Moral Low Ground

US Government

Senate CIA Torture Report Details Extreme Brutality

Torture and abuse ran rampant at the US military prison at Abu Ghraib, Iraq.

Torture was also widespread at the US military prison at Abu Ghraib, Iraq.

The CIA torture report released by the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday revealed extreme abuse and brutality inflicted upon terrorism suspects and innocent detainees in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

The Senate committee investigated the treatment of 119 detainees swept up in the dark days following 9/11, when the Bush administration authorized and CIA and military operatives carried out a global torture program that violated numerous domestic and international laws.

The 480-page summary of the once-classified 6,000-page report states that dozens of innocent individuals were wrongfully detained due to mistaken identity and faulty intelligence, that these and other detainees were subjected to horrific and even deadly torture and abuse, and that the brutality and scope of the program were hidden from the Justice Department and even high-ranking members of the Bush administration, including the president himself.

Furthermore, the report concluded that contrary to claims by top Bush officials, the CIA torture program was ineffective at producing terror-thwarting intelligence. At no time did torture lead to any information about an imminent threat, the so-called ‘ticking time bomb’ scenario that torture apologists said justified the use of brutally illegal tactics.

Among the most damning information released in the report were revelations of extreme — and in at least one case, deadly — torture perpetrated by agency operatives. Detainees were interrogated for days on end, kept awake for up to 180 hours, forced to stand on broken legs and feet, had objects forced up their rectums and exposed to lethally extreme cold.

In November 2002, a detainee who was stripped nearly naked and chained to a floor died of apparent hypothermia. This death was separate from the well-publicized death of Gul Rahman, a suspected Afghan militant who died while shackled to a wall in near-freezing temperatures at the notorious CIA ‘Salt Pit’ clandestine prison north of Kabul. After a CIA officer’s orders led to that detainee’s freezing death, the agency recommended paying him a $2,500 “cash award” for his “consistently superior work.”

The Senate torture report slammed the “poorly-managed” facility, where it said untrained CIA operatives conducted unauthorized, unsupervised interrogation. It also stated that operatives there were improperly trained and had “histories of violence and mistreatment of others.”

Some ‘Salt Pit’ detainees who had broken legs or feet were also forced to stand on them in excruciating ‘stress positions,’ the Senate investigation found. Other detainees were hooded and shackled before being dragged through darkened corridors while being physically abused.

The investigation found at least five detainees were subjected to excruciating ‘rectal hydration’ absent of any medical need, with one officer describing the torture as a form of behavioral control. According to a CIA cable released in the report, detainee Majid Khan, a legal US resident and accused associate of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), had his lunch of hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts and raisins “pureed and rectally infused.” KSM was also subjected to ‘rectal hydration’ “without a determination of medical need,” which his interrogator described as a means of achieving “total control over the detainee.”

Other CIA operatives had “reportedly admitted to sexual assault.”

Additionally, the CIA lied about the interrupted drowning technique known as waterboarding, which it said had been used on a very limited basis on only three important terrorism suspects. But the report stated that a “well-worn” waterboard surrounded by buckets of water was found at a site where no waterboarding purportedly occurred.

The report also stated that waterboarding was physically harmful, with numerous near-drownings occurring. During one waterboarding session, high-ranking al-Qaeda member Abu Zubaydah became “completely unresponsive with bubbles rising through his open full mouth.” It also says the torture of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was subjected to 183 waterboardings, escalated into a “series of near drownings.”

According to the report, participating in or witnessing detainee torture often proved too much for some CIA operatives, some of whom expressed concerns about the brutal tactics. Some agents were emotionally disturbed after watching the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah at a secret ‘black site’ in Thailand, with “several on the team profoundly affected to the point of tears.”

CIA torturers also used extreme fear during interrogations, threatening to rape detainees’ mothers in front of them, “cut their [mothers’] throats,” harm their children or kill the prisoners. Some were led to believe they would die in US custody, as some 100 detainees in military custody did. Other detainees were told that their torturers would never be brought to justice and that they would never have their day in court because “we can never let the world know what I have done to you.”

Of the 119 detainees known to have been imprisoned during the span of the interrogation program, 26 were found to have been wrongfully detained due to mistaken identity or faulty intelligence. Detainees often remained in CIA custody for months after it was determined they should be released. One detainee, Abu Hudhaifa, was subjected to “ice water baths” and “66 hours of standing sleep deprivation” before being released after the CIA realized it had tortured an innocent man.

In one facility, detainees were kept in a dark “dungeon,” where they were shackled in painful ‘stress positions’ and subjected to prolonged loud music and given only a bucket for human waste. Detainees were also denied medical care for gunshot and other wounds incurred during their capture.

Sen. Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said the CIA’s ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ were “far more brutal than people were led to believe,” calling them “a stain on our values and on our history.”

But some Bush administration and CIA officials defended their actions. Writing in the Washington Post, Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., who ran the CIA interrogation program, said that “we did what we were asked to do.”

“We did what we were assured was legal, and we know our actions were effective,” asserted Rodriguez, although critics accuse Bush officials of bending the law and definitions of legality in order to legitimize torture.

Most of the approved torture techniques, which included waterboarding, sleep, sensory and food deprivation, shackling in excruciating ‘stress positions,’ the use of loud music and dogs to torment detainees, slamming into walls, solitary confinement, exposure to extreme heat or cold and sexual humiliation, are clearly illegal under both domestic and international law.

In addition to the approved ‘enhanced interrogation’ techniques, US military and intelligence personnel subjected terrorism detainees — many of them innocent men, women and children — to additional abuses, including homicide, rape, imprisonment of relatives as bargaining chips, exposure to sometimes lethally extreme temperatures and brutal beatings.

CIA Director John Brennan released a statement in the wake of the Senate report’s release defending the agency’s torture program, claiming it “did produce intelligence that helped … save lives.” Brennan also stated that “[the CIA] did not always live up to the high standards that we set for ourselves and that the American people expect of us.”

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