This past November, two days after the American presidential election, Suleiman Abdullah Salim presented himself at the US embassy in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, for a visa interview. He brought with him a bundle of supporting papers, many of them legal documents captioned Salim v. Mitchell—he’s the Salim—and one of them ordering him to appear in the United States before January 17, 2017, to give a deposition.
The defendants who were summoning him to be deposed are James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, the two contract psychologists who designed and helped execute the CIA’s “black site” torture program. Fourteen years ago Salim, who grew up on the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar, was working as a driver in Mogadishu, Somalia, when he was stopped by Somali gunmen and beaten so badly he was hospitalized. From the hospital he was taken to the airport and rendered to Kenya, where he was detained and interrogated for a week, and then he was dragged through another series of rendition flights that eventually delivered him to the CIA’s secret “Cobalt” prison near Kabul, Afghanistan. There, over the course of two months in the spring of 2003, Salim was subjected to a barrage of the techniques that Mitchell and Jessen claimed would leave anyone helpless to resist interrogation.
The CIA held Salim another 14 months after that “enhanced interrogation,” and then turned him over to the US military, which imprisoned him at Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Base for four more years. Finally, on August 17, 2008, a representative from the International Committee of the Red Cross handed Salim a memorandum from the Defense Department stating that he “has been determined to pose no threat to the United States Armed Forces or its interests,” and he was returned to Tanzania. That memo, too, was in the packet of documents he was prepared to show to the visa officer.
In 2014, the Senate Intelligence Committee confirmed that Salim was one of 39 men who had been subjected to Mitchell and Jessen’s Enhanced Interrogation Techniques as part of the CIA’s clandestine Detention and Interrogation program. For Salim, who had worked for years with local and international human-rights attorneys to document his ordeal, the release of the Executive Summary of the committee’s still-secret 6,700-page report both validated his account and opened an avenue to seek restitution in American courts. While senior CIA officials and agency employees are generally shielded from lawsuits, Mitchell and Jessen were independent contractors. The Senate report showed how central they had been in developing and implementing the CIA’s torture program, and how well they had been compensated for their efforts. Salim v. Mitchell, which the ACLU filed in October 2015 on behalf of Salim and two other casualties of the black-site torture program, seeks damages from the contract psychologists for aiding and abetting torture, non-consensual human experimentation, and war crimes.