Correction: In the printed version of this article, we mistakenly said that “the group of soldiers who ‘went rogue’ were executed.” It should have said: “The incidents were presented as not sanctioned by government policy and executed by a group of soldiers who went rogue.” The sentence has been fixed in this version.
By IONA BATCHELDER
On December 9, 2014, the United States Senate released a 525-page summary of a 6000-page report on the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)’s use of torture following the 9/11 attacks. The report took 5 years and $40 million to complete, and many government officials, including three former CIA directors George Tenet, Porter Goss and Michael V. Hayden, spoke out against releasing the report, justifying their “enhanced interrogation techniques” and condemning the report as a partisan attack on the former administration. Other officials reacted strongly to the content of the report as well; according to The Wall Street Journal, former Vice President Dick Cheney said the report is “a bunch of hooey,” saying that the torture techniques used were “absolutely, totally justified.”
I have read the entire 525-page report, and I can definitely affirm that it is not a bunch of hooey. I can also affirm that none of the CIA’s harsh, inhumane torture techniques were even partially justified. The extensive report that was released (which, again, is only 8.75% of the actual report in length) contains many troubling allegations and plenty of evidence to back them up.
For the sake of this article, the “enhanced interrogation techniques” will be referred to as torture techniques because that is just what they were. The CIA tortured people who, in some cases, were completely innocent. But more on that later.
An Absolute and Total Hypocrisy
America’s actual human rights record is shoddy at best. Its history is filled with many perfect examples of hypocrisy; condemning dictators of countries and backing dictatorial regimes of other countries in almost the same breath. For example, the first legally elected Prime Minister of Congo, Patrice Lumumba, was killed with the full support of America because he had a plan to take control of Congolese resources that America wanted and needed.
America has committed many awful and hypocritical actions throughout history, but all paled in comparison to the torture techniques it employed after the 9/11 attacks. Many people say that the report that was released adds nothing new to the public’s knowledge of our use of torture.
Everyone knew that America waterboarded prisoners, and after Amnesty International, the Associated Press, and CBS 60 Minutes II published graphic reports and pictures in late 2003 about the horrific abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, everyone knew about that. US Army soldiers physically and sexually abused, tortured, raped and murdered prisoners at Iraqi prison Abu Ghraib and even took pictures of the acts in question. Though this was shocking and prompted many people and publications to call for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation, the incidents were presented as “not sanctioned by government policy and executed by a group of soldiers who went rogue.”
The torture report that was published a month ago reveals many disgusting methods of tortures American officials exacted on 119 known detainees, hideous methods similar to the ones carried out by the rogue soldiers in the Abu Ghraib incident. However, the stark difference is that these torture methods were completely sanctioned by the government. As this report revealed, many government officials knew about this torture and still refused to call it torture. As CIA officers waterboarded detainees, “the State Department’s 2003-2000 Human Rights Reports on Sri Lanka classified ‘near-drowning’ as among ‘methods of torture.’ In the reports by Human Rights Watch on Tunisia from 1996 to 2004, ‘submersion of the head in water’ [was] classified as ‘torture’.”
Unequivocally Not “Enhanced Interrogation,” Unquestionably Torture
For years, members of the second Bush administration and former President George W. Bush insisted and insisted that there was a clear difference between enhanced interrogation, which is what they did, and torture.
Millions of people had already been convinced that America tortured people after the release of the so-called Torture Memos by President Obama on January 22, 2009, just after he took office. These memos revealed that certain interrogation techniques had been authorized as “legally permissible” such as prolonged sleep deprivation and waterboarding. However, the release of this report not only supported previously proven claims, it also revealed other methods of torture America had used, and many details about the development of the torture methods employed.
One of the torture methods that was unearthed in the report was that of “rectal hydration.” Page 4 of the 19-page summary that precludes the report states that “at least five CIA detainees were subjected to ‘rectal rehydration’ or rectal feeding without documented medical necessity.” Some detainees went on hunger strikes, and officers responded by shoving food up their butts. If this is not torture, then I do not know what is.
The summary of treatments detainees received continues on the same page: “The CIA placed detainees in ice water ‘baths.’ The CIA led several detainees to believe they would never be allowed to leave CIA custody alive, suggesting to one detainee that he would only leave in a coffin-shaped box. One interrogator told another detainee that he would never go to court, because ‘we can never let the world know what I have done to you.’ CIA officers also threatened at least three detainees with harm to their families—to include threats to harm the children of a detainee, threats to sexually abuse the mother of a detainee and a threat to ‘cut [a detainee’s] mother’s throat.’”
More description of the actions the CIA took continues on page 12 of the summary: “Prior to mid-2004, the CIA routinely subjected detainees to nudity and dietary manipulation. The CIA also used abdominal slaps and cold water dousing on several detainees during that period. None of these techniques had been approved by the Department of Justice.” That last sentence is, surprisingly, perhaps the most disturbing in the excerpt. The Department of Justice, which had approved many techniques that were clearly torture (though they did not call it that), did not approve these techniques which were “routinely subjected” to detainees.
The summary continues on by outlining the main findings of the report. Possibly the most shocking one appears on page 12: “Of the 119 known detainees, at least 26 were wrongfully held and did not meet the detention standard in the September 2001 Memorandum of Notification (MON). These included an ‘intellectually challenged’ man whose CIA detention was used solely as leverage to get a family member to provide information…” So, not only did America use many inhumane techniques to torture people, they also used these techniques on at least 26 people who did not meet America’s own standard for detention. This of course points to shoddy management, which is inferred many times throughout the report.
Delving into the report now, on page 21 of the report (without the summary and introductory letter), the origins of America’s torture program are revealed. The program was developed by two “psychologists with the U.S. Air Force Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) school, which exposes select U.S. military personnel to, among other things, coercive interrogation techniques that they might be subjected to if taken prisoner by countries that did not adhere to Geneva protections.” That sentence is not particularly telling on its own, but the next one certainly is: “Neither psychologist had experience as an interrogator, nor did either have specialized knowledge of al-Qaida, a background in terrorism, or any relevant regional, cultural, or linguistic expertise.”
The CIA paid these two men nearly $81 million for their services. And neither of these two men had any experience as an interrogator OR specialized knowledge of the detainees they would be interrogating. Reading this part of the report, I had to stop to take it all in. Our government paid two inexperienced men a ton of money and trusted them to develop torture techniques they used for years — and neither of them had any actual experience or proof that they really knew anything.
Just to give a concrete example of how people were tortured, I turn to Abu Zubaydah, a current detainee of Guantanamo Bay who has been held since March 2002. Four and a half of his years in captivity were spent in a secret CIA prison. Zubaydah became notorious for his treatment under the CIA; he was waterboarded 83 times and subjected to scores of torture techniques. On page 52, one of those techniques is detailed: “…CIA Headquarters formally proposed that Abu Zubaydah be kept in an all-white room that was lit 24 hours a day, that Abu Zubaydah not be provided any amenities, that his sleep be disrupted, that loud noise be constantly fed into his cell, and that only a small number of people interact with him.”
The report reveals shock after shock of abuse and torture. Since it is 525 pages, it is impossible for me to even glance over all the detainees mentioned. One last incident I will talk about is Gul Rahman, a detainee who died while in CIA custody. Page 80 of the report mentions that he “likely died from hypothermia-in part from having been forced to sit on the bare concrete floor without pants.” He was also held in a stress position, partially naked against this bare concrete floor, for hours.
All This Torture…For What?
Members of the second Bush administration and the former President Bush have insisted for years that by using “enhanced interrogation” techniques, lives were saved and terrorist plots diverted. When this report was released, the same talking points were heard all over America. In an editorial published by The Wall Street Journal and mentioned previously in this article, three former CIA directors maintained that “there is no doubt that information provided by the totality of detainees in CIA custody […] was essential to bringing bin Laden to justice.”
However, the release of this report made it clear that no essential information had been gleaned from detainees by the CIA’s harsh tactics. Abu Zubaydah did give information, but it was under an earlier interrogation conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in his hospital, an interrogation in which all legal procedures were used. Interestingly (or perhaps not interestingly, as by now it has been proven that the CIA acted extremely unorthodoxly), the CIA falsely took credit for this information.
Out of the information the CIA did receive from their own torture of Abu Zubaydah, the report says this on page 51: “Subsequent representations on the success of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program consistently describe Abu Zubaydah’s identification of KSM’s [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s] role in the September 1, 2001, attacks, as well as his identification of KSM’s alias (“Mukhtar”), as being ‘important’ and ‘vital’ information. A review of CIA records found that this information was corroborative of information already in CIA databases.”
This happened over and over again, as the CIA claimed that it had gotten new information from its torture, when the majority of that information was either nonessential or already known by the agency.
On December 21, the New York Times editorial board published an article called “Prosecute Torturers and Their Bosses.” The article mentions that the ACLU and Human Rights Watch gave Attorney General Eric Holder a letter on December 29 “calling for appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate what appears increasingly to be ‘a vast criminal conspiracy, under color of law, to commit torture and other serious crimes.’” The article condones this and calls for the investigation of “former Vice President Dick Cheney; Mr. Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington; the former C.I.A. director George Tenet; and John Yoo and Jay Bybee, the Office of Legal Counsel lawyers who drafted what became known as the torture memos.”
Although many have said that it is doubtful that anyone will be prosecuted due to their role in the CIA’s torture program, I fully hope that something will come of this report besides the public’s shock and dismay.
Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” America helped write the declaration, and now we have broken it. This dark chapter of our history should never be forgotten.