The United States Senate Intelligence Committee’s five-year review of 6.3-million pages of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) documents concluded that the agency failed to disrupt a single plot, despite torturing Al Qaeda and other captives in secret facilities worldwide between 2002 and 2006, when George W. Bush was president, and after the September 11 2001 attacks.
The CIA interrogation programme was devised by two agency contractors to squeeze information from suspects after the 9/11 attacks. The interrogations took place in countries that included Afghanistan, Poland and Romania.
Some captives were deprived of sleep for up to 180 hours, at times with their hands shackled above their heads, and the report recorded cases of simulated drowning or “waterboarding” and sexual abuse, including “rectal feeding” or “rectal hydration” without any documented medical need.
It described one secret CIA prison, its location not identified, as a “dungeon” where detainees were kept in total darkness and shackled in isolated cells, bombarded with loud noise and given only a bucket in which to relieve themselves.
Committee chair Dianne Feinstein, speaking on the Senate floor after releasing the report, said the techniques in some cases amounted to torture and that “the CIA’s actions, a decade ago, are a stain on our values, and on our history.”
Calls for action
Civil rights advocates also called for accountability.
“Unless this important truth-telling process leads to prosecution of the officials responsible, torture will remain a ‘policy option’ for future presidents,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch in New York.
A UN human rights expert said the report revealed a “clear policy orchestrated at a high level within the Bush administration” and called for prosecution of US officials who ordered systematic crimes against detainees.
Ben Emmerson, UN special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, said that senior Bush administration officials who planned and authorised crimes must be prosecuted, as well as CIA and other US government officials who committed torture, such as waterboarding.
“As a matter of international law, the US is legally obliged to bring those responsible to justice,” Emmerson said in a statement issued in Geneva. “The US Attorney General is under a legal duty to bring criminal charges against those responsible.”
The CIA dismissed the findings, saying its interrogations secured valuable information. Many Republicans criticised the decision by Democratic lawmakers to release the report, which was put together by the committee’s Democratic majority, saying it would put Americans at risk.
The report found the techniques used were “far more brutal” than the CIA told the public or policymakers. Before the report’s release, the US boosted security at its military and diplomatic facilities abroad.
The report said the CIA had tried to justify its use of torture by giving examples of what it called “thwarted” terrorist plots and suspect captures, but the “representations were inaccurate and contradicted by the CIA’s own records.”
Despite the calls for accountability, there seemed little prospect of criminal prosecutions of those who implemented the programme, or measures to hold politicians who authorised it accountable.
A law enforcement official said the US justice department had no plans to conduct any investigation of the CIA’s actions.
Intelligence officials said that at one point, the justice department, through a specially designated prosecutor, conducted a criminal investigation into about 20 cases of allegations the CIA abused detainees. However, that investigation was closed without charges being filed.
President Barack Obama signaled he was more interested in focusing on the future than reopening a dark and contentious period from the country’s recent past.
While in office Bush’s vice president, Dick Cheney, and other Bush administration officials said the “harsh interrogation” programme was justified by results that included halting plots and catching terrorists.
Bush ended many aspects of the programme before leaving office, and Obama swiftly banned “enhanced interrogation techniques” after his 2009 inauguration.
Republican Senator John McCain, who was tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam in the 1960s, said Americans were entitled to the truth about the programme and its disclosure that such methods were ineffective.
Senate panel’s findings on CIA torture
The CIA’s interrogation of al Qaeda terrorism suspects in secret prisons was more brutal than policymakers were told and in some cases amounted to torture that failed to generate effective intelligence.
The following are some of the main findings:
- The use of “enhanced interrogation” was ineffective and never produced intelligence that helped to foil an imminent threat. The CIA’s 20 most frequently cited examples of successes are wrong in many details and information gained played little or no role in the counter terrorism success. In fact, prisoners regularly lied and provided false information that deceived the CIA.
- The CIA was far more brutal than policymakers were told. The first CIA detainee, Abu Zubaydah, and many others were subjected to coercive interrogation in near non-stop fashion for days or weeks at a time. Zubaydah’s interrogation was allowed to take precedence over his medical care, resulting in the infection and deterioration of a bullet wound he sustained on capture. At one point during waterboarding he became “completely unresponsive with bubbles rising through his open full mouth,” the report said. The waterboarding of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the suspected mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, evolved into a “series of near drownings,” it said.
- The CIA inaccurately described the conditions under which some prisoners were held, denying they resembled those at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. In fact, detainees at one location were kept in complete darkness and constantly shackled in isolated cells with loud noise or music and only a bucket for human waste. Lack of heat at one facility likely contributed to the death of a detainee. Some prisoners were walked around naked with their hands shackled above their heads, while others sometimes were hooded while naked and dragged down corridors while being slapped and punched. Prisoners later exhibited psychological problems, including hallucinations, paranoia and attempts at self-injury.
- The CIA provided inaccurate information about the programme and its effectiveness to policymakers, including the White House, Congress and the justice department. After being briefed, several lawmakers objected. Senator McCain told the CIA he believed waterboarding and sleep deprivation were torture. Other senators also objected in writing. But the CIA, while seeking to use the techniques against prisoners, told the justice department no senators had objected.
Republicans insist methods helped capture terrorists
The Republican leader of the US Senate and the party’s top member on the Senate Intelligence Committee insisted on Tuesday that CIA interrogation methods detailed in a newly issued report developed intelligence that helped capture important terrorists and helped take down Osama bin Laden.
“Claims included in this report that assert the contrary are simply wrong,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Saxby Chambliss, the ranking member of the intelligence panel, said in a joint statement. – Reuters