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The Senate Report on the C.I.A.'s Torture and Lies
The world has long known that the United States government illegally detained and tortured prisoners after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and lied about it to Congress and the world. But the summary of a report released today of the Senate investigation of these operations, even after being sanitized by the Central Intelligence Agency itself, is a portrait of depravity that is hard to comprehend and even harder to stomach.
The report raises again, with renewed power, the question of why no one has ever been held accountable for these seeming crimes -- not the top officials who set them in motion, the lower-level officials who committed the torture, or those who covered it up, including by destroying videotapes of the abuse and by trying to block the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation of their acts.
At one point, the report says, the C.I.A. assured Congress that the behavior of the secret jailers and interrogators was nothing like the horrors the world saw at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. That was the closest the agency seems to have come to the truth -- what happened appears to have been worse than what took place at Abu Ghraib.
The Senate committee's summary says that the torture by C.I.A. interrogators and private contractors was "brutal and far worse" than the agency has admitted to the public, to Congress and the Justice Department, even to the White House. At least one detainee died of "suspected hypothermia" after being shackled partially naked to a concrete floor in a secret C.I.A. detention center run by a junior officer without experience, competence or supervision. Even now, the report says, it's not clear how many prisoners were held at this one facility, or what was done to them.
In that, and other clandestine prisons, very often no initial attempt was made to question prisoners in a nonviolent manner, despite C.I.A. assertions to the contrary. "Instead, in many cases the most aggressive techniques were used immediately, in combination and nonstop," according to the summary of the declassified and heavily censored document. "Sleep deprivation involved keeping detainees awake for up to 180 hours, usually standing or in stress positions, at times with their hands shackled above their heads."
Detainees were walked around naked and shackled, and at other times "naked detainees were hooded and dragged up and down corridors while being slapped and punched."
The C.I.A. appears to have used waterboarding on more than the three detainees it has acknowledged subjecting to that form of torture. During one session, one of those detainees, Abu Zubaydah, an operative of Al Qaeda, become "completely unresponsive." The waterboarding of another, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-described planner of the 9/11 attacks, became a "series of near drownings."
Some detainees, the report said, were subjected to nightmarish pseudo-medical procedures, referred to as "rectal feeding."
That some of these detainees were highly dangerous men does not excuse subjecting them to illegal treatment that brought shame on the United States and served as a recruiting tool for terrorist groups. To make matters worse, the report said that at least 26 of the 119 known C.I.A. prisoners were wrongfully held, some of them for months after the C.I.A. determined that they should not have been taken prisoner in the first place.
The C.I.A. and some members of the administration of President George W. Bush claimed these brutal acts were necessary to deal with "ticking time bomb" threats and that they were effective. Former Vice President Dick Cheney, an avid promoter of "enhanced interrogation," still makes that claim.
But "at no time" did the C.I.A.'s torture program produce intelligence that averted a terrorism threat, the report said. All of the information that the C.I.A. attributed to its "enhanced interrogation techniques" was obtained before the brutal interrogations took place, actually came from another source, or was a lie invented by the torture victims -- a prospect that the C.I.A. had determined long ago was the likely result of torture.
The report recounted the C.I.A.'s decision to use two outside psychologists "to develop, operate and assess" the interrogation programs. They borrowed from their only experience -- an Air Force program designed to train personnel to resist torture techniques that had been used by American adversaries decades earlier. They had no experience in interrogation, "nor did either have specialized knowledge of Al Qaeda, a background in counterterrorism or any relevant cultural or linguistic expertise."
They decided which prisoners could withstand brutal treatment and then assessed the effectiveness of their own programs. "In 2005, the psychologists formed a company specifically for the purpose of conducting their work with the C.I.A. Shortly thereafter, the C.I.A. outsourced virtually all aspects of the program," the summary said. And it noted that, "the contractors received $81 million prior to the contract's termination in 2009."
The litany of brutality, lawlessness and lack of accountability serves as a reminder of what a horrible decision President Obama made at the outset of his administration to close the books on this chapter in our history, even as he repudiated the use of torture. The C.I.A. officials who destroyed videotapes of waterboarding were left unpunished, and all attempts at bringing these acts into a courtroom were blocked by claims of national secrets.
It is hard to believe that anything will be done now. The Republicans, who will soon control the Senate and have the majority on the Intelligence panel, denounced the report today, acting as though it is the reporting of the torture and not the torture itself that is bad for the country. Maybe George Tenet, who ran the C.I.A. during this ignoble period, could make a tiny amends by returning the Presidential Medal of Freedom that President Bush gave him upon his retirement.
[Source: By The Editorial Board, The New York Times, 09Dec14]
State of Exception
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