This is Part 1 of a 2 part series on the US Congress report on CIA torture.. Today will focus on what the report says about the program, and on Sunday I will focus on what this says about the way the United States reacted to 9/11, and what will happen now.
What has been common knowledge for years was yesterday finally officially released in an extraordinary report by the US Congress into the CIA’s treatment of terrorism suspects in their Detention and Interrogation Program. Right there on paper in black and white are the facts: The CIA tortured detainees, failed to extract any useful information, then lied to their overseers about the whole program. So let’s get right into it, and look at what the report reveals about those facts. For the full report, follow this link.
The CIA tortured detainees
The treatment of certain detainees makes for heavy reading. They were waterboarded – a serious torture method designed to induce the sensation of drowning – up to dozens of times, and it resulted in vomiting, pain, spasms and psychological damage in detainees. They were interrogated non-stop (the Soviet ‘conveyor’ technique), slapped, and punched. They were humiliated (including by ‘rectal feeding‘), held naked, and threatened with serious harm to themselves and their relatives. They were sleep deprived for up to 180 hours, held in complete isolation in freezing and constantly lit surroundings, and forced into painful stress positions even when suffering from broken bones. One detainee was blindfolded, threatened with a pistol, then had a running electric drill held next to his head (p. 69).
A ‘guinea pig’ for this treatment was Saudi Abu Zubaydah (p. 40-45 of the report). In August 2002 he spent 17 straight days without real sleep being aggressively interrogated, waterboarded and held in stress positions. While not being interrogated he was kept in a coffin shaped box for a total of 11 days, and in a tiny 50cm X 76cm X 76cm box for 29 hours. His interrogators were given permission to exploit his phobia of insects by putting them inside this box with him – though this was eventually not carried out. He consistently denied being able to help his interrogators any further, and they admitted that he had nothing further to tell them. He became hysterical, but also broken to the point that when given a sign he would go lie on the waterboard without being asked. Abu Zubaydah, who already suffered mental problems from the war in Afghanistan, has been left with severe psychological damage.
The torture brought no new evidence
Despite what the CIA has claimed and still claims, the report reveals that this treatment produced no results. Many of the detainees had already given all the information they had, others turned out to know nothing. Under extreme pressure they often resorting to making up plots and information that was completely untrue. This is a well-known fact, most trained interrogators will tell you that torture produces useless information. The CIA recognised this too, but still continued, and failed to examine what exactly they were doing. They also lied to the White House and others about how effective their program was. This ineffectiveness takes away their justification of torture being necessary to protect the United States. All the information they extracted could have been, and indeed was already, uncovered through other means.
The CIA lied about their treatment of detainees
The CIA also lied to the White House and the Department of Justice about the treatment itself. People outside the CIA were told that ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ were only used if necessary, that the detainees were still taken care of, and that conditions were humane. The CIA also avoided oversight by the members of Congress given that task, and lied to impede analysis of their program. This led to damage to other intelligence programs, and impeded the work of other agencies.
After reading the report there can be no doubt that these detainees were treated with complete disregard for the human rights that the United States proclaims to support, and that the CIA has systematically attempted to deceive the outside world about these techniques and their effectiveness. Men like Abu Zubaydah were tortured for days on end with no result in the name of defending freedom. In Part 2 of this post I will look at what this says about the US’s response to 9/11, the reaction in US politics, and who could be held accountable.
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