What are the CIA 'Torture' Techniques That Two Psychologists are Going to Trial for?

US psychologist James Mitchell (L) speaks with an interviewer at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington,DC on December 6, 2106. Getty Images

A New York judge refused to throw out a case against two psychologists who devised interrogation techniques, which critics claim constitute torture.

Three plaintiffs have alleged they were detained and tortured in secret CIA prisons in the wake of 9/11, using techniques devised by psychologists James Mitchell and John Bruce Jessen.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs claim the former CIA contractors "aided and abetted the torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment" suffered by their clients, reported the New York Times.

So what are the techniques Mitchell and Jessen helped devise?

The 13 enhanced interrogation techniques used by the CIA were listed in a 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee report, which condemned the torture of terror suspects carried out as part of the CIA's detention and interrogation program post 9/11.

The following techniques are used:

  • Abdominal slap – the interrogator stands about a foot from the detainee's stomach, and slaps the detainee with the back of his hand, with the technique designed to to cause the detainee to feel fear and despair, to punish certain behavior and humiliate or insult the detainee.
  • Attention grasp - The interrogator grabs the detainee by the collar, with two hands, and pulls the detainee closer in.
  • Cramped confinement - The interrogator would put the detainee in a box big enough to stand in, for up to 18 hours, or one only big enough to curl up in for up to two hours. The interrogator had the option to put harmless insects in the box in the interrogation of one suspect, who hated bugs, according to former CIA lawyer John Rizzo.
  • Dietary manipulation – involved moving a detainee from the use of solid foods to liquids.
  • The facial hold – the interrogator holds the detainee's face so he can't move, and places a hand on either side of the detainee's face, keeping fingertips from their eyes.
  • The facial slap, insult slap – the interrogator slaps the detainee in the face with fingers outstretched between the chin and earlobe, in a technique designed to startle the detainee and disabuse them of the notion they would not be struck.
  • Nudity – the detainee is made to stand for hours whilst nude, sometimes in a stress position.
  • Stress positions – the detainee is made to remain in uncomfortable positions for prolonged periods, to stimulate discomfort from extended muscle use.
  • Sleep deprivation – detainees were kept awake for up to 180 hours, often in stress positions. The 2014 Senate report described detainees suffering disturbing hallucinations as a result of being subjected to the technique.
  • Wall standing – the detainee is made to stand about four feet away from a wall and stretch out his arms so his fingers are touching it. The detainee is made to hold the position indefinitely.
  • Walling – interrogators slam the detainee against a wall.
  • Waterboarding – in perhaps the most infamous of the techniques, the detainee is strapped to a board or bench and water poured over their face to stimulate drowning. 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 35 times in less than 24 hours as part of his interrogation, after his detention in 2002. Mitchell personally took part in waterboarding of suspects.
  • Water dousing - Naked detainees were held down on a tarp on the floor, according to the Senate report. The tarp would be pulled up around them to make a bathtub. Cold or refrigerated water would be poured on them. Sometimes cold water was thrown on detainees in stress positions.

Do they constitute torture?

Lawyers for two of the plaintiffs argue their clients suffered PTSD as a result of the use of the techniques, which they argue constitute torture. One of the plaintiffs died whilst in custody in Afghanistan in 2002, probably of hypothermia, and the lawsuit is being brought by his family.

Plaintiff Mohamed Ben Soud, a Libyan who was detained by the CIA in Afghanistan was locked in small boxes, slammed against a wall and doused with buckets of ice water while naked and shackled. Suleiman Salim, a Tanzanian captured in 2003 and also held by the CIA in Afghanistan, was beaten, isolated in a dark cell for months, doused with water and deprived of sleep. Gul Rahman died in CIA custody in Afghanistan in 2002.

Mitchell and Jessen have argued in court depositions that the techniques they devised cause no long-term damage to prisoners, and are mostly painless. However they have claimed they wished to stop or limit the use of waterboarding, but were placed under pressure by the CIA.

The pair received up to $1,800 a day each as contractors, then set up a company that was paid $81 million to carry out and expand the interrogation program over several years. Their lawyers claim they should not face punishment, as it was the CIA who decided who would be interrogated using the methods.

Are they still used?

Most of these techniques are now banned by the United States.

U.S. President Donald Trump is a proponent of torture, but has held back from authorizing it in face of opposition from his national security team.