“Many details surrounding the program remain highly classified due to the damage to national security that reasonably could be expected to result from disclosure of that information. For this reason, the CIA has withheld or objected to the disclosure of certain information implicated in discovery in this case.”
CIA Director Mike Pompeo
Last month, the Central Intelligence Agency formally asserted the ‘State Secrets Privilege’ in order to prevent disclosure of seven categories of information concerning the ‘Enhanced Interrogation Techniques’ program, and to prevent the deposition of several CIA officers involved in the post-9/11 controversial interrogation program. Follow us on Twitter: @Intel_Today
The lawsuit against Mitchell and Jessen is the first torture lawsuit the Department of Justice did not try to block in its entirety.
The legal Case
In 2015, two former detainees at C.I.A. secret prisons overseas and the representative of a third man who died in custody filed a lawsuit against two former military psychologists — James E. Mitchell and Bruce Jessen — who helped design and run the ‘Enhanced Interrogation techniques’ program.
For the first time ever, an American civilian court could hold someone accountable for a role in the highly controversial program.
“Although the government is not a direct party to the case, it is paying Mitchell and Jessen’s legal fees. Knowing they could face legal liability for their actions, the CIA provided Mitchell and Jessen with a multi-million dollar indemnification contract in 2007.”
Several CIA officials — including CIA Deputy Director Gina Haspel — are being called to provide a deposition by James Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen.
CIA Deputy Director Gina Haspel
The Trump administration appointed Gina Haspel as deputy director of the CIA in February, attracting criticism from human rights advocates due to her former role in abusive interrogations.
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The move was interpreted as a public sign of the administration’s approval for some of the CIA’s most brutal abuses after the 9/11 attacks.
Lawyers for Mitchell and Jessen claim that everything the psychologists did was authorized by the CIA, and that Haspel would confirm that if the court ordered her to give a deposition.
Lawyers are also seeking numerous documents, and a deposition from James Cotsana — a retired CIA official whom Mitchell and Jessen identified as their direct supervisor.
Gina Haspel ran a secret prison in Thailand in 2002, part of the CIA’s global network of “black sites.”
That prison — codenamed “DETENTION SITE GREEN” by Senate investigators — was the site of the CIA’s first prisoner interrogations after the 9/11 attacks, and Haspel supervised them. She later took part in covering up the abuses, helping to destroy 92 videotapes of interrogations against the Senate’s wishes.
The Senate torture report does not mention Haspel by name, but details the role of the prison’s station chief in the horrific torture of detainee Abu Zubaydah, who the CIA waterboarded until he became “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.”
[NOTE: Abu Zubaydah is expected to testify this week.]
Mitchell and Jessen were the ones who waterboarded Zubaydah, and described the interrogation as “a template for future interrogations of high-value captives” in a cable to the CIA.
Zubaydah’s interrogation was held up as a model, and similar techniques were used on many of the 119 detainees the CIA had in its custody.
In a hearing before a district court in Washington state, the government said that deposing Haspel and Cotsana would reveal “state secrets,” and that despite media reports, the government could not confirm or deny Haspel and Cotsana’s role in the program.
No need to depose Haspel and Cotsana
Dror Ladin, a staff attorney for the ACLU, argued that there’s no need to depose Haspel and Cotsana because it would not affect Mitchell and Jessen’s responsibility for torture.
“It’s never been a defense in a torture or a war crimes case to say ‘I was following instructions,’” said Ladin.
“This case has never been about that. It was about the design of the program, its testing on Abu Zubaydah, the use of those techniques on our clients.”
CIA director Michael Pompeo
In a March 2 declaration, CIA director Michael Pompeo explained the CIA’s justification for asserting the state secrets privilege.
“Over time, certain information about the [CIA interrogation] program has been officially declassified and publicly released.”
“For example, the enhanced interrogation techniques employed with respect to specific detainees in the program, and their conditions of confinement, are no longer classified.”
“Nonetheless, many details surrounding the program remain highly classified due to the damage to national security that reasonably could be expected to result from disclosure of that information. For this reason, the CIA has withheld or objected to the disclosure of certain information implicated in discovery in this case.”
The “State Secrets Privilege” is often used to terminate litigation — altogether by barring introduction of essential evidence. But, in this case, the US Government is not seeking dismissal. Interesting…
So, even if the state secret privilege claims are granted by the court — a pretty safe bet — the lawsuit could still move forward.
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Jose Rodriguez, the former head of the CIA’s Clandestine Service, defends the “enhanced interrogation techniques” used on high-level al Qaeda detainees, saying he has no regrets.
Ex-CIA Officer John Kiriakou: “The Government Turned Me Into a Dissident”
In 2007, John Kiriakou became the first Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) official to publicly confirm that agency interrogators waterboarded a high-value detainee, terrorism suspect Abu Zubaydah — a revelation that had previously been a closely guarded secret.
Five years after this unauthorized disclosure to ABC News, the veteran CIA officer pleaded guilty to leaking to journalists the identity of certain individuals who were involved with the CIA’s rendition, detention, and interrogation program. He was sentenced to two and a half years in federal prison.
CIA Asserts State Secrets Privilege in Torture Case — Secrecy News
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