Torture report sheds truth on a flawed version of history

Updated

In 2007, Michael Hayden, then the director of the CIA, told a roomful of human rights advocates that “fewer than 100 people” had been held at secret sites run by his agency.

And he dismissed reports that the CIA used waterboarding, stress positions and hypothermia, among other abusive tactics, to interrogate suspects. “That’s a pretty good example of taking something to the darkest corner of the room and not reflective of what my agency does,” Hayden said during an appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

A Senate Intelligence Committee report released Tuesday makes clear that Hayden was wrong. 

RELATED: Senate report: Brutal CIA interrogation tactics kept from public

In fact, 119 people were held in black site facilities around the world – roughly 20% more than Hayden claimed publicly. Their identities are revealed for the first time in Tuesday’s report. One man likely died because he was exposed to cold temperatures for a long period of time. Moreover, more than 20% of those detained were wrongfully held. “Detainees often remained in custody for months after the CIA determined they should not have been detained,” the report said. 

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It has been known publicly, through reporting and previously released documents, that three detainees were subjected to waterboarding, among them Khaled Sheikh Mohamed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, who was waterboarded at least 183 times. But the committee found new photographic evidence suggesting others may have faced the same abuse as well. In addition to that outlawed practice – which constitutes cruel and inhuman treatment – the CIA, the report said, used additional aggressive and brutal measures “immediately, in combination and nonstop.” Some have not been revealed before Tuesday.

Those include: “Sleep deprivation involving keeping detainees awake for up to 180 hours, usually standing or in painful positions, sometimes with their hands shackled above their heads.” Detainees who were dragged naked up and down corridors while being beaten. Rectal feeding and hydration were forced without medical need to coerce and abuse detainees.  

According to the CIA’s own records, the report found, one detainee’s lunch tray, “consisting of hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts and raisins was ‘pureed’ and rectally infused.” 

Abu Zubayda, one of thee detainees subjected repeatedly to simulated drowning, known as waterboarding, was placed inside a coffin and left there for 12 days. He was later placed in a smaller box _ 21 inches wide, 2.5 feet deep, and 2.5 feet tall _ for 29 hours. He also lost sight in his left eye while in CIA custody. 

Former Vice President Dick Cheney said the CIA should be “decorated, not criticized” for the program that oversaw the detention, interrogation and kidnapping of detainees. It was a program that operated in secret, without any oversight from the judiciary, from 2001 to 2006.

Despite such claims, it turns out the CIA had actually attempted to bring at least two individuals to account for actions taken under the torture programs. In each case, including the death of the detainee from hypothermia, and the wrongful detention of another, senior CIA leadership intervened to prevent any accountability. Why? Because “the Director believes that mistakes should be expected in a business filled with uncertainty,” according to CIA records. 

RELATED: Feinstein: ‘Not a single case holds up’

In a congressional hearing on April 12, 2007 Hayden told Senators that “all those involved in the questioning of detainees have been carefully chosen and carefully screened.” That is not what the committee independently found. In fact, CIA officers assigned to the interrogation programs had “documented personal and professional problems of a serious nature – including histories of violence and abusive treatment of others.”

Even today, three former CIA directors – George Tenet, Peter Goss and Hayden – and their deputies wrote in an opinion piece that their agency had full oversight and authority of the program. In fact, the Senate report revealed that in 2005, the CIA “outsourced virtually all aspects of the program” to two contract psychologists for $80 million.

All of this comes on top of many examples cited in the report that cast doubt on the honesty and integrity of the CIA’s former leadership and what it chose to share with Congress and the White House. An entire section of the 500-page report is devoted to “Examples of Inaccurate CIA testimony to the Committee.” Within that section, 37 pages detail statements from Hayden that conflict with the evidence. 

Among the report’s most disturbing revelations:

  • The use of torture to extract information was ineffective and at “no time did the CIA’s coercive interrogation techniques lead to the collection of imminent threat intelligence.”
  • The CIA nearly tortured two of its own informants before realizing who they were.
  • Hayden testified in 2007 that 97 individuals were held in total by the CIA over the life of the program, 30 of those were subjected to enhanced interrogation tactics. The Senate found that “at least” 119 detainees were held and at least 39 were subjected to enhanced interrogations, which included the agency’s most brutal tactics. There was no separate count for the number of detainees that were simply disappeared _ moved by the CIA under its rendition program _ or held in proxy detention by foreign intelligence services who could be relied upon to conceal the detainees from the International Red Cross.

  • A junior officer, on his first overseas assignment, was placed in charge of the facility codenamed COBALT where the detainee died of hypothermia. The detainee, naked from the waste down, had been shackled to a concrete floor in a room without heat. Guards found his dead body the next morning. Months later, the CIA officer who ordered the detained chained was given a $2,500 cash reward for “consistently superior work.” 
  • Also known as “the Salt Pit,” the notorious facility in Afghanistan referred to as COBALT often kept detainees naked and always in total darkness. CIA officers had very little understanding of how the facility was run or what was going on there.  More than half of all the CIA’s detainees were held in the Salt Pit. 
  • CIA officers assigned to the interrogation programs had “documented personal and professional problems of a serious nature – including histories of violence and abusive treatment of others.” Others, who witnessed torture early on were affected “to the point of tears,” and requested reassignments.
  • More than four dozen foreign governments aided the CIA in its efforts to secretly move men, shackled and blindfolded and often sedated, around the world from prison to prison.
  • President Bush did not know the full extent of the methods used until April 2006. According to the CIA’s own records, Bush expressed discomfort when confronted with the “image of a detainee, chained to the ceiling, clothed in a diaper and forced to go to the bathroom on himself.” Two months after that briefing, the Supreme Court ruled that the protections of the Geneva Conventions applied to all detainees, even those held by the CIA. In September, Bush closed the black sites.
  • By the time Tenet issued formal guidelines for interrogations and detention conditions, nearly 40 people were already imprisoned within the black sites
  • In August 2003, Tenet told the CIA Office of Inspector General that “he had never spoken to the President regarding the detention and interrogation program, or” the enhanced interrogation techniques, “nor was he aware of whether the President had been briefed by his staff.”

  •  According to CIA documents, Condoleezza Rice, who was President George W. Bush’s national security adviser when the CIA set up the black sites, and then became his secretary of state, “was not aware of the specific countries where the CIA detention facilities were located,” until The Washington Post broke the story of their existence in November 2005. Cheney learned of the locations just months earlier when a problem arose with the facility in Poland.
  • Though Rice did not even know where the sites were located, she approved the continued program in 2003 when the CIA became concerned that the White House was having doubts.
  • The CIA became concerned after White House spokesman Scott McClellan was quoted in a June 27, 2003 Washington Post article as saying that all prisoners held by the U.S. government are “being treated humanely.” His comments came after a statement from Bush, in conjunction with the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture that said: the “United States is committed to the world-wide elimination of torture and we are leading this fight by example. I call on all governments to join with the United States and the community of law-abiding nations in prohibiting, investigating, and prosecuting all acts of torture and in undertaking to prevent other cruel and unusual punishment.” At the time of the article and statement, more than a dozen detainees had been subjected to enhanced interrogation tactics and three individuals had been repeatedly waterboarded. Seeing the comments in the Post, senior CIA lawyer John Rizzo called the White House seeking assurances that the programs should continue. One month later, Tenet got what he wanted: Vice President Dick Cheney stated and National Security Adviser Rice agreed that the CIA was executing administration policy in carrying out its interrogation program.” And McCllellan? He was told not to avoid using “humane treatment” when discussing detainees.

CIA and Torture

Torture report sheds truth on a flawed version of history

Updated