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Federal judge sets records deadline in torture suit against Spokane psychologists Mitchell and Jessen

UPDATED: Mon., Feb. 20, 2017

A federal judge gave a hard deadline Monday for U.S. government attorneys to decide whether they will keep some records secret about the relationship between the CIA and two psychologists from Spokane hired to develop interrogation techniques for the war on terror.

U.S. District Judge Justin Quackenbush issued an order giving the government until March 8 to make their case to keep secret the documents pertaining to the CIA’s relationship with Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell. The psychologists were based in Spokane.

“The defendants and the government have engaged in a long running dialogue concerning the government’s response to a subpoena issued to the CIA,” Quackenbush wrote. “Both the government and defendants have blamed each other for the delay. The government is now requesting more time to state whether to assert claimed privileges” that would keep the records secret.

But he noted the government took six months to provide limited documents and the new request for a delay “is not well taken,” he wrote.

The documents in question have been requested by the attorneys representing Jessen and Mitchell in a lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of three men who underwent “enhanced interrogation techniques” they claim were designed and sometimes carried out by the psychologists whose company earned $81 million from the government for their services.

The lawsuit was filed in 2015 by the ACLU, representing Suleiman Abdullah Salim, Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud and the estate of Gul Rahman.

Rahman, an Afghan, was taken from his home in Pakistan in November 2002 to a secret CIA prison. He died of hypothermia several weeks later after being shackled to a floor in near freezing conditions.

According to the lawsuit, Salim and Ben Soud both suffered waterboarding, daily beatings and sleep deprivation while inside CIA “black sites.” Both Salim and Ben Soud were later released after officials determined that they posed no threat to the United States.

A U.S. Senate investigation in 2014 found that Mitchell and Jessen’s techniques produced no actionable intelligence in the war on terror.

However, Quackenbush noted that the case has been delayed by the ongoing dispute between the attorneys haggling over government records while the attorneys for the ACLU claim they have all the information they need to proceed.

“Defendants accuse the government of ‘unilateral and often wholesale nondisclosure’ and argue the government’s conduct will ‘greatly prejudice’ defendants,” the judge wrote. “It thus appears to be the defendants’ position that the government, while currently paying the costs of defendants’ legal defense and potentially being responsible for indemnification of any adverse judgment, is attempting to hinder and undermine the defense.

“Nearly five months later, the dispute continues,” he wrote.

Attorneys will be meeting soon in South Africa with Salim, who is expected to provide a deposition and make himself available for medical examinations for experts to decide whether he suffers long-term physical and emotional damage from his interrogation as the suit claims.

“It appears the parties have expensive and time consuming discovery scheduled for the next four to six weeks, and defense counsel has recently suggested continuing the trial date,” Quackenbush wrote.

But he reminded the attorneys that local court rules dictate that they attempt to resolve the case before it goes to trial. The current trial date, which he did not move, is set for June 26.

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