the statement added.