13 years ago the world was plunged into one of the greatest tragedies the modern world had ever known. The destruction of the world trade centre lead to wars, the loss of an untold number of lives, from both the East and the West and yet is that horrific act of terror against we in the West worthy of the horrors we have committed against our prisoners?
The US Senate Intelligence Committee has released a summary of a report into the CIA interrogation program, which was established by US spy chiefs after the terror attacks of 11 September 2001 and the results are striking. Since that day the CIA has committed acts which we would condemn in the harshest terms. This kind of torture and abuse has been a reason we in the West have started wars before. Yet the Americans have done it. The full report is over 6,000 pages long with the unclassified summary being 525 pages, but it highlights 20 key findings which I will attempt to summarise for you.
- The CIA’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining co-operation from detainees. “Enhanced interrogation”, meaning the use of waterboarding, sleep deprivation and isolation.
- The CIA’s use of these techniques rested on information which was inaccurate and claims of its effectiveness were exaggerated.
- The CIA represented the use of “enhanced interrogation” was far more brutal than what they told policymakers about.
- The way in which the prisoners were detained was far more severe than the CIA divulged to the policymakers.
- The CIA would consistently misrepresent information to the Department of Justice and deliberately impeded a proper legal analysis of their Detention and Interrogation Program. They would also deliberately impede or avoid congressional or presidential oversight of these practices.
- The CIA operation and management of the programme complicated, and in other cases prevented, the missions pertaining to national security of other executive branches.
- The CIA coordinated the release of classified information to the media. This would include inaccurate information about the usefulness of “enhanced interrogation” techniques, meaning that news organisations were doing the work of convincing the public that their techniques were not torture for them
- The report also suggests that the CIA were unprepared to take over Detention and Interrogation Program as late as 6 months after they had already taken over.
- In connection with the previous point the report suggests that the programme was deeply flawed for its entirety but was especially poor between 2002 and 2003.
- The CIA only used 2 psychologists to devise the “enhanced interrogation” techniques and those were contracted in. These same two psychologists played a central role in the operation, assessments, and management of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program. By 2005, the CIA had overwhelmingly outsourced operations related to the programme, potentially to assuage their guilt but more likely to distance themselves from legal charges.
- The actual practices the detainees were subjected too had not been approved by the Department of Justice and neither had they been authorised by CIA headquarters.
- The CIA also did not conduct an accurate accounting of their detainees, meaning that an “uncertain number” of the detainees did not meet the legal standard to be held in custody. To put more simply the CIA’s claims about how many prisoners it held was, and is, inaccurate.
- The CIA itself did not evaluate how useful the techniques were at gathering information. Along the same lines the CIA did not reprimand those agents who stepped over the line during their interrogations.
- Those within the CIA that did question the practices were marginalised and ignored.
- The programme had become effectively unsustainable by 2006 due to unauthorised press releases as well as other nations no longer cooperating. They were also by this time more mindful of legal oversight but they continued nevertheless.
- The most important fact of the report found however was that the programme has damaged America’s reputation globally and has resulted in significant “monetary and non-monetary losses.”
This report represents the most comprehensive show that the Detention and Interrogation Program was not only unlawful but morally indecent. The effects of waterboarding are often described as “simulating drowning” what it truly is being drowned just very slowly. The late Christopher Hitchens undertook the challenge of being water boarded and you can see his response below.
The report also details some of the atrocities committed against the detainees. At least 5 of those kept in captivity were forced to ingest their food or water through their rectum. One such case comes from Majid Khan, who went on a hunger strike, had a “food tray” of pureed hummus, pasta, nuts and raisins forced into his rectum.
In November 2002 a suspected militant, Gul Rahman, was being in a secret US prison in Afghanistan. Rahman was stripped naked below the waist, chained, and made to sit on a bare concrete floor. He was found dead the next day of suspected hypothermia.
As mentioned above the CIA kept inaccurate accounts of their prisoners the report states that 26 of 119 prisoners were wrongfully held. This includes Nazar Ali, “an ‘intellectually challenged’ individual whose taped crying was used as leverage against his family member”.
There is even one reported case of a prison guard forcing one of the men held captive to play Russian roulette. The man who forced this treatment on his prisoner remains unnamed and will forever more importantly he will never be held accountable for the torture he inflicted on a fellow human being.
Many will question why this kind of report is necessary considering its release can do nothing but harm the reputations of those in the West and anger those who we have harmed. Should we not be better? Should we not, as nations who would seek to police the world, be able to say we do not do what you have done to your citizens? The Detention and Interrogation Program was “based on copying Chinese torture methods designed not to elicit truth but to force false confessions,” writes Max Fisher. How can the Americans occupy a moral high ground when this kind of thing has occurred?
There are already calls from a UN special rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights to prosecute those who were responsible for these tortures. Ben Emmerson, the UN reprehensive, said in a statement, “The individuals responsible for the criminal conspiracy revealed in today’s report must be brought to justice, and must face criminal penalties commensurate with the gravity of their crimes.”
What the future now holds cannot be yet defined but people now know what happens to those we detain. We now know what happens to the people we detain. Can we accept that? Can we be happy that our countries actively torture prisoners to achieve “false confessions”? Are we ready for what comes back? The world now knows what America has done. What are we in for now?