After Years of Slammed Doors, Torture Survivors Finally End Impunity Streak

Suleiman Abdullah Salim and Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud

As an attorney representing victims of torture, one of the most inspiring things I have ever seen is the sheer determination of survivors standing up and publicly confronting those responsible. That’s why I’m so elated that our clients Suleiman Abdullah Salim, Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud, and Obaidullah have surmounted so many obstacles in their long pursuit of justice.

Last week, almost two years after filing their lawsuit, our clients prevailed over the final attempt to keep their claims out of court. And today, these brave men secured a settlement from James Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen, the two psychologists who designed and implemented the CIA torture program that ensnared two of them and killed a relative of the third.

Torture is about trying to break human beings. Torturers inflict suffering with the goal of making prisoners feel such overpowering fear and despair that they cannot resist the torturer’s demands. As documents revealed in this case prove, Mitchell and Jessen specifically designed their torture program for the CIA to inflict “fear and despair” until prisoners became “helpless.”

After torture, survivors are usually left with feelings of trauma and helplessness — just as their torturers intended. Often, torture survivors report feeling worthless and powerless. It takes a lot of courage for anyone who has been so brutally traumatized to stand up to those responsible. But that is what our clients did in seeking accountability in a U.S. court. 

To understand the legal landscape our clients faced with this lawsuit, it’s important to look back at the much longer story of torture accountability. That story, until today, has been one of total impunity.

The Bush administration turned to torture just over 15 years ago. That shameful policy inflicted violence and suffering on hundreds of mostly brown and black Muslim men held in secret prisons around the world. In the years that followed, we and other attorneys have represented a number of survivors seeking accountability. But, every case, without exception, ended the same way: Courts turned survivors away from the courthouse doors. Judges refused even to consider the abuses that government officials and contractors acting in our name inflicted on our fellow human beings.

In ruling after ruling, judges decided that the CIA’s torture program was too secret for our courts, that the Constitution did not protect prisoners of the United States from torture, that torturers at Guantánamo were immune from liability, that government officials who justified and ordered the torture of a U.S. citizen were immune from liability, that contractors involved in torture could not be sued — and on and on, a depressing litany of impunity.

Torture is about trying to break human beings.

Against this backdrop of despair, our clients stood up. Last year, Mitchell and Jessen argued that torture was a “political decision” on which courts cannot pass judgment. But our clients prevailed. In January, Mitchell and Jessen tried a different tack, arguing that a 2006 law prevented the court from deciding the case. Again, our clients prevailed. This summer, Mitchell and Jessen argued one final time that they could not be liable for the torture inflicted on our clients because they were “simply doing business.” Once more, our clients prevailed.

As Mohamed recently reminded us, “Keep in mind that when we started this lawsuit, I didn’t expect it to go this far, to get to this excellent level.” But he stood up anyway. He and Suleiman and Obaidullah each flew thousands of miles to tell their stories. They endured depositions and medical exams. And they prevailed over every obstacle.

As a result, our clients secured multiple court decisions cementing the rights of torture survivors to seek justice from those responsible. They forced hundreds of pages of formerly secret documents into the light. For the first time ever, the psychologists and top CIA officials were made to answer questions, under oath, from attorneys representing torture survivors. Our clients’ stories, and much of the broader CIA torture story, are in the public domain.

Justice can be a long time coming. But Mohamed, Suleiman, and Obaidullah remind me of why we keep fighting for accountability against what can feel like insurmountable odds. Now they want to turn to healing, and we can get closer to finally turning the page on torture. Now torturers who think they can hide from the courts know that impunity is not guaranteed.

Accountability is a process. Recovery is a process. Survival is a process. And today was a good day.

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Anonymous

If your company was sued because of a mistake you made in the course of business the company would still pay the bill and possibly fire you. If you don't want to pay for the cia to torture people elect officials who don't believe in illegal practices.

Anonymous

Well I certainly don't want to elect alt-Left fascists like the ones who belong to Antifa or BLM, who define anything that doesn't agree with their morally bankrupt worldview as hate speech. Am I right?

Fladabosco

You will find that progressive people generally deplore violence, especially to promote one's politics. I understand the motives of the antifa movement but I object to all violent tactics.

Anonymous

There are some missing details here.
Why they were arrested in the first place?
For how long they were imprisoned?
For what reason they were t

Anonymous

From Wikipedia : "Suleiman Abdullah Salim is a citizen of Tanzania who was held in extrajudicial detention, for five years, in secret CIA black sites.[1][2] Salim was one of the individual the United States Senate Intelligence Committee's inquiry into the CIA's use of torture identified as having been subjected to the most brutal torture. According to James Risen, in the New York Times CIA interrogators tortured him, even though he was a black African man, and the Suleiman Abdullah Salim they had intended to capture was an ethnically Arabic man from Yemen." But, hey,just because they tortured the wrong guy, no problem. Only Americans deserve protection from torture, right?

Anonymous

Though I can't speak to the specifics of these cases, I agree with the basic premise put forward. Any intelligent person, and students of history at a minimum, would understand that there are rules of engagement and a high moral duty to ensure proper procedures are followed because they are inherently value added. If they are followed there will be warranted trust in the system that it wouldn't suddenly be possible to turn it against you to your severe detriment just because of a few rank and file changes/turnover, passing mood shifts of the wrong person or a political fad. Any individual of service should thoroughly appreciate the meaning of this and I would hope incorporate it as absolutely best possible into their daily practices if they don't already. This can actually help ensure longevity, stability of a society and dominance as well as meaningful respect within the theater.

Anonymous

Respect...because it makes so much fuckin' SENSE to respect someone after they came off an interview saying how they were "sorry" they couldn't get into this country to help the 4 hijackers kill people on Flight 93 and so spent 1000's from afar to make it happen with the 4 that actually went.
You people are beyond humanity, at least if it's ERIC'S humanity we're referring to; the only life YOU care about is the guy who made that piss-ass statement and the 40 people who died on Flight 93, well they can be damned to the hot place for all you care.
I think everyone who feels sorrow ONLY for the murderers should be reQUIRED to take these guys into your home. Take the risk with your OWN family, see what we go through.

Anonymous

The settlement is sealed, and the defendants get to walk away, unchallenged, saying that they did nothing wrong.

They say that they are not accountable. This settlement supports that conclusion.

Anonymous

Look forward to see them driving in the streets of Barcelona or else where in Europe soon.

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Anonymous

If there were ever a vital need for reform, perhaps even a constitutional amendment, it is this weakness in the American model of government:

The two political branches (Exectutive and Legislative) at the federal, state and local levels are designed to represent "popular" issues and "popular" people.

The Judicial Branch, designed to be non-political, is supposed to provide constitutional "checks & balances" to provide a counter-balance to the political branches. In other words they are supposed to be constitutional-referees penalizing the political branches when they step out-of-bounds.

Today it is nearly impossible for average citizens to give feedback or concerns to the U.S. Supreme Court or any court. If you are a citizen that has been the target of illegal domestic spying, the high court has also robbed those citizens of "legal standing" to challenge these unconstitutional practices.

The net result is the political branches generally aren't interested in "unpopular" issues or "unpopular" people but the courts have isolated themselves from public participation as well.

If constituents are allowed to write their Congressman or state legislator - why can't we write our judges and justices - especially when those same judges/justices denied legal standing to challenge unconstitutional practices?

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