Originally published on December 10, 2014, at NationofChange.org
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released a scathing report condemning some of the abuses and torture committed by the CIA’s Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation (RDI) program, but failed to expose the CIA’s most heinous human rights violations. According to the report, the CIA lied to the Committee regarding prisoners’ deaths, the backgrounds of CIA interrogators, threats to detainees’ family members, and the effectiveness of torture.
On November 9, 2005, CIA Director of National Clandestine Service Jose Rodriguez, Jr. authorized the burning of 92 videotapes depicting the harsh interrogations of Abu Zubaydah and ’Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. In response to the destruction of those tapes, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence voted to review the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation program on March 5, 2009. With access to over six million pages of CIA documents, the Committee merely provided a superficial summary without bothering to interview any participants or victims of the RDI program.
Following the tragic events of 9/11, the Justice Department constructed a series of legal memos authorizing the Bush administration’s use of torture against enemy combatants. In 2002 and 2003, Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo authored the torture memos, which were signed by Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee. The Authorization for Use of Military Force, the Military Commissions Act of 2006, and Executive Order 13440 became legal justifications for the utilization of enhanced interrogation techniques and a total disregard for the Geneva Conventions.
Under pseudonyms within the heavily redacted report, two retired Air Force psychologists, Dr. Bruce Jessen and Dr. James Mitchell, received contracts to develop the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques. They decided to reverse-engineer the Air Force’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) counter-interrogation training by inflicting both physical and psychological torture upon detainees. According to the report, they personally participated in waterboarding and interrogating prisoners.
Shot and captured during a raid in Pakistan in 2002, one of the first detainees, Abu Zubaydah, had been recovering in a hospital when he provided information to FBI agents regarding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM). Insisting that Zubaydah was withholding more information, CIA interrogators waterboarded him at least 83 times. Although Zubaydah had given up the information about KSM weeks before being tortured, the CIA credits this human rights violation as a success and his interrogation became a template for future atrocities.
Captured in Pakistan in 2003, KSM was transported to a CIA black site in Poland before being transferred to another black site in Romania. While enduring enhanced interrogation techniques, KSM provided false information leading to the detention of innocent people and divulged a fabricated plot to assassinate former President Jimmy Carter. KSM was waterboarded at least 183 times and provided no actionable intelligence or useful information to his interrogators.
According to the Committee, harsh interrogation techniques are not effective means of acquiring intelligence. Under duress, prisoners will say anything they believe the interrogator wants to hear in order to end the torment. Although the CIA claims information acquired through enhanced interrogation has saved lives and led to the death of Osama bin Laden, the Committee has discovered these claims are patently false.
Many of the CIA officers involved in the RDI program had histories of violence, abuse, and sexual assault. Besides waterboarding and beating detainees, CIA interrogators also threatened to rape and murder prisoners’ family members, denied medical treatment for detainees, and repeatedly performed rectal rehydration or feeding without medical necessity. Prisoners with broken feet and sprained ankles were forced to stand for extended periods of time to induce sleep deprivation.
In November 2002, CIA officers left black site detainee Gul Rahman beaten and half-naked from the waist down in an unheated cell overnight. Rahman ended up freezing to death in his cell. In a case of mistaken identity, German citizen Khalid El-Masri was abducted by the Macedonian police and handed over to the CIA. After months of beatings and forced rectal suppositories, El-Masri was released without charges.
Although the report mentions Binyam Mohamed, the Committee neglected to investigate his allegations of torture. Arrested in Pakistan on April 10, 2002, Mohamed was transported to a CIA black site where he was beaten, burned, and suffered cuts along his torso and penis with a scalpel. The US eventually dropped all charges against Mohamed and released him.
Omitted from the summary are the murder of Abdul Wali and the killing of Manadel al-Jamadi. Between June 19 and 20, 2003, CIA contractor David Passaro beat an Afghan suspect named Abdul Wali to death with a metal flashlight. At the Abu Ghraib prison in 2003, Manadel al-Jamadi died in a shower room under CIA interrogation with his arms tied behind his back. Former Specialist Charles Graner, Jr. notoriously posed over al-Jamadi’s corpse for a photo before being charged with torturing his prisoners. Mark Swanner, the CIA interrogator, has not been charged with al-Jamadi’s death.
Also missing from the executive summary is the rendition and torture of an Egyptian cleric named Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr. Kidnapped by CIA agents in Milan on February 17, 2003, Nasr lost hearing in one ear after months of beatings and electric shocks. On November 4, 2009, an Italian judge convicted in absentia 22 suspected or known CIA agents, an Air Force colonel, and two Italian secret agents of kidnapping Nasr.
According to the Committee, the CIA lied to Congress, the National Security Council, the Justice Department, and the American public about the severity of torture committed and the effectiveness of information gathered through enhanced interrogations. The Committee also accused former CIA Director Michael Hayden of lying to the Committee regarding prisoners’ deaths, the questionable backgrounds of CIA interrogators, threats against detainees’ family members, and reliability of information obtained through torture.
Although the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released nearly 500 heavily redacted pages from their executive summary, the full report containing over 6,700 pages remains classified. After CIA agents hacked into computers belonging to members of the Committee and their staff last year, CIA Director John Brennan falsely accused the Committee of stealing classified files in an attempt to suppress the release of the report. As Senators called for his resignation, Brennan was forced to apologize to the Committee.
Instead of holding anyone accountable for devising or utilizing enhanced interrogation techniques, Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen received $81 million prior to their contract’s termination in 2009. Former CIA case officer John Kiriakou was sentenced to 30 months in prison after revealing the torture program during an interview with ABC News. Kiriakou was charged with violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982 by giving Deuce Martinez’s business card to New York Times reporter Scott Shane. Martinez had been a CIA interrogator working for Mitchell Jessen and Associates.
While exposing the CIA’s lies about thwarting terrorist attacks, locating Osama bin Laden, and saving lives through the use of torture, the Committee failed to enumerate the worst atrocities committed in our names. Acting with impunity, the CIA bears a sordid history composed of decades of kidnapping, torture, and assassination with no end in sight.