ACLU Sues CIA Torture Program Architects

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on October 22, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Approximately one week ago, the ACLU filed a complaint against the engineers of the CIA's notorious torture program on behalf of three men who claimed they were victimized by the CIA's brutal interrogation techniques.

It is believed to be the first legal suit that is directly related to the 2014 release of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Report regarding CIA torture of suspected terrorists.

Heavy Redactions

At over 500 pages with heavy and dense material, the report is imposing. A cursory look will reveal heavy redactions of names and places. Regardless, the report is the basis of the ACLU suit by Steven Watt. Watt, an ACLU lawyer who represents three men, two of which are now overseas, sued two CIA contractors who are the alleged architects of the CIA's torture program -- a service for which the men allegedly were paid $81 million. 

The theory of the program was that torture makes the detained victim more susceptible to the interrogator's demands for intelligence -- by now, made infamous by television shows that glorify the War on Terror.


The United States has a long-standing general stance against torture under the Bill of Rights, 18 U.S.C. sec. 2340; as well as being a signatory against torture under international agreements. However, the Military Commissions Act of 2006 significantly rewrote the intended aim under the language of the Act. This effectively gave privilege to policy makers and other agents of the Executive branch carte blanche to use torture techniques without fear of prosecution. Since then, the War on Terror has only intensified and information regarding the legality of the techniques continues to be hotly debated.

Use of Contractors

The use of contractors may be coincidental, but most likely might not. Since Mitchell and Jessen are not officially recognized as employees of the CIA, it cannot be flatly said that the United States has condoned the use of torture on detainees -- however 'torture' is defined. A DOJ investigation concluded three years ago that the evidence was lacking to support a criminal prosecution against the CIA. No doubt 'torture''s rather amorphous definition was an advantage here.

Indeed, it cannot be denied that the use of contractors lends the CIA additional "plausible deniability." But this somewhat conflicts with Mitchell's comments in which he stated that his techniques were greenlit by the CIA and that were indeed legal, even if they did "walk right up to the edge of the law."

Heads Will Roll

Former CIA official in charge of the Interrogation Program at the CIA, Jose Rodriguez described the 2014 Senate Report as being a "dark day" for the CIA. He has stated his belief that the CIA was made to be the fall boy by Capitol Hill politicians jockeying to dodge blame for the report's findings.

Either way, the lawsuit is at least an annoyance to the Federal Government. Mitchell has denied the report's findings. As an official document, the lawsuit is based heavily on the Senate report. But if the integrity of the report is being questioned, this again raises the strong suggestion that the CIA is either lying to another branch of the government, or incompetent at providing the necessary information, or that some other branch has dropped the ball. For the ACLU, it appears to be only a win.

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