The long-secret “torture report” from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is out. Sort of. The full report, still classified, is 6700 pages of “comprehensive and excruciating detail.” What we got on December 9 was a mere 525 pages of Findings and Conclusions and Executive Summary. Even with lots of names and details neatly blacked out, this gut-twisting account shines an unforgiving light on evil done in our name.
Senator Dianne Feinstein’s fight for full investigation and now for release of the report makes her a hero in the causes of human rights and democracy. In the foreword to the report, she writes:
“[It] is my personal conclusion that, under any common meaning of the term, CIA detainees were tortured. I also believe that the conditions of confinement and the use of authorized and unauthorized interrogation and conditioning techniques were cruel, inhuman, and degrading. I believe the evidence of this is overwhelming and incontrovertible.”
Four questions seem key in understanding the report:
- What was the CIA torture program?
- Did torture work to get information?
- What do the torture and the cover-up reveal about the CIA?
- What does the report reveal about the United States?
Get the full text of the report here: www.intelligence.senate.gov/study2014/sscistudy1.pdf
What was the CIA torture program?
The torture conducted by the CIA from 2001 to 2009 took place at several sites, and involved 119 detainees. The extent and nature of the torture was much worse than previously known. Some examples:
- Detainees subjected to “rectal rehydration” or feeding, including stuffing a prisoner’s rectum with hummus;
- Placing detainees in ice water “baths;”
- Threatening harm to children of detainees; threatening the rape or murder of detainees’ mothers;
- Keeping detainees naked and shackled with their arms over their heads for extended periods of time;
- Punching, slapping and waterboarding detainees.
One detainee died from suspected hypothermia, after being chained to a concrete floor, nude from the waist down.
Frequently, torture preceded questioning. The policy seemed to be to torture prisoners first, to create fear, and then to question them.
Did torture work to get information?
No. It did not. The committee investigated each instance in which the CIA claimed that it got useful information through torture. Not a single instance proved to be true. The CIA outright lied. Torture produced no useful information at all. As Senator Feinstein wrote in the introduction:
“As the Study describes, prior to the attacks of September 2001, the CIA itself determined from its own experience with coercive interrogations, that such techniques “do not produce intelligence,” “will probably result in false answers,” and had historically proven to be ineffective. Yet these conclusions were ignored.”
What does the torture and the cover-up reveal about the CIA?
As an organization, the CIA is untrustworthy and corrupt. And that’s the kindest thing you can say. The CIA denied specific requests for information from the FBI, blocked the State Department from getting information “crucial to foreign policy decision-making and diplomatic activities,” and provided inaccurate information to executive branch
In addition, the CIA looks downright incompetent.
They tortured two people who were actually CIA sources. After the two had spent 24 hours “shackled in the standing sleep deprivation position,” CIA headquarters confirmed that they were informants wo had been trying to contact the CIA to give information.
The CIA hired two psychologists to set up the interrogation/torture program. According to the report,
“Neither psychologist had any experience as an interrogator, nor did either have specialized knowledge of al-Qa’ida, a background in counterterrorism, or any relevant cultural or linguistic expertise.”
They also employed interrogators who had records of abuse, including sexual abuse.
The committee found that,
“there are no indications in CIA records that the CIA conducted significant research to identify effective interrogation practices, such as conferring with experienced U.S. military or law enforcement interrogators, or with the intelligence, military, or law enforcement services of other countries with experience in counterterrorism and the interrogation of terrorist suspects.”
This incompetence and deceit is the subject of several of the committee’s findings, including:
#16: The CIA failed to adequately evaluate the effectiveness of its enhanced interrogation techniques.
#17: The CIA rarely reprimanded or held personnel accountable for serious and significant violations, inappropriate activities, and systemic and individual management failures.
#18: The CIA marginalized and ignored numerous internal critiques, criticisms, and objections concerning the operation and management of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program.
What does it say about the United States?
We have betrayed and abandoned the principles of justice and respect for human rights, which we claim to respect and honor as the foundations of the nation. Senator Dianne Feinstein:
“[P]ressure, fear, and expectation of further terrorist plots do not justify, temper, or excuse improper actions taken by individuals or organizations in the name of national security. The major lesson of this report is that regardless of the pressures and the need to act, the Intelligence Community’s actions must always reflect who we are as a nation, and adhere to our laws and standards. It is precisely at these times of national crisis that our government must be guided by the lessons of our history and subject decisions to internal and external review.”
What questions remain?
We may never know all of the CIA’s actions, because the agency kept incomplete records and destroyed some of its records before the investigation.
Given the CIA’s dishonesty and outright lies, as revealed in the committee’s investigation, can we believe that torture has ended? Can we believe that the so-called “black sites” have been closed?
Going forward, what kind of safeguards can be put in place to ensure that the rule of law applies to the CIA and other clandestine government agencies?
By guest blogger Mary Turck, a freelance writer and editor, and an adjunct faculty member at Macalester College and Metropolitan State University, teaching occasional journalism and writing courses. She edited the TC Daily Planet, an online daily news publication, from January 2007 to July 2014, and before that, edited the Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG. In earlier years, she worked as a freelance writer and editor, practiced law in Chicago and Minnesota, taught in elementary schools, colleges and prisons, and worked as a community organizer. She is also the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues. She currently lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Be sure to visit Turck’s blog, News Day.