‘The Darkness Comes’: CIA Torture Victims Describe How the Mental Scars Never Go Away

The New York Times is publishing a devastating exposé series on the lasting psychological effects of U.S. government torture on men who once were held in CIA-run secret overseas prisons or at Guantanamo Bay.

Two psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, were independent contractors for the CIA and designed and helped implement the torture program. They are now defendants in an ACLU lawsuit on behalf of three of those victims. Two of them were interview for the Times series — the third was tortured to death.

The psychologists based the torture program on junk science claiming that abusing prisoners until they reached a state of “learned helplessness” would lead to accurate intelligence. Since the program was ended, there has been no meaningful accountability for its perpetrators nor redress for its victims.

Privacy statement. This embed will serve content from youtube.com.

One of the stories the Times series highlights is that of our client Mohamed Ahmed Ben-Soud. In 2003, he was kidnapped in his country of Libya and unlawfully rendered to the Salt Pit, a secret CIA prison, which he and other detainees call “The Darkness.”

Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud

There, Ben Soud was subjected to some of the worst tortures of the Mitchell-Jessen devised program. He was “forced onto a plastic tarp while naked, his hands shackled above his head,” while CIA officials “poured buckets of ice water on him as others lifted the tarp’s corners, sending water splashing over him and causing a choking or drowning sensation.” He was locked inside coffin-sized boxes, some even smaller; slammed repeatedly against a wall; and chained to the ceiling by his arms for days. Rock music blasted deafeningly throughout the pitch black dungeon where he was held and tortured and abused for a year.

Unsurprisingly, Ben-Soud has not recovered from the trauma of his time in “The Darkness.” Today, he lives “in constant fear of tomorrow.” And, when his children ask why he loses his temper so suddenly, he told the Times, he is at a loss for words: “How can you explain such things to children?”

Another ACLU client, Suleiman Abdullah Salim, was the subject of the second article in the series. After his abduction by the CIA and the Kenyan government, Salim too was sent to “The Darkness” and brutally tortured.

He was held in solitary confinement in a room so dark “he could not see the shackles on his arms or the walls of his cell.” He was hung from the ceiling by his arms, slammed into a wall, doused in ice-cold water and wrapped in a tarp, repeatedly beaten, and stuffed inside a “coffin-like box.”

Eight years after his release, Salim remains deeply traumatized. He has been diagnosed with lasting psychological injuries from his torture, including severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. He experiences frequent nightmares and terrifying flashbacks, frequent spells of dizziness and confusion, and major depression.

“Many times now I feel like I have something heavy inside my body,” Salim told The Times. “Sometimes I walk, and I walk, and I forget, I forget everything, I forget prison, The Darkness, everything. But it is always there. The Darkness comes.”

Privacy statement. This embed will serve content from youtube.com.

While many think of torture as only physical violence, the effects of which end after the wounds are treated, the Times series is a reminder that the long-lasting mental trauma associated with torture can be even worse. In the case of U.S. torture, these traumas have been exacerbated by a complete lack of redress for victims.

As the Times editorial board wrote in a commentary on the series, “The question now is whether anyone will be held to account for the damage wrought by one of the most depraved periods in American history.” President Obama’s stance on torture accountability has been to move on from the Bush administration’s atrocities. However, Salim, Ben-Soud, and others — haunted every day by the traumas inflicted on them — are unable to move on.

Unlike other lawsuits seeking accountability for CIA torture, the judge in our case against the psychologists is allowing the litigation to move forward, which the editorial noted could present “the first-ever opportunity for the justice system to reckon directly with the brutal legacy of the government’s torture policies.”

With another ruling Friday reinstating a lawsuit by tortured inmates of Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison against a U.S. military contractor, some measure of justice is getting closer for at least some victims of U.S. torture.

Accountability is critical not just for survivors, victims, and their families. It is also critical for all of us who value living in a nation of laws, one strong enough to acknowledge wrongdoing and make amends.

Only by fully reckoning with the past can our clients, the hundreds of others just like them, and our country finally move on with confidence that it will never happen again. And leading up to an election in which torture is being floated as an official policy option, it’s as necessary as ever. 

View comments (13)
Read the Terms of Use

Joseph Suste

Do not forget that President George W. Bush authorized the torture and is as guilty as the torturers for what was done.


Thank you American Civil Liberties Union Nationwide for representing these victims. If not for ACLU there would be no hope at all for anyone. I am so proud of ACLU Nationwide and proud to be a member of the ACLU.

Laura Stone

May we realize that all of these torture-based programs cost us our dignity, security and humanity. My heart aches with the survivors and for those who have to live with following such orders.


Please tell us more. What was he accused of?


one of the victims was the wrong person entirely... whoops eh? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suleiman_Abdullah_Salim


Feel like we are missing a lot of information....

'Nother Son 'O,...

Re: "...'The Darkness Comes’: CIA Torture Victims Describe How the Mental Scars Never Go Away..."

I lost 359 co_workers on 11.Sept., '01, in NYC...
Had I NOT been Romney_Sized, (aka: 'outsourced'), my... remains would ALSO be splattered like spoiled mayonnaise, as a slurry all over 1-and/or, 2-W.T.C.-Left_Overs!

In response to that preventable sin / crime, by Muhammad Atta...
A (Methodist) Pro_Life Xian_Jihadist, (G.W. 'Plausible, Deniability' Bush, an (Anglican convert to Catholicism), Pro_Life Xian_Jihadist, (Tony 'Collaterals, Damaged'), 'N, others, destabilized the entire Middle East, committing their infamous, (15 yr. 'N, counting...), Iraq profiteering crime, sometimes also, called a search for, (non-existent), M-W.M.D.'s!
Torture was / is a part of this package of R.I.C.O. crimes, just as it always is, especially when you're sure 'God' / 'Gods'*...
approve your crimes!

In 2 weeks...
I'll be voting for a new president, (Clinton, I'm sure!), and I'm equally, sure that either one of 'em is more, than willing to use torture, whenever they damn, well feel like it, 'cause there is NO person / group / mechanism to bring these...bestiaries to account, like Nuremberg; (circa '45-6-7)!
Post W.W.-2, (aka: the '1St. Nuclear_War'), America / the other allies hanged Japanese officials who'd authorized water boarding!
Have ANY U.S. water-borders been jailed, let, alone hanged, then? Why is / was it Ok to water_board at Abu_Gharaib / elsewhere?

As a youngster, studying the 1St. Nuclear War, (circa '33-'45), I wondered what it would've been like to be a voting age German, where SO, many millions chose a meth_headed Austrian...
With a 'R/o, (alleged), Rapist' Vs. Mrs. Clinton to chose from...I DON'T like wondering what I can / should do, (circa 2016)!!

*{...I'm an N.C.R. (Norse_Celtic_Rite), NeoPagan; the N.C.R. is NOT white_supremacist; I was, (some 40-50 yrs, previously...), a 'born, 'N, bred' Catholic; Otherwise...Blessed, Be Kept!}


Calm down racist


I don’t get half of what you’re saying really but ok I wish you the best

Joseph Doud

havana, cuba + u.s. embassy + emf + particulate matter + resonant frequencies


Stay Informed