Fallout continues from U.S. torture report

Fallout continues from U.S. torture report

By Askia Muhammad -Senior Editor- | Last updated: Dec 26, 2014 – 12:25:39 PM



A torture protest in Washington DC. Photo: Amnesty International

WASHINGTON – The revelation of brutal, inhumane tactics practiced by the CIA once again sparked shock and outrage in Washington, and in capitals around the world, after the U.S. Senate released to the public earlier this month, a 500-page executive summary of an exhaustive study of the U.S. post 9-11 torture program. Reactions varied, from critics who deemed report findings to be an assault on human rights to supporters arguing what they call “enhanced interrogation” techniques are needed to facilitate the U.S. “war on terror.”


The report detailed a list of torture methods used on prisoners: waterboarding, sexual abuse with broomsticks, “rectal feeding” or “rectal hydration.” Naked, blindfolded prisoners were threatened with buzzing power drills, with vicious dogs, with intense heat and severe cold. Some captives were deprived of sleep for as long as 180 hours, at times with their hands shackled above their heads.

“Some of the tactics that were written about in the Senate Intelligence report were brutal and, as I’ve said before, constituted torture, in my mind,” President Barack Obama said after the report’s release. Mr. Obama ended the secret torture practices when he took office.

“And that’s not who we are. And so, although I am concerned about potential ramifications overseas, and we’ve taken precautionary steps to try to mitigate any additional risks, I think it was important for us to release this so that we can account for it, so that people understand precisely why I banned these practices as one of the first acts I took when I came into office, and hopefully make sure that we don’t make those mistakes again,” the President said.

The report concludes the CIA failed to disrupt a single plot despite torturing al-Qaeda and other captives in secret prisons worldwide between 2002 and 2006. CIA officials were also found to have routinely misled the media, Congress and the White House on the torture methods and their ineffectiveness.

The torture was carried out at secret locations in Afghanistan, Lithuania, Romania, Poland, Thailand, and at a hidden site on the Guantánamo Naval Base known as Strawberry Fields.

Speaking on the Senate floor, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein, said the report forces the United States to say “never again.”

“There are those who will seize upon the report and say, ‘See what the Americans did?’ And they will try to use it to justify evil actions or incite more violence. We can’t prevent that. But history will judge us by our commitment to a just society governed by law and the willingness to face an ugly truth and say ‘never again.’

“First, the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques were not an effective way to gather intelligence information,” Sen. Feinstein continued. “Second, the CIA provided extensive amounts of inaccurate information about the operation of the program and its effectiveness to the White House, the Department of Justice, Congress, the CIA inspector general, the media and the American public. Third, CIA’s management of the program was inadequate and deeply flawed. And fourth, the CIA program was far more brutal than people were led to believe.”

At one point, the CIA even hacked the secure computers of Senate Intelligence Committee staff who were investigating the crimes.

Despite renewed calls for the prosecution of the officials who authorized and carried out the illegal torture, Mr. Obama has long ago rejected prosecuting the Bush administration officials who authorized and perpetrated these crimes. In a statement, the President maintained his stance, calling on the nation not to “refight old arguments.”

Ironically, no one involved in the CIA “enhanced interrogation” program, as it was euphemistically described, has been charged with a crime except the whistleblower John Kiriakou. In 2007, he became the first person with direct knowledge of the program to publicly reveal its existence. He is now serving a 30-month prison sentence. Groups including Human Rights Watch are calling for investigations of senior Bush administration officials.

Among other tragic details revealed in the report, there is the story of the death of Gul Rahman, who was only detained due to mistaken identity.

“CIA placed a junior officer, with no relevant experience, in charge of the site,” where Mr. Rahman was abused, at a CIA black site north of Kabul, Afghanistan, known as the Salt Pit Sen. Feinstein revealed. “In November 2002, an otherwise healthy detainee, who was being held mostly nude and chained to a concrete floor, died at the facility from what is believed to have been hypothermia. In interviews conducted in 2003 by the CIA officer of the inspector general, CIA’s leadership acknowledged that they had little or no awareness of operations at this specific CIA detention site,” she said.

In a similar case, a detainee named Abu Hudhaifa 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.

In addition, these criminal practices were “supervised” by medical and psychological personnel, who may have in fact been observing and detailing the effectiveness of various techniques for possible future use, rather than “protecting” the safety of the detainees.

“Two names appear dozens of times in the committee’s summary: Grayson Swigert and Hammond Dunbar. These are the pseudonyms that were given to James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen,” psychologists Roy Eidelson and Trudy Bond wrote in an article titled “The Complicity of Psychologists in CIA Torture” which was released by the Institute for Public Accuracy.

“It has been known for several years that these two contract psychologists played central roles in designing and implementing the CIA’s torture program. Now we also know how lucrative that work was for Mitchell and Jessen: their company was paid over $80 million by the CIA,” they wrote.

In addition, the American Psychological Association (APA) may have also been complicit in facilitating the heinous practices, the pair wrote. “Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, APA member and CIA head of behavioral research Kirk Hubbard first introduced Mitchell and Jessen to the CIA as ‘potential assets.’

“A few months later, in mid-2002, Hubbard arranged for former APA president Martin Seligman to present a lecture on his theories of ‘learned helplessness’ to a group that included Mitchell and Jessen at the Navy SERE School in San Diego. And in 2003 Hubbard worked closely with APA senior staff in developing an invitation-only workshop—co-sponsored by the APA and the CIA—on the science of deception and other interrogation-related topics.

“Mitchell and Jessen were both participants (having returned from overseas where they were involved in the waterboarding of detainees Abu Zabaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed),” the two psychologists continued.

Dr. Eidelson is a clinical psychologist and a past president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, associate director of the Solomon Asch Center for Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict at Bryn Mawr College, and a member of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology. Dr. Bond is a counseling psychologist in independent practice in Toledo, Ohio. She is a member of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology and on the steering committee of Psychologists for Social Responsibility.

Despite the fact that the APA sought to officially distance itself from the torture regime, “The latest evidence of that collusion comes from the publication earlier this fall of James Risen’s Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War,” they wrote. “With access to hundreds of previously undisclosed emails involving senior APA staff, the Pulitzer-prize winning reporter concludes that the APA ‘worked assiduously to protect the psychologists … involved in the torture program.’

“The book also provides several new details pointing to the likelihood that Mitchell and Jessen were not so far removed from the APA after all,” according to Drs. Eidelson and Bond.

“The first thing that really jumps out is just the sheer pervasiveness of the brutality. I mean, even those of us who have been looking at this for the last 10 years, as one of my colleagues said, may not be surprised, but shocked,” Reed Brody, counsel and spokesperson for Human Rights Watch told Pacifica Radio’s “Democracy Now!” concerning the depth of the brutality of the CIA torture.

“You know, you described the rectal feeding, the rectal hydration. You know, this was not just one prisoner, this was a number of prisoners. And they were used, according to the CIA documents, as a means of behavior control.

“I mean, this is, you know, an IV infusion placed up somebody’s rectum, and the person is in a forward-facing position, their head lower than their torso, at which point you put in a rectal tube with an IV. The flow will regulate, sloshing up the large intestines. You put up the tube as large as you can, then you open the IV wide. No need to squeeze the bag, let gravity do the work. And this was not—you know, this is rape. This is the CIA discussing in emails and documents the methods they are using to rape detainees.”

Mr. Brody has written several reports for Human Rights Watch on prisoner mistreatment in the war on terror, including a 2011 report which called for a criminal investigation of senior Bush administration officials. There were “people shackled in dark cells, called by—the CIA’s own people referred to it as a “dungeon”—I mean, this is medieval stuff. And, you know, it really—it really—I have to say, it’s really shocking, even for me.

“This was a dysfunctional program. The interrogation program was essentially outsourced to these two psychologists, who you mentioned. And neither psychologist had any experience as an interrogator. They had no specialized knowledge of al-Qaeda, no background in counterterrorism or any relevant linguistic or cultural information,” Mr. Brody continued.

“And as you pointed out, they received $81 million. And these contractors made up 85 percent—or their company that they created and other contractors made up 85 percent of the workforce for these detainee operations.

“Now, at the same time that it was run amok, there was a culture—and this is important to understand—of just, you know, let them loose. On a number of occasions, there were complaints. There were—things went up to headquarters. And the word that came back was: ‘Look, we’d rather be safe than sorry.’

“And in one case, no action was taken against a CIA officer for wrongful detention because, quote, ‘[t]he Director strongly believes that mistakes should be expected in a business filled with uncertainty. … [T]he director believes the [scale tips] decisively in favor of accepting mistakes that over connect the dots [against those that] under connect them.’ Even in the case of the death from suspected hypothermia that we talked about, headquarters decided not to take action because they were ‘motivated to extract any and all operational information’” Mr. Brody said.

The Senate committee, he said “…went through 20 incidents in which the CIA claimed to have garnered actionable intelligence that was used to capture people or to foil plots. And in each of those 20 incidents, the committee found either that the intelligence already existed, that it wasn’t used, or that the plot in fact didn’t exist.

“And people particularly focus on the capture of Osama bin Laden and the identification of the courier who led the U.S. to Osama bin Laden. And the committee found that the vast majority of the intelligence about (that al) Qaeda courier, quote, ‘was originally acquired from sources unrelated to the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, and the most accurate information acquired from a CIA detainee was provided prior to the CIA subjecting the detainee to … enhanced interrogation techniques.’”

What may be equally troubling for human rights observers is that there is no guarantee that these practices might not be resumed by a future president who rescinds President Obama’s executive order, and that by focusing entirely on the CIA alone, the report tends to excuse all those people above who authorized the activities.

It is known from President George W. Bush’s memoirs, that he authorized waterboarding. Vice President Dick Cheney, Attorney General John Ashcroft, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, all signed off on the authorization of these techniques.