The CIA Torture Report and the UK’s Hooded Men

This is a crosspost from The Huffington Post.

That the CIA thought Wembley is an “area of South London” (p.271) wasn’t the most shocking revelation in the report released last week by the U.S. Senate intelligence committee, but it added to the general sense of incompetence by the intelligence agency.

What mattered more was that the CIA interrogation program was run by a “group of officers [that] included individuals who, among other issues, had engaged in inappropriate detainee interrogations, had workplace anger management issues, and had reportedly admitted to sexual assaults.” The report says that “in nearly all cases, the derogatory information was known to the CIA prior to the assignment of the CIA officers to the Detention and Interrogation Program” (p.470).

There were times when the CIA apparently didn’t really know how many detainees it had in custody (p.51) and allowed the interrogations methods to be directed by two contractors. The pair were psychologists, neither of whom, says the report, “had experience as an interrogator, nor did either have specialized knowledge of al-Qa’ida, a background in terrorism, or any relevant regional, cultural or linguistic experience” (p.21).  Putting the program in the hands of this Dumb and Dumber team proved predictably disastrous.

The guy (CIA Officer 1) put in charge of the Detention Centre codenamed COBALT “was a junior officer on his first overseas assignment with no previous experience or training in handling prisoners or conducting interrogations” (p.50). While he managed the site detainee Gul Rahman died from suspected hypothermia while shackled to the wall, partially naked. Four months after Rahman’s death it was recommended that CIA Officer 1 “receive a ‘cash award’ of $2500 for his consistently superior work” (p.55).

The interrogations resulted in generally useless information where detainees unsurprisingly made stuff up to try to end the torture, which in turn lead to a waste of security resources as U.S. agents followed up spurious leads including, for example, that African-American Muslim converts were being recruited for terrorism in Montana (p.92).

The CIA told itself and the American public a series of stories over the years about how what it was doing was necessary, justified and legal. In fact, it told itself what it was doing was so effective some detainees were immediately tortured without first being given the chance to cooperate without it. “Contrary to CIA representations made later to the [Intelligence] Committee that detainees were always offered the opportunity to co-operate before being subjected to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques, the plan stated that bin al-Shibh would be shackled nude with his arms overhead in a cold room prior to any discussion with interrogators or any assessment of his level of cooperation” (p.77).

The CIA told itself what is was doing stopped short of torture. That was partly based on a 1978 European Court of Human Rights judgment on what constituted torture and what was “only” cruel, inhumane of degrading treatments. A 2002 memo from Bush administration lawyers cited the ruling; “careful attention to this case is worthwhile,” said a memo to the president’s counsel from the assistant attorney general.

The 1978 ruling concerned interrogation methods used by the British security forces in Northern Ireland in 1971 against a group of 14 men detained without trial who became known as “the hooded men” and were subjected to the sorts of sensory deprivation, stress positions, white noise, and food deprivation techniques later used by the CIA. The European Court of Human Rights ruled that what happened to the men didn’t amount to torture.

But coincidentally, the week before the release of the Senate report on the CIA, the Irish government asked the court to look at the landmark case again in light of new evidence unearthed by the Pat Finucane Centre in Northern Ireland, suggesting that the British government withheld information in the original hearings. “On the basis of the new material uncovered, it will be contended that the ill-treatment suffered by the Hooded Men should be recognized as torture,” said Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan.

There are calls in Ireland and the UK for Westminster to hold a full inquiry into what happened. In releasing the report on CIA torture, parts of the U.S. government have begun to admit and address the past and to face their demons. The UK government should do the same.



  • Brian Dooley

Published on December 16, 2014


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