America the Brave – Newly declassified torture report shows extensive human rights abuses at the hands of the CIA.

This blogpost contains material that some readers may find disturbing or upsetting. I relate it here only because I think people should know what a top American agency did in the name of protecting the nation. Read at your own volition.

The Senate Intelligence Committee, led by Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, has declassified a 525 page report on the CIA’s use of torture during the Bush Administration. In this blogpost, I have summarized some of the most important (and shocking) findings of the report, discussed how much the White House knew, and evaluated Barack Obama’s tepid and criminal response to the findings. You can read the full report here.

I. Eight of the most damning findings of the report.

II. What did Bush know and what did he do about it?

III. What is Obama’s reaction to the report, and is it good enough?

I. Eight of the most damning findings of the report.

#1: The torture techniques did not work.

  • The report explains that “prior to the attacks of September 2001, the CIA itself had determined from its own experiences 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”.
  • The report explains that “seven of the 39 CIA detainees known to have been subject to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques produced no intelligence while in CIA custody. [Others] provided significant accurate intelligence prior to, or without having been subjected to, these techniques … Multiple detainees fabricated information, resulting in faulty intelligence”.
  • The report explains that the hunt and subsequent killing of Bin Laden was not as a result of torturing detainees, but was performed on the basis of information “acquired from sources unrelated to the CIA’s detention and interrogation programme”.

#2: The CIA lied about the programme’s effectiveness.

  • The report details how the CIA told the White House, the NSC and the DOJ that the use of torture resulted in “specific terrorist plots ‘thwarted’ and specific terrorists captured”.
  • Feinstein’s Intelligence Committee reviewed 20 of the most noteworthy cases and found either a) there was no relation between information gained through torture and counter-terrorism operation success, b) the information used was gained before or without torture, or c) the CIA already had the relevant information, and it was not “otherwise unavailable” as they repeatedly claimed.
  • The CIA was peddling these “effectiveness” lies as late as 2009 in its briefings to President-elect Barack Obama.

#3: The torture techniques were monstrous.

  • Detainees were subject to slapping, being slammed against walls, standing sleep deprivation (up to 180 hours/over a week), forced nudity, drills inserted into their heads, being put in stress positions, being kept away from medical assistance (unless such assistance could allow the continuation of torture), “rectal rehydration” (liquidizing food and forcibly inserting it into the rectum), having their hands shackled above their heads for 22 hours at a time, deliberate hypothermia, being dragged naked up and down corridors while being brutalized for sport, total isolation, untreated broken limbs, forced diaper use, mock burials, the use of insects, ice baths, real-life Russian roulette games, and of course, extensive water-boarding to the point of near-drowning.
  • Detainees were also repeatedly told they would “never leave CIA custody alive”, would leave in a “coffin-shaped box”, and some were threatened with the rape and murder of their families. One CIA interrogator threatened to rape a detainee’s child and “slit [his] mother’s throat”.
  • “Throughout the program, multiple CIA detainees who were subjected to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques and extended isolation exhibited psychological and behavioural issues, including hallucinations, paranoia, insomnia, and attempts at self-harm and self-mutilation. Multiple psychologists identified the lack of human contact experienced by detainees as a cause of psychiatric problems”.

#4: The detention facility conditions were monstrous.

  • The report describes how some CIA officials likened the foreign detention facilities to “dungeons”. Some cells were barely big enough for one person to stand in. Others housed up to 10 detainees who had to stand and sleep in shifts due to lack of space, and were fed once a day. Most detainees were kept in total darkness with loud music or noises playing. Those who were not forced to wear diapers had a bucket for human waste.

#5: The CIA detained and tortured innocent people, and its own people.

  • The CIA apprehended innocent people on false intelligence, later realizing they’d captured the wrong person, detained an “intellectually challenged” man, and accidentally tortured their own informants. The report also shows that detainees who didn’t meet the official detention guidelines were not released.
  • 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, two individuals who were intelligence sources for foreign liaison services and were former CIA sources, and two individuals whom the CIA assessed to be connected to al-Qa’ida based solely on information fabricated by a CIA detainee subjected to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques. Detainees often remained in custody for months after the CIA determined that they did not meet the MON standard.

#6: The CIA actually made it harder to keep the country safe.

  • Out of fear of legal ramifications or public outrage, the CIA deliberately withheld national security information from the FBI, the State Department, and the ODNI. Foreign ambassadors were not informed if the country they were stationed in was home to a detention and interrogation facility, and the CIA even withheld information from its own Office of Inspector General. The particulars of the information withheld are censored from the report for national security purposes, but the report hints that they were significant withholdings.

#7: CIA officials protected brutal interrogators and ignored internal opposition.

  • Detainees were often subject to wrongful detention or internationally illegal interrogation techniques, but the interrogators were protected by senior CIA officials. In cases where a detainee was killed whilst being tortured, those responsible or those who stood by and did nothing were not reprimanded.
  • CIA official Jose Rodriguez also objected to screening possible interrogators to see if they had a history of sexual assault, and the CIA often placed new recruits or untrained agents in charge of torturing detainees.
  • Some CIA interrogators left sessions feeling psychologically damaged and on the verge of “tears and choking up” but their distress did not alter the programme. Some FBI officials who worked with the CIA were so horrified at what they saw that they wanted their own agency to arrest those involved in torture.
  • Also bear in mind that the only person ever to go to prison over these monstrous crimes is the guy who blew the whistle on the programme.

#8: The programme burned bridges with international allies.

  • The CIA set up various covert detention and interrogation sites across the globe, leading to many diplomatic tensions.
  • According to the report, by 2006 “with the exception of Country [REDACTED] the CIA was forced to relocate detainees out of every country in which it established a detention facility because of pressure from the host government or public revelations about the program”.
  • The report also mentions that the extensive torture programme damaged the United States’ reputation as a world power that fights for human rights.



II. What did Bush know and what did he do about it?

The IC’s report makes interesting and damning mentions of George W. Bush:

  • “On September 17, 2001, the President signed a covert action Memorandum of Notification (MON) granting the CIA unprecedented counter-terrorism authorities, including the authority to covertly capture and detain individuals posing a continuing, serious threat of violence or death to U.S. persons and interests or planning terrorist activities. The MON made no reference to interrogations or coercive interrogation techniques”.
  • “On February 7, 2002, President Bush issued a memorandum stating that neither al-Qa’ida nor Taliban detainees qualified as prisoners of war under Geneva, and that Common Article 3 of Geneva, requiring humane treatment of individuals in a conflict, did not apply to al-Qa’ida or Taliban detainees”
  • “On June 26, 2003, President Bush [stated before the UN] … “United States is committed to the world-wide elimination of torture and we are leading this fight by example. I call on all governments to join with the United States and the community of law-abiding nations in prohibiting, investigating, and prosecuting all acts of torture and in undertaking to prevent other cruel and unusual punishment”.
  • “According to CIA records, when briefed in April 2006, the president expressed discomfort with the “image of a detainee, chained to the ceiling, clothed in a diaper, and forced to go to the bathroom on himself.””
  • A year later, in October 2007 Bush assured the nation that “this government does not torture people”.
  • “On March 8, 2008, President Bush vetoed the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 that banned coercive interrogations”.
  • The report also repeatedly documents times when President Bush told the public about vital information gained by interrogations, all of which proved to be false (see #2 above), and in 2006 he repeated the CIA’s lie that the information gained couldn’t have been attained any other way.

Although the CIA deliberately kept the government in the dark, Bush knew what was going on, and took measures to deceive the public and protect the program, despite the laws requiring him to stop it.

III. What is Obama’s reaction to the report, and is it good enough?

In a moment I will discuss Obama’s public response to the torture report, but first here is an interesting mention from the report itself:

  • “On January 22, 2009, President Obama issued Executive Order 13491, which required the CIA to “close as expeditiously as possible any detention facilities that it currently operates and … not operate any such detention facility in the future.” The Executive Order prohibited any U.S. government employee from using interrogation techniques other than those in the Army Field Manual 2-22.3 on Human Intelligence Collector Operations”.
  • But note that Guantanamo remains open.

Obama publicly called the torture programme “troubling” , “counter-productive” and “contrary to our values”, but stood by the CIA as home to “patriots” and “incredible, dedicated professionals”. According to reports in the media, Obama’s Secretary of State, John Kerry, asked Feinstein to delay the release of the torture report until a less hostile international political situation arose, and the Obama administration allowed the CIA to stop Feinstein’s team from accessing some 9,000 documents that were vital to the investigation.

Let’s not also forget that a Guantanamo prisoner claims he’s been tortured under Obama, and that his DOJ granted immunity to all Bush-era torturers. So much for the most transparent government ever. This is very typical of Obama’s style of excusing bad behaviour on pragmatic grounds, rather than condemning them on moral ones. His main opposition to the Bush-era wars was that they were badly timed and filled with strategic blunders, and the fact that over 150,000 are now dead as a result of them seemed to be an after-thought. So too it is with torture, with Obama insisting that the torture methods used did not strengthen national security.

Re-affirming American exceptionalism in the same speech that you’ve talked about government use of torture against innocent people is poor taste indeed. A UN expert has claimed that the torture report means the U.S. is legally required (like that ever mattered) to prosecute government officials involved in the programme.

Could the reason Obama’s being so tight-lipped about the whole thing be that he too may be at risk of incrimination, given that his extensive drone strike programme has killed hundreds of children and innocent civilians across the Middle East? According to Glenn Greenwald:

In August, [Obama] acknowledged – with casual language more suitable to describing a purchase of new socks – that “we tortured some folks,” but warned us not to get “too sanctimonious” about it. So if you’re feeling sickened and outraged by today’s revelations, just listen to the President: stop Looking Backward and being sanctimonious, and just forget about all this unpleasant business about torture – just like he did.

Oh say can you see, by the dawn’s early light…


3 thoughts on “America the Brave – Newly declassified torture report shows extensive human rights abuses at the hands of the CIA.

  1. Pingback: Sunday news round-up: February 23rd – March 1st | Angry Meditations

  2. Pingback: America the Brave – Guardian newspaper investigation alleges gross human rights abuses at the hands of Chicago police. | Angry Meditations

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