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 of at least $75,000 (£52,140) for the men, 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 programme used such tactics as prolonged sleep deprivation, forced nudity, starvation, beating, water dousing and extreme forms of sensory deprivation to break prisoners’ will. The men were all held in so-called CIA black sites in Afghanistan.
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 theatre 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.”
In the past, the U.S. government has argued that similar cases would jeopardise national security if allowed to proceed.
Earlier this month, however, the Justice Department, which was not named in the suit, asked the court in a filing to consider “the interests of the United States” in relation to “classified” information that may emerge during discovery.
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 counter-terrorism.
U.S. intelligence sources later identified the psychologists as Mitchell and Jessen.
The CIA outsourced more than 80 percent of its interrogation programme to the company, Mitchell Jessen & Associates of Spokane, Washington, for its work, the Senate report said.