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

Especially when you feel more sorry for murderers than you ever did for their victims, who one of THESE asshats claimed he was "sorry" he "couldn't participate" in killing them on Flight 93 bc he wasn't allowed into the country so he paid 1000's of dollars to make it happen w/ four OTHER hijackers.

Anonymous

Especially when you feel more sorry for murderers than you ever did for their victims, who one of THESE asshats claimed he was "sorry" he "couldn't participate" in killing them on Flight 93 bc he wasn't allowed into the country so he paid 1000's of dollars to make it happen w/ four OTHER hijackers.

Lance

As a supporter of the Constitution and our civil liberties, I will continue to pay the ACLU for their protection of our rights... including the rights of the following people who hide behind the internet and talk smack about terrorism when they know nothing. My check is in the mail.

Anonymous

Does ERIC, who they TORTURED INTO DEATH on September 11, 2001 and then BRAGGED about it later, get one of those, Mr. Bin Ladin?

And Ramzi Binaslshibh should have his gd lips sewn shut, literally. HE said in an interview about how "sorry" he was that he "didn't get to participate in hijacking Flight 93, the one myh friend's HUSBAND was on.

F*ck them AND their so-called "courage" after committing acts of cowardice so huge tit could swallow the Grand Canyon.

And SURVIVAL is a "process" that Eric & 2,988 other people will never have again.
Evil bastards who think they'll never have to feel a goddam thing for what they've done - and are DEAD-ASS WRONG AS HELL!

Anonymous

You keep saying that one of the ACLU clients boasted about torture of someone named Eric or ERIC and another (or the same one - it's hard to tell) said that he was "sorry" he didn't get to participate in the hijacking of flight 93. The person you identify as saying "sorry" is Ramzi Binaslshibh. That is not the name of any of the ACLU clients mentioned here. No one named Ramzi Binaslshibh is a client of the ACLU in this matter. The 3 people mentioned are innocent. Ramzi Binaslshibh has nothing to do with this case.

As to the person who tortured "ERIC" to death - who did it? I can't find anything about any of these 3 guys torturing anybody, so no evidence of them torturing someone named Eric. So once again, your comment has nothing to do with these 3 individuals who are the clients mentioned here.

Anonymous

I'm not giving you any more money & there's nothing you'll be able to do or say to change my mind bc I'm not giving you money some of which was given to me by a victim of September 11. I don't have enough of my own money to give & I'll give nobody any funds that they're going to use to sit around saying these guys are the only ones who've ever felt an iota of pain in this ordeal.

Will Chris Holley

UN UDHR Article 5.
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/index.html

Anonymous

Torture and Cointelpro blacklisting tactics actually originate at the local police level in places like Richmond, Virginia. This type of government corruption actually starts at the local level and then is adopted by state and federal officials.

Although local, state and federal officials essentially take the same constitutional loyalty oath - as a condition of authority and employment - once the federal agencies have been corrupted they no longer act as a check & balance on local and state officials.

For example: more than 30 years ago many corrupt local officials in Virginia illegally blacklisted citizens, subjecting them to illegal surveillance and scrutiny (a crime under the 14th Amendment and federal color of law statutes). Today many, if not most, Americans placed on federal watchlists are originally blacklisted from the 1980's or earlier - every official involved is acting as either an "accessory-before-the-fact" or an "accessory-after-the-fact" in a federal felony crime.

This is no joke, Americans blacklisted by corrupt officials in the 1980's - without charge, without criminal record, without trial, without guilty verdict - were then tortured on U.S. soil after 9/11 for their non-crimes and non-wrong doing. Some have simply asked for official apologies.

When federal officials, including judges, violate their constitutional oath of office - there is no check & balance on some (not all) corrupt local and state officials torturing and blacklisting your fellow U.S. citizens.

For example: Stop & Frisk, warrantless surveillance, warrantless cell-phone tracking and even non-electronic stalking by government officials clearly meets both the letter & spirit of federal color of law statutes (ex: Title 18 US Code 241-245) but since the DOJ has now participated itself in torture and Cointelpro style blacklisting (which is worse than conventional torture) - federal prosecutors have refused to enforce federal law against local, state and federal officials committing these tyrannies using wartime authorities - which is a war crime!

ACLU attorneys should demand "official apologies" for 1980's blacklisting victims tortured after 9/11 (in addition to punitive damages). It actually forces the disloyal officials to face their blacklisting victims which creates a future deterrent against this form of torture against U.S. citizens and non-citizens in places like Richmond, Virginia.

During the Cold War the communists did it, why can't the great United States do the same and expose the American Stasi?

Douglas Valentine

I hope you realize these routine 'snatch and snuff' programs were originally designed and implemented in July 1967, in Vietnam: Phoenix Program, and Isis Program

The goal is not to round up the 'bad guy', but rather terrorize the entire culture. The CIA knows that to terrorize a culture, you don't round up the bad guy - Rather, it's in rounding up the innocent that terrorizes a culture!

Anonymous

As a retired psychologist, I am thrilled the plaintiffs prevailed. Who the hell supports torture? Oh yeah...the GOP...These "men"
should be tried for crimes against humanity and then incarcerated for life. Let's not forget the defendants were paid 81 million dollars to terrorize people. Disgusting.

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