The ACLU contends three men represented in its lawsuit were tortured using techniques designed by the psychologists.
Lawyers for the federal government want to prevent CIA officers from testifying in a federal lawsuit filed against two psychologists who were hired to develop harsh interrogation methods.
The U.S. Justice Department filed a motion during the past week saying the officers’ testimony and the release of certain documents would violate the CIA Act and the state secrets privilege. That privilege allows the government to refuse to release information if it would harm national security.
The documents were requested by lawyers representing psychologists Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell in a lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of three men who the lawsuit contends were tortured using techniques designed by the psychologists.
Mitchell and Jessen ran a Spokane-based company that received $81 million from the CIA to develop methods to extract information from captives. In 2009, then-President Barack Obama ended their contract.
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Suleiman Abdullah Salim, Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud and the estate of Gul Rahman sued the psychologists in 2015. They are seeking unspecified damages from the psychologists.
The trial in the civil case is set for June 26.
Salim and Ben Soud both underwent waterboarding, daily beatings and sleep deprivation while inside CIA “black sites,” according to the lawsuit. Salim, a Tanzanian, and Ben Soud, a Libyan, were later released after officials determined they posed no threat.
Rahman, an Afghan, was taken from his home in Pakistan in 2002 to a secret CIA prison in Afghanistan. He died of hypothermia several weeks later after being shackled to a floor in near freezing conditions.
The secret documents pertain to the CIA’s relationship with Jessen and Mitchell. Their lawyers have until March 22 to respond to the government’s decision to invoke the state secrets privilege.
The government said it has released thousands of pages of documents already, including CIA inspector general reports about the program and the death of Rahman, cables between CIA officers at overseas detention facilities and CIA headquarters regarding the detention, and interrogation of Rahman and Abu Zubaydah.
“Collectively, the documents publicly disclose an extraordinary and unprecedented amount of information about the operation of CIA’s program,” the government said. “The majority of these documents was produced with partial redactions and collectively contained thousands of discrete redactions to privileged information.”
The government’s interest in protecting national security outweighs the psychologists’ need for the information and disclosing the material would “chill free discussion among CIA officers regarding important counterterrorism and national security matters,” the motion said.
A message left with Brian Paszamant, lawyer for the psychologists, seeking comment on the government’s position was not immediately returned.
American Civil Liberties Union attorney Dror Ladin said the government’s position will not impact their case against the psychologists.
“Whether or not the government’s new state-secrets claims are upheld, there is more than enough evidence in the public record for our clients to prove their case,” Ladin said.
A U.S. Senate investigation in 2014 found that Mitchell and Jessen’s techniques produced no useful intelligence.