Earlier this week, the Trump administration filed to block certain information from being used in an upcoming lawsuit against two CIA agents for their use of torture during the Bush administration. The filing would not dismiss the lawsuit as previous filings of secrecy have done in the past, but instead restrict what information can be used in the trial. The Trump administration argues that certain information about the program, such as names and dates, cannot be used due to the risk to national security.
The lawsuit, Salim v. Mitchell, plans to go to trial in June 2017. The ACLU is representing three torture victims and their families who all suffered at the hands of James Elmer Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen. Both men are psychologists who were contracted after 9-11 to create and implement the CIA’s torture program. They theorized that if captives entered a state of “learned helplessness,” they would not resist giving information. Victims suffered through a variety of psychological and physical torture methods, including sleep deprivation, starvation, beating, nudity, waterboarding, and sensory deprivation. Both Mitchell and Jessen received over ten million dollars for their work creating and assessing the effectiveness of this program.
The three plaintiffs and their families are hoping to find justice for all of the pain and suffering they faced at the hands of the CIA. The first plaintiff is Suleiman Abdullah Salim. He was a fisherman in Somalia before being captured and sent to Kenya and then Afghanistan in two separate CIA prisons. From March 2003 to May 2003, Salim was brutally tortured in the CIA prison in Afghanistan known as COBALT. He was then held in solitary confinement for fourteen months before being transferred to a U.S. airbase where he was imprisoned until 2008. It was determined he posed no threat to the United States and their efforts in Afghanistan.
The second plaintiff is Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud. Soud fled Libya in 1991 due to his opposition to Libya’s dictator. He was captured in 2004 and held in COBALT for sixteen months where he was brutally tortured. The U.S did not release him from prison until 2011 when the Libyan dictatorship collapsed. Soud was never formally charged with any crime throughout his time in prison. Like Salim, he still suffers from mental and physical health issues as a direct result of torture.
The third plaintiff is the family of Gul Rahman. Rahman and his family escaped Afghanistan in 2001 and lived as refugees in Pakistan until 2002 when Rahman was captured in October. After two weeks of torture, he was found dead in his cell. Rahman likely died due to hypothermia, he was forced to sit on the bare concrete floor with no pants; dehydration, and starvation. His body was found in chains that kept him from moving in his cell. His family has never been formally informed about his death and they never received his body for a proper religious burial.
The case not only hopes to find justice for these three men, but give a voice to torture victims everywhere. According to Amnesty International, the United States has repeatedly violated international law prohibiting torture since 9-11. The Torture Report, published by the ACLU National Security Project and Larry Siems in 2009, estimates that from 2002 until 2008, the U.S disappeared over 100 men who were later tortured in a variety of ways. The report found that techniques were often meant to humiliate prisoners and included rectal feedings and dragging prisoners naked down the hallways.
Despite the U.S torture program breaking both international and domestic law, many citizens of the United States support the program; and many officials argue that torture was necessary to thwart future acts of terrorism. However, according to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the CIA misreported the effectiveness of torture. After reviewing twenty cases, the Committee ruled that many cases showed no evidence of counter terrorism while other cases incorrectly gave information already available or proven false. Additionally, former FBI interrogators in charge of questioning suspected members of Al Qaeda described the torture methods as “ineffective, slow, and unreliable.”
The plaintiffs deserve more than just a lawsuit victory. Salim, Soud, the family of Rahman, and all other torture victims who are not given a voice deserve reparations and a formal apology from the United States. Furthermore, the CIA must be held accountable for their actions under the Bush administration and be charged with war crimes. It is not enough to only charge the two masterminds behind the torture program, other CIA agents must also face a penalty. Additionally, the United States must denounce torture and commit to eliminating various practices.
Many advocates of torture victims are fearful of the future of torture in the United States. President Donald Trump has said on multiple occasions that he avidly supports torture programs and believes that waterboarding is not strong enough. Trump already promotes various witch hunts for terrorists, and blames the Muslim community for violence. His stance on torture could easily mean that men like Salim, Soud, and Rahmen, men who pose no threat to the United States, will be torn from their families and face conditions even more extreme than during the Bush administration. This is a war crime.
According to Amnesty International, “the U.S government is required by international law to respect and ensure human rights, to thoroughly investigate every violation of those rights, and to bring perpetrators to justice, no matter their level of office or former level of office.” Not only do other U.S officials need to hold the Trump administration accountable, the international community, such as the U.N, must make it clear that they will hold the U.S accountable if it is discovered that the CIA or other groups are using torture to interrogate prisoners.
There are alternative ways to get information that do not involve torture but require a deeper understanding of the prisoners and each’s life and culture. According to former Air Force interrogator, Steven Kleinman, such methods were used in World War Two and proved to be much more effective at gathering information. Kleinman also called the interrogation methods during the Bush administration “ amateurish.” It is in everyone’s best interest if the CIA and other groups adopt more humane practices because it provides more accurate information in a peaceful way without breaking international laws and damaging the U.S’s reputation.
Salim, Soud, and the family of Rahman have to wait until June to finally start the process of recovering from the pain the CIA caused them. Yet, according to ABC News and the Washington Post, 58% of Americans support torture both against suspected terrorists and as a general practice. The three plaintiffs were not terrorists nor did they commit any crimes. Torture is immoral, illegal, and ineffective. The United States must create a better system for collecting information from prisoners. Denouncing torture is not a symbol of weakness but of strength. Cowards revert to torture, to hurting others with no gain. The United States must re-frame their understanding of torture or risk adding another ugly chapter of pain and suffering to their history.