The Torture Program: Even Bigger Failure than We Thought

By Sharon Kelly Mcbride

Our team at Human Rights First is hard at work pouring over the just-released groundbreaking report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. What we’ve learned so far is darker and more disturbing than we expected, despite being prepared for the worst.

Here’s a run-through of some of the key findings we’ve identified.

The CIA’s program was far more brutal than previously known.

The CIA used forced “rectal feeding” on detainees, which led to chronic hemorrhoids, an anal fissure, and symptomatic rectal prolapse. If you’re disgusted by that, you should be.

Almost a quarter of tortured detainees were wrongly held—at least 26 out of 119. Most were still detained for months after the CIA determined that they should be released. The CIA wrongfully detained a person with an intellectual disability, solely for the purpose of pressuring a family member. One man was subjected to 66 hours of standing sleep deprivation and ice water baths before the CIA realized it had the wrong man.

CIA detainees at one detention facility, described as a “dungeon,” were kept in complete darkness and constantly shackled in isolated cells with loud noise or music and only a bucket to use for human waste. At times, detainees there were walked around naked and shackled with their hands above their head. At other times, naked detainees were hooded and dragged up and down corridors while being slapped and punched.

Many detainees came to the brink of death. Indeed, some died. The interrogations were so brutal that many of the interrogators themselves were brought to tears and requested to either stop using the “enhanced” techniques or be transferred.

The CIA’s torture program was not effective.

Torture proponents point to some prominent cases and claim that breakthrough intelligence was produced using “enhanced” measures. The executive summary of the Senate report walks through twenty cases, examines these claims, and shows that by the CIA’s own records the intelligence gains were greatly exaggerated if not utterly false.

One example: Jose Rodriguez, former head of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service program, claimed that “enhanced” methods led to the identification of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed (KSM). In reality, it was intelligence gathered by the FBI through humane means that identified KSM.

Furthermore, KSM never named the courier that led to Osama bin Laden’s capture, unlike the narrative put forth by CIA officials and the movie Zero Dark Thirty.

Instead of thwarting terrorist plots, information shared by tortured detainees sent the CIA on wild goose chases. Only after the agency spent extensive time and resources investigating these false leads would detainees admit that they had made scenarios up.

The CIA systematically provided false information about the torture program.

The CIA claimed to have only detained and interrogated 98 prisoners—in reality there were 119. In late 2008, according to one internal email, a CIA official expressed concern about the discrepancy. Michael Hayden, then the agency’s director, replied that the official should “keep the number at 98” and not count any additional detainees.

The report shows that CIA interrogators told their leadership that the “enhanced measures” were not producing good information, but CIA higher ups did not relay that information to Congress in subsequent briefings. The Secretary of State was kept in the dark about “black sites” set up in foreign countries. The CIA even removed information from a Presidential Daily Briefing that detainees were not revealing any useful information.

At the end of the day, the torture report told us exactly what we though it would—but also much more than we feared. We hope this report will put the final nail in the coffin to the ideas that the United States didn’t torture, or that even if it did, torture was justified because it “worked.” Now Americans finally know what our government did in our names. It’s important that it never happen again.


Published on December 9, 2014


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