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News / Northwest

Guantanamo Bay detainee sues former Spokane psychologists Mitchell and Jessen in new torture case

By Emma Epperly, The Spokesman-Review
Published: September 19, 2023, 7:24am

SPOKANE — A man tortured two decades ago by the CIA for his suspected role as a terrorist has sued two former Spokane psychologists, who made millions of dollars from the government for developing the techniques used during the brutal interrogations.

Zayn Al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, also known as Abu Zubaydah, says he underwent extreme torture, including prolonged extreme solitary confinement, waterboarding, mock executions and lack of medical attention that cost him his left eye.

Zubaydah is suing psychologists and former CIA contractors Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell, who he says tortured him.

A New York law firm is filing the suit for Zubaydah with the help of local attorney Jeffry Finer. Finer declined to comment about the pending case filed in federal court in Spokane on Monday.

Zubaydah remains detained at Guantanamo Bay. He has never been charged with a crime.

The allegations of torture are not new. Jessen and Mitchell settled a previous torture civil suit in 2017 brought by three men who were tortured after Zubaydah.

Zubaydah’s torture was discussed extensively in the 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture.

In the 2017 lawsuit, the three men alleged that the torture techniques used against them were pioneered when Jessen and Mitchell interrogated Zubaydah.

The terms of that settlement were not disclosed by the American Civil Liberties Union. It was the first time the CIA or its private contractors had been held accountable for torturing suspects in the war on terror, ACLU attorneys said at the time.

Zubaydah, believed to be a top Al Qaeda official, was captured on March 28, 2002.

He was first interrogated by FBI agents and provided “virtually all actionable, reliable information he possessed,” the complaint says.

Mitchell and Jessen took over the interrogations in April 2002. Their initial interrogation failed to turn up new information, and so they claimed Zubaydah was withholding information, according to the suit.

The psychologists quickly escalated their tactics but still did not obtain new information, the lawsuit alleges.

Jessen and Mitchell weren’t deterred, the suit alleges, because they weren’t really hoping to learn anything else, but instead were using Zubaydah as a guinea pig for their new approach to interrogation.

Ultimately, the psychologists earned more than $80 million from their contracts with the CIA and Department of Defense, the lawsuit claims.

The pair created the program by reverse engineering their experience in resisting interrogation techniques in the Air Force’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training program, based at Fairchild Air Force Base.

Zubaydah, 52, was born in Saudi Arabia and spent his early years traveling throughout the Middle East before settling in India, according to the complaint. He studied computer science before going to Afghanistan and fighting there following the Soviet withdrawal.

From 1993 to 2000, he was a fundraiser and recruiter for Khalden Training Camp, which the complaint says was independent and not controlled by any one terrorist group. He was captured in Pakistan in 2002.

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During the initial FBI interview, he identified Khalid Sheik Mohammad as the primary planner of the Sept. 11 attacks. Mohammad remains in Guantanamo Bay and is one of five men who face the death penalty for their alleged roles in planning 9/11, according to the New York Times.

After the torture by Mitchell and Jessen, including being waterboarded at least 83 times, he was transferred through different clandestine facilities until he arrived at Guantanamo Bay in 2006.

Zubaydah continues to struggle with physical and psychological injuries from the torture he endured, the lawsuit alleges.

The report on CIA torture acknowledges the torture of Zubaydah. It also concludes that CIA officers thought he “should remain incommunicado for the remainder of his life.”

Zubaydah’s lawsuit asks for a jury trial along with various types of damages.