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Top CIA officials ordered to give depositions in Spokane torture trial

Mitchell Jessen & Associates was headquartered in the American Legion Building in downtown Spokane, Washington, in this file photo from June 2007. (FILE / The Spokesman-Review)
Mitchell Jessen & Associates was headquartered in the American Legion Building in downtown Spokane, Washington, in this file photo from June 2007. (FILE / The Spokesman-Review)
By Nicholas K. Geranios Associated Press

A federal judge has ordered former top CIA officials to sit for depositions in a lawsuit brought against two Spokane psychologists who designed the agency’s harsh interrogation methods in the war on terror, an action the federal government called unprecedented.

U.S. District Court Judge Justin Quackenbush issued the order in Spokane on Tuesday.

Among those ordered to give depositions under oath in the next few months are John Rizzo and Jose Rodriguez. Rizzo was the CIA’s chief lawyer, and Rodriguez was the head of the CIA Counterterrorism Center.

The case was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of three men – Gul Rahman, Suleiman Abdullah Salim and Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud. They contend they were tortured using methods developed by CIA-contracted psychologists James Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen.

Trial is set for next June.

“This order affirms that our judicial system can handle claims of CIA torture,” ACLU attorney Dror Ladin said. “For years, claims of secrecy shut the courthouse doors to survivors, but the systematic abuse of prisoners can’t be swept under the rug forever.”

The depositions were requested by Mitchell and Jessen, who have private attorneys.

The Justice Department is involved in the case to represent the government’s interests in keeping classified information secret. The government tried to bar oral questioning of the CIA officials at a hearing on the matter last week.

“I don’t think that’s ever happened in the history of this country,” Justice Department attorney Andrew Warden said of the depositions at the hearing.

Quackenbush also ordered the government to produce documents requested by Mitchell and Jessen.

According to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into the torture program, Mitchell and Jessen designed the interrogation methods through their work in survival training at Fairchild Air Force Base and took part in sessions with CIA prisoners.

Methods devised by Mitchell and Jessen and inflicted on the three plaintiffs included slamming them into walls, stuffing them inside coffin-like boxes, exposing them to extreme temperatures, starving them, inflicting various kinds of water torture, chaining them in stress positions designed for pain and to keep them awake for days on end, the ACLU contends.

The two psychologists have in court documents said they used harsh tactics, but deny allegations of torture and war crimes.

Rahman died of hypothermia in a CIA secret prison. The other two prisoners in the lawsuit were held in CIA prisons. But they were never charged with crimes and are now free.

The two defendants in 2005 founded Mitchell, Jessen & Associates, in Spokane, and contracted with the CIA to run the interrogation program. According to the Senate report, the government paid the company $81 million over several years.

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