Here are the key findings from the US Senate Intelligence Committee’s redacted executive summary of the CIA’s use of torture.

How torture started

Six days after 9/11, George W. Bush signed a secret “memorandum of notification” allowing the CIA to “undertake operations designed to capture and detain persons who pose a continuing, serious threat of violence or death to U.S. persons and interests or who are planning terrorist activities”. To avoid legal problems and media coverage, the CIA determined that bases outside the United States were the best place to detain targets. Ultimately, torture centres in Poland, Lithuania, Romania and Thailand and multiple centres in Afghanistan were established. On February 7, 2002, Bush issued another memo, based on advice from counsel Alberto Gonzales, stating that al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees would not be subject to the Geneva Convention. In July-August 2002, with the first detainees already being subject to interrogation, then-attorney-general John Ashcroft approved more aggressive interrogation and torture techniques on the rationale that they would save American lives.

What they did

CIA interrogation techniques included not merely waterboarding but punching, slapping and kicking, shackling (either standing or sitting) to walls for extended periods, cramped confinement, stress positions, sleep deprivation, “use of insects”, hypothermia, rectal feeding, mock burial, Russian roulette, threats to harm detainees’ children and threats to rape and kill detainees’ mothers.

It didn’t work

“The CIA did not review its past experience with coercive interrogations, or its previous statement to Congress that ‘inhumane physical or psychological techniques are counterproductive because they do not produce intelligence and will probably result in false answers,'” the report explains. But experience bore out what the CIA had previously said about torture. “[A]ccording to CIA records, seven of the 39 CIA detainees known to have been subjected to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques produced no intelligence while in CIA custody … Other detainees provided significant accurate intelligence prior to, or without having been subjected to these techniques.”

In fact, it was counterproductive

The report also finds that “[w]hile being subjected to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques and afterwards, multiple CIA detainees fabricated information, resulting in faulty intelligence. Detainees provided fabricated information on critical intelligence issues, including the terrorist threats which the CIA identified as its highest priorities.” Moreover, “the CIA’s operation and management of the program complicated, and in some cases impeded, the national security missions of other Executive Branch agencies”.

The CIA didn’t even torture the “right” people

Of the CIA’s 119 detainees, 26 “were wrongfully held and did not meet the detention standard in the September 2001 MON”, the report shows. Some of them were detained because of information made up by previous detainees under CIA torture. The wrongfully held detainees included the tragic case of Afghan Gul Rahman, a man held because of “mistaken identity”, who was tortured to death by the CIA in an Afghan facility known as “the salt pit”. At one stage the CIA tortured two of its own informants by mistake.

They claimed it worked when it didn’t

“The Committee reviewed 20 of the most frequent and prominent examples of purported counterterrorism successes that the CIA has attributed to the use of its enhanced interrogation techniques, and found them to be wrong in fundamental respects. In some cases, there was no relationship between the cited counterterrorism success and any information provided by detainees during or after the use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques. In the remaining cases, the CIA inaccurately claimed that specific, otherwise unavailable information was acquired from a CIA detainee ‘as a result’ of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques … The examples provided by the CIA included numerous factual inaccuracies.”

Then lied about torture — to everyone

Much of the report is a long list of people and authorities whom the CIA lied to or kept in the dark about torture. The CIA lied to the Department of Justice and to Congress, refused to provide information to the Intelligence committee, kept senior figures like former secretary of state Colin Powell in the dark at the direction of the Bush White House. The agency also provided “extensive amounts of inaccurate and incomplete information” to the White House and the National Security Council. The report doesn’t go into the sequel to the program, when the CIA spied on the committee while it was preparing the report — and then lied about it, before having to issue a humiliating apology.

It also leaked classified information to the press

In yet another example of “official” versus “unofficial” leaks, the CIA leaked classified information and misinformation to “select members of the media” designed to portray torture as effective at securing information and ward off congressional scrutiny. No one was ever prosecuted for such leaks. The only person ever prosecuted in relation to torture is whistleblower and former CIA officer John Kiriakou, who is currently in jail for revealing the CIA’s use of torture.

While ignoring or trying to silence internal criticism

Many CIA officers were deeply concerned about the torture program and said so. But, “[t]hese concerns were regularly overridden by CIA management … At times, CIA officers were instructed by supervisors not to put their concerns or observations in written communications.”

CIA officers repeatedly pointed out “inaccuracies” in what the agency was saying to the rest of the administration and Congress, but it “failed to take action to correct these representations, and allowed inaccurate information to remain as the CIA’s official position”.

The CIA’s own Office of Inspector General repeatedly made inquiries about the torture program and was ignored, until then-CIA director Michael Hayden sought to intimidate the office by ordering “an unprecedented review of the OIG itself in response to the OIG’s inquiries”.

Torture was big business

The torture program cost well over US$300 million — including a staggering $81 million paid to the two former Army psychologists, James E. Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who established a company to which the CIA then outsourced the torture program. Neither Mitchell nor Jessen had had any experience in interrogation before the program commenced.

But the CIA had no idea if the program was working

Mitchell and Jessen actually evaluated their own program for the CIA and gave it top marks, ensuring funding continued. There was no external assessment of the effectiveness of the program until 2005, and that was a desktop review that acknowledged it had no way of determining whether the program worked.

And didn’t even discipline its officers

“Significant events, to include the death and injury of CIA detainees, the detention of individuals who did not meet the legal standard to be held, the use of unauthorized interrogation techniques against CIA detainees, and the provision of inaccurate information on the CIA program did not result in appropriate, effective, or in many eases, any corrective actions.” In fact, the officer responsible for the death of Gul Rahman was given a bonus.

It was resistance from other countries and the Pentagon that forced the program to end

With growing media exposure of rendition and torture, it was the unwillingness of other governments to allow torture to go on that ended the program: the Pentagon refused to allow the CIA to put detainees in US bases as, one by one, US allies either asked for torture facilities to be shut down, or made conditions so restrictive operating them became impossible.

And it damaged the United States

“The CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program created tensions with U.S. partners and allies, leading to formal demarches to the United States, and damaging and complicating bilateral intelligence relationships … More broadly, the program caused immeasurable damage to the United States’ public standing, as well as to the United States’ longstanding global leadership on human rights in general and the prevention of torture in particular.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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