What did you get up to over the weekend? Maybe you passed the time with your loved ones. Maybe you were nurturing a hobby. Maybe you spent the days huddled under a duvet, watching cat videos. Me? I spent my weekend reading through the US Senate Intelligence Committee’s study of CIA torture carried out in the wake of 9-11. Part of me wishes I’d gone with the cat videos.
Hang on to this memory. It’s going to get bleak from here.
This piece isn’t like most of the stuff I write. In fact, it’s one hell of tonal shift. If Angry Flat Cap were a band, it would be like them suddenly going from playing jaunty cockney tunes to hammering out some Megadeth. Still, I hope you stick with me.
The report makes for horrifying reading. Here’s some of the techniques they employed:
- Placing someone in a coffin-sized box for 266 hours (11 days, 2 hours), then placing them in a smaller box (53cm x 76cm x 76 cm) for another 29 hours.
- Placing detainees in nappies and chaining their arms to the ceiling.
- Shackling a naked man to the wall in such a way that he could only rest on the concrete floor. He died of hypothermia.
- Forcing detainees to stand on broken limbs for hours.
- Forced rectal rehydration without evidence of medical necessity. One person underwent rectal ‘feeding’ of pureed hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts, and raisins.
- Waterboarding, in one case until a detainee turned blue.
What’s waterboarding? It is a delightful process where the subject is laid flat with a cloth covering their face. Water is then poured on to the cloth, effectively suffocating the recipient. The cloth is briefly removed for the subject to catch their breath before it is reapplied. You can see why waterboarding has never taken off as a festive parlour game.
A Vanity Fair journalist was once asked to undergo waterboarding for a video— he refused to go on past the first application of water, lasting about fifteen seconds.
The report records a case where an individual was subjected to sixty-five applications of water during a twelve hour period:
CIA records state that [his] “abdomen was somewhat distended and he expressed water when the abdomen was pressed.”
Executive summary, p.87
There’s a saying that’s being thrown around a lot of comment sections at the moment: all’s fair in love and war. Fuck off. No it’s not. Just because it’s a nice sounding phrase, it doesn’t make it true. That’s why we have the Geneva Convention. However, back in 2002, George W. Bush issued a memorandum stating that article three of the Geneva Convention does not apply to Al-Qaeda detainees. That allowed the CIA to be much more creative.
But the detainees were all terrorists, right? Didn’t they have it coming? Nope. Based on the CIA’s own estimates, 22% of the detainees were innocent. These included:
Abu Hudhaifa, who was subjected to ice water baths and 66 hours of standing sleep deprivation before being released because the CIA discovered he was likely not the person he was believed to be.
Nazar Ali, an “intellectually challenged” individual whose taped crying was used as leverage against his family member.
Executive summary, p.16
How about the other 78%? At least they’ll have given up some useful intel! You know, like in 24 when Jack Bauer manages to extract information from those terrorists who leave him no other choice!
Well, no. Sadly not. The Senate Committee spent four years poring over six million pages of CIA documents, concluding that:
The CIA’s use of its enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees.
Finding #1, findings and conclusions
The useful information that the CIA attributed to these ‘enhanced interrogation’ sessions was actually obtained from other sources. In fact, the report shows occasions where the quality of information worsened after the torture started. Who would have thought that people would say anything to make it stop:
He had provided the false information in an attempt to reduce the pressure on himself … and to give an account that was consistent with what [he] assessed the questioners wanted to hear.
Executive summary, p.109
It’s important to remember the justification for the torture. Regardless of who these individuals were, this was never supposed to be a punishment exercise. The detainees were said to be holding back knowledge that could be used to prevent attacks on the United States and its allies. This was untrue.
It’s likely that we will never know the full extent of the ‘enhanced interrogations’. The report cites instances where evidence has vanished:
A review of the catalog of videotapes,however, found that recordings of a 21-hour period, which included two waterboarding sessions, were missing.
Executive summary, p.44
There are also cases where evidence was withheld:
The Committee did not have access to approximately 9,400 CIA documents related to the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program that were withheld by the White House pending a determination and claim of executive privilege.
Executive summary, p.9
A full accounting of CIA detentions and interrogations may be impossible, as records in some cases are non-existent, and, in many other cases, are sparse and insufficient.
Findings and conclusions, p.13
The moral high ground claimed by the US (and its allies by association) has been eroded to little more than a molehill. I thought that no one would dream of trying to defend the programme. I was wrong.
Enter Dick Cheney, former Vice President and all-round probable sociopath. The man famous for shooting his mate on a hunting trip and for handing key Iraq war contracts to a subsidiary of the company he used to run.
He’s been on the news offensive over the past few days. In an interview with Fox News, he dismissed the report— remember, a report that took four years to write and incorporated six million pages of CIA documents— as being “full of crap”. He also told NBC News that he’d “do it again in a minute”:
Should we kiss them on both cheeks and ask ‘please, please. Tell us what you know’?
Dick Cheney, Fox News Interview
In fact, yes. Much more useful information was gathered from a ‘rapport building’ method. This was the approach recommended to the CIA by FBI agents with experience of past successes when working with Al-Qaeda detainees (Executive Summary, p.28). But who are these experienced professionals to contradict the Dickman, eh?
His behaviour may seem downright bizarre, but I think I know what he’s up to: Dick Cheney wants a humanitarian prize.
Even Tony Blair looks bewildered by this one. [Source: Getty]
In recent years, there have been some questionable choices on the humanitarian circuit. Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize before going on to expand the drone program. Tony Blair won GQ’s Humanitarian of the Year as well as Save the Children’s Global Legacy Award, all while the situation in Iraq becomes increasingly depressing and Blair was discovered to be giving PR advice to a dictator who killed unarmed protestors. Nice. Even Vladimir ‘Nope. Not doing anything in Ukraine’ Putin managed to pick up a Nobel Prize nomination. To say that these recipients maybe didn’t deserve these accolades would be a euphemism along the lines of calling the Great Fire of London ‘a small garden barbecue’.
To go on national television and say that you still stand by an ineffective torture program— despite a meticulous study showing that it was of no use whatsoever— that is a ballsy move, Dick. Looking at some other recent winners, I’d say you’re a shoe-in for an award in 2015.