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Senate’s torture investigation was politically motivated, according to Spokane psychologists in waterboarding lawsuit

UPDATED: Tue., July 11, 2017

Bruce Jessen, of Spokane, is shown here in 2009. He and his former business partner, James Mitchell, are facing a civil suit filed by the ACLU on behalf of three men who claim they were subjected to torture through CIA interrogation techniques designed and sometimes carried out by Mitchell and Jessen. (ABC News)
Bruce Jessen, of Spokane, is shown here in 2009. He and his former business partner, James Mitchell, are facing a civil suit filed by the ACLU on behalf of three men who claim they were subjected to torture through CIA interrogation techniques designed and sometimes carried out by Mitchell and Jessen. (ABC News)

Spokane psychologists Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell claim a U.S. Senate investigation into CIA torture interrogations was politically motivated and want the findings barred from an upcoming trial.

The probe was led by a Democrat.

The attorneys for Mitchell and Jessen have sparred with the U.S. Department of Justice for disclosure of more documents and depositions, arguing they needed that classified information to help defend their clients against the suit brought by the ACLU.

That suit was brought on behalf of three men, Suleiman Abdullah Salim, Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud and the late Gul Rahmam. They were tortured, according to court records, based on interrogation techniques designed and sometimes carried out by Mitchell and Jessen. The civil case is scheduled to go to trial Sept. 5 in Spokane.

U.S. District Court Judge Justin Quackenbush has sided with the government in keeping many of the CIA records secret. At the same time, ACLU attorneys have argued that they have all the information they need to proceed to trial based on the work of the Senate Select Committee report, a portion of which was made public in December 2014.

But two weeks ago, attorneys for Mitchell and Jessen filed a motion asking Quackenbush to bar the information from the Senate Select Committee’s probe of the CIA’s interrogation program because its summary report was “the partisan result of a study led by Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein,” court records state. “Senator Feinstein had prejudged the program, publicly railing against it since before the study even began.”

The attorneys for Mitchell and Jessen noted that six Republican senators authored a “minority report” that criticized the full committee’s effort as being an “ideologically motivated and distorted recounting of historical events.”

“The committee was not comprised of trained investigators,” the defense attorneys wrote. “Instead, it was populated by politicians and staffers who lacked the experience, expertise and, at times, the subject matter knowledge to undertake a proper investigation.”

ACLU attorneys responded to the motion to bar the Senate Select Committee Report by pointing out that similar Senate committee reports have been admitted as evidence as long as nothing arises to “indicate a lack of trustworthiness.”

“Although the CIA response and the minority report may disagree with certain (aspects) of the report’s conclusions, neither identifies factual errors that could provide a basis for dismissing the entire report as untrustworthy,” the ACLU attorneys wrote.

As for the criticism of Feinstein, a Democrat from California leading the effort, the attorneys wrote that Mitchell and Jessen could find no bias “beyond their assertion that Senator Feinstein’s disapproval of torture (which has been prohibited for centuries) somehow undermines every factual finding of the” study.

The ACLU pointed out that the Senate Select Committee was specifically established to provide legislative oversight with “sufficient power to resolve such fundamental conflicts between secrecy and democracy.”

“Though defendants take the position that Congress should not investigate the CIA, this was obviously not what the minority report said,” the attorneys said. “Nor should the court accept what is fundamentally an attack on the separation of powers.”

The ACLU attorneys pointed out that former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, voted in favor of the study and U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, delivered a statement on the floor of the Senate both praising the study and condemning the CIA’s interrogation practices.

“I commend Chairman Feinstein and her staff for their diligence in seeking a truthful accounting of policies I hope we will never resort to again,” said McCain, according to court records. “I thank them for persevering against persistent opposition from many members of the intelligence community, from officials in two administrations, and from some of our colleagues.”

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