Heaven help any American prisoners being held in the Middle East today. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released its summary of a five-year investigation into so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” used by the Central Intelligence Agency during the years following the September 11 attacks. The 500-page document is a harrowing journey into the heart of the grotesque, medieval underbelly of the CIA’s torturing of suspected terrorist detainees.
1) Waterboarding and Wrongful Detentions. The highly controversial use of waterboarding, in which detainees are held down and subjected to “near drowning,” turns out to be one of the less alarming aspects of the report. The Intelligence Committee documented 119 detainees held by the CIA between 2002 and 2008, and around 39 of those detainees were subjected to some form of enhanced interrogation — torture. 26 detainees were “wrongfully held,” but it’s unclear at this writing how many of the wrongfully held detainees were tortured. The summary, however, tells us that there was at least one “intellectually challenged” detainee who was held as “leverage” against other targets. It only gets worse from here.
2) Welcome to the Dark Ages II. Inside what’s been called a “dungeon” and a “dark prison” — the Cobalt “Salt Pit” in Afghanistan, where officials had to wear headlamps due to the utter darkness of the place — some detainees suffering from broken feet or legs were forced to stand upright in “stress positions,” while others were chained to the floor. One detainee, Gul Rahman, who was naked and chained to the floor eventually died of hypothermia.
3) Beatings and sleep deprivation. Detainees were subjected to extreme sleep-deprivation for upwards of 180 hours — seven-and-a-half days. Others were dragged, naked and shackled, around the torture facility where they were also apparently beaten and physically abused. The report also suggests that some of the guards were known to have sexually abusive profiles prior to being stationed at the black sites.
4) Rectal Feeding. The report goes on to reveal arguably the most stomach churning details of the CIA’s torture program. Without any proof of medical necessity, and in lieu of intravenous hydration, detainees were both rectally rehydrated and rectally force-fed. The “Ensure” nutrition drink was forced into the rectums of certain detainees as a means of “controlling” them. Furthermore, meals of hummus, pasta and nuts were pureed in a blender and inserted into the detainees’ rectums. One of the detainees who was fed in this manner was the 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
On top of everything else, the CIA greatly misled the White House, Congress and the Director of National Intelligence on the harshness of the torture, as well as the efficacy of the techniques. Bush himself wasn’t briefed on specific techniques until 2006.
The report also yet again answers the question whether the detention and interrogation program worked. And the answer is “no.” In 20 “successful” CIA counterterrorism test cases examined by the committee, it was determined that there wasn’t any real correlation between the extreme interrogations and those successes. And in instances where intelligence was gathered via torture, the committee learned that the exact same intelligence had also been ascertained using other counterterrorism methods.
The only aspect of the report that’s even remotely debatable is whether it should’ve been released in the first place. It certainly tests the balance between what the people have a right to know versus what’s too damaging to American lives and interests. However, it’s reasonable to assume that those who are inclined to retaliate against the United States were already well aware of the torture. This report merely legitimizes many of leaks and rumors about what was going on. Therefore any retaliation was bound to happen regardless of whether the report was released. From here, the U.S. government has its work cut out in terms of mitigating the blowback of 2002-2008. And that’s putting it mildly. The CIA and certain factions of the previous administration have absolutely endangered more lives than it saved by engaging in such reckless, illegal and immoral behavior.