SPOKANE, Wash. – Disputes over access to top secret information have led a federal judge in Washington state to push back the civil trial of two psychologists who developed harsh interrogation methods in the government's war on terror.
U.S. District Court Judge Justin Quackenbush set a Sept. 5 trial date for psychologists Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell.
Attorneys for the psychologists, whose company was based in Spokane, argued in documents filed Wednesday that the Trump administration's decision to keep some documents secret hinders their defense.
"Defendants merely seek information evidencing how the CIA exercised command and control" over the psychologists, defense attorney Brian Paszamant wrote in court documents. "The government failed to meet its burden to demonstrate that information was properly withheld under the National Security Act."
Specifically, the defendants want the judge to let them interview CIA officials James Cotsana and Gina Haspel, saying they would dispel the notion that Mitchell and Jessen designed interrogation techniques that included torture and waterboarding, Paszamant wrote.
They "acted specifically at the government's direction and had no involvement in the creation and implementation of any CIA program to capture, render, detail and/or interrogate any of the plaintiffs," the documents said.
The psychologists have said in court documents that they used harsh tactics, but denied allegations of torture and war crimes.
Mitchell and Jessen ran a company that received $81 million from the CIA to develop methods to extract information that included waterboarding and sleep deprivation. President Barack Obama terminated their contract in 2009.
Earlier this month, lawyers for the federal government moved to prevent certain CIA officers from testifying in the lawsuit and to prevent the release of certain documents in the case, contending that would harm national security.
The American Civil Liberties Union sued the psychologists in 2015 on behalf of three men who contend they were tortured using techniques designed by the defendants.
Plaintiffs Suleiman Abdullah Salim, Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud and the estate of Gul Rahman seek unspecified damages.
The Justice Department became involved in the case to represent the government's interests in keeping classified information secret.
Rahman, an Afghan, was taken from his home in Pakistan in 2002 to a secret CIA prison in Afghanistan. He died of hypothermia after being shackled to a floor.
The lawsuit says Salim and Ben Soud underwent waterboarding, daily beatings and sleep deprivation while inside CIA "black sites." They were later released after officials determined they posed no threat.
A U.S. Senate investigation in 2014 found that Mitchell and Jessen's techniques produced no useful intelligence in the war on terror.