Two former high-ranking CIA officials will be compelled to answer questions under oath about the agency’s brutal interrogations of terrorism suspects, a federal judge ruled Tuesday as part of a lawsuit brought against former CIA contractors by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The ruling would require Jose Rodriguez, who was the head of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, and John Rizzo, the agency’s former acting general counsel, to submit to depositions about a program that used methods widely condemned as torture.
“This ruling is a critical step towards accountability, and it charts a way forward for torture victims to get their day in court,” ACLU attorney Dror Ladin said in a statement released by the organization after the ruling in federal court in Spokane, Wash.
The ACLU is representing three former CIA detainees in a suit against agency contract psychologists, James E. Mitchell and John B. “Bruce” Jessen, who were among the main architects of a program that subjected al-Qaeda suspects to waterboarding, sleep deprivation and other coercive measures.
The abuses of the interrogation program, which was dismantled by President Obama in 2009, have been widely documented over the past decade, including in an exhaustive investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The case in Spokane, however, has chipped away at areas of remaining secrecy. The initial CIA contracts with Mitchell and Jessen, for example, were made public in July, tracing the evolution of the interrogation program from a $1,000-a-day consulting arrangement to an $81 million enterprise.
The depositions of Rodriguez and Rizzo were requested by Mitchell and Jessen as part of their efforts to assemble testimony and evidence in their defense, according to the ACLU release. Rodriguez declined to comment, and efforts to reach an attorney for Mitchell and Jessen were unsuccessful.
Reached by phone on Wednesday, Rizzo said, “Whatever questions are asked, I will answer.”
The ACLU depicted the ruling as extraordinary, noting in its release that a Justice Department official involved in the case said during a recent hearing that it was “unprecedented” for top spies to be deposed on “operational information” about a highly classified program.
“I don’t think that’s ever happened in the history of this country,” Justice Department attorney Andrew Warden said, according to the ACLU release.
The trial is scheduled for June 2017.