Last week, in response to an ACLU lawsuit, the CIA released a batch of documents “Related to the Former Detention and Interrogation Program,” including the infamous torture program the agency instituted after 9/11.
Many of the revelations in the cache were previously disclosed in the Senate intelligence committee’s report on CIA interrogation and detention, released in 2014, which was based on internal CIA documents and communications. But these new documents provide the public with many of the raw, gruesome materials the Senate report drew from: internal memos, guidelines, after-action reports, and cables between operators in the field and CIA headquarters.
Among the more odious discoveries in the documents: CIA investigators repeatedly claimed that detainee Gul Rahman was partially responsible for his own death because he refused to eat dinner the night he froze to death, the CIA knew that German citizen Khaled al-Masri was captured by accident but continued to hold him for months (partially because CIA officers “knew he was ‘bad’”), the Office of Medical Services produced guidelines on how medical officers could aid interrogations (including use of a “rectal tube” to rehydrate detainees), and the CIA scrambled for what to do with the detainees it had tortured while floating the idea of lifelong incommunicado imprisonment.
The documents show then-President George W. Bush voicing his concern “about the image of a detainee, chained to the ceiling, clothed in a diaper, and forced to go to the bathroom on themselves.” The image, not the practice.
We see unprepared CIA analysts insisting on continuing to torture because they assumed detainees “should” know more than they were telling interrogators.
The contract psychologists who designed the torture program evaluate whether detainees require the “enhanced techniques” while simultaneously getting paid more each time they applied those techniques.
Elsewhere we see the CIA deciding its detainees were not prisoners of war because it wanted to interrogate them without the bad “optics” of violating the Geneva Conventions. Records of detention and interrogation either aren’t kept, are destroyed, or mysteriously vanish when investigations take place.
The documents also expose as lies the various claims the CIA has made over the years: that the interrogation program was well-regulated and carefully overseen and evaluated; that no one within the CIA objected to the program (many, including lawyers, medical personnel, the CIA Inspector General, and even the Chief of Interrogations objected repeatedly); that the CIA never mislead Congress, the White House, or the public about the program; that all detainees were given the chance to talk before being subjected to torture and abuse; that all interrogators were trained and supervised; and that the CIA didn’t have time to put safeguards in place.
There’s plenty more. A few consistent threads include the CIA desperately trying to make sure that none of these details reached the American public, scrambling to legally authorize the patently illegal acts of torture and abuse they intended to commit, and a widespread lack of accountability within the agency. Reading the documents, one can’t help but see that the CIA’s interrogation and detention program was an out-of-control mess of inexperience and brutality.
The near-absolute lack of accountability for the CIA’s torture and abuse is being challenged in a court case in which several victims of CIA torture are suing James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, the psychologist-architects of the “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” program, and who used those techniques on multiple detainees as CIA contractors. Already the veil is dropping: in Mitchell and Jessen’s first court filing they admit to their involvement with the torture program.
The same week that the CIA released this new batch of documents, the agency’s director John Brennan told Congress that as long as he is director, the agency will not engage in enhanced interrogation techniques—such as waterboarding—ever, and that he doesn’t believe such techniques are necessary. Brennan also promised to provide Congress with more details about internal accountability for abuses during the torture program, though these will likely be for violations under the already permissive Bush Administration rules for the program.
These promises are likely the direct result of the Senate investigation and subsequent lawsuits. That’s why more transparency is a necessity. But the work is far from over, what with the CIA Inspector General’s office “accidentally” destroying its copy of the Senate report, and government efforts to prevent preserving the report as a federal record (essentially seeking that the full report be hidden from the public forever).
These new documents are the first step, but must be followed by more disclosures and accountability, not more denials and silence.