Terror and Torture in the Name of “National Security”

The Senate Committee on Intelligence has finally released its study on the CIA’s “Enhanced Interrogation Program” (what may be called “torture techniques” by some) after a delay of more than a year. The report is some 525 pages. (You can access the entire report here.)

The findings of the report are appalling. Here are some of the big “takeaways.”

1. The CIA’s enhanced interrogation program has been grossly ineffective at gathering intelligence and combatting terrorism. According to the report,

The Committee finds, based on a review of CIA interrogation records, that the use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of obtaining accurate information or gaining detainee cooperation….While 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.

2. The techniques used by the CIA, without a doubt, violate human rights laws and article 3 of the Geneva Convention (note that President Bush affirmed this article does apply to detained terror suspects). Moreover, evidence indicates that torture was a “go to” technique as opposed to a means of last resort.

Beginning with the CIA’s first detainee…the CIA applied its enhanced interrogation techniques with significant repetition for days or weeks at a time. Interrogation techniques such as slaps and “wallings” (slamming detainees against a wall) were used in combination, frequently concurrent with sleep deprivation and nudity.

Records do not support CIA representations that the CIA initially used an “an open, non- threatening approach,” or that interrogations began with the “least coercive technique possible” and escalated to more coercive techniques only as necessary.

3. Interrogation took precedent over the health of detainees.

The waterboarding technique…induc[ed] convulsions and vomiting. [One detainee] became “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.'” Sleep deprivation involved keeping detainees awake for up to 180 hours, usually standing or in stress positions…At least five detainees experienced disturbing hallucinations during prolonged sleep deprivation and, in at least two of those cases, the CIA nonetheless continued the sleep deprivation.

4. The CIA consistently misrepresented their actions to other branches of government.

Contrary to CIA representations to the Department of Justice, the CIA instructed personnel that the interrogation…would take “precedence” over…medical care, resulting in the deterioration of a bullet wound [a detainee] incurred during his capture. In at least two other cases, the CIA used its enhanced interrogation techniques despite warnings from CIA medical personnel that the techniques could exacerbate physical injuries.

5. Innocent individuals were detained and tortured.

Of the 119 known detainees, at least 26 were wrongfully held and did not meet the detention standard in the September 2001 Memorandum of Notification (MON). These included an ‘intellectually challenged’ man whose CIA detention was used solely as leverage to get a family member to provide information.

6. In many cases, the CIA used threats against detainees’ children and other family members to induce “cooperation.”

The CIA led several detainees to believe they would never be allowed to leave CIA custody alive, suggesting to one detainee that he would only leave in a coffin-shaped box. One interrogator told another detainee that he would never go to court, because “we can never let the world know what I have done to you.”

CIA officers also threatened…detainees with harm to their families— to include threats to harm the children of a detainee, threats to sexually abuse the mother of a detainee, and a threat to “cut [a detainee’s] mother’s throat.”

Proponents of these types of techniques often argue that they are a “necessary evil” in order to prevent acts of terror and obtain information integral to national security interests. What the report indicates, however, is that there is nothing “necessary” about the CIA’s torture program. The evidence released by the U.S. government indicates that, not only have these techniques failed in producing reliable information to combat terrorism, but have also wasted time and other resources as the CIA and other law enforcement agencies track down false, torture-induced leads.

Others argue that this treatment of “terrorists” is acceptable because they are “prisoners of war” or “enemy combatants” and, therefore, not entitled to same rights as U.S. citizens. Even if one takes this view, however, the contents of the report indicate that the behavior of the U.S. government violates U.S. and international law. The Congressional resolution following 9/11 was not a declaration of war, nor have these prisoners been granted POW status. Instead, they are foreign citizens, detained and “interrogated” indefinitely at the hands of the U.S. government.

Earlier this summer, in discussing al Qaeda detainees following 9/11, President Obama stated, “We tortured some folks. We did some things contrary to our values.” Begging the pardon of the President, but didn’t torture anyone. The same may be said for the vast majority of U.S. citizens. There actions were conducted by actors of the U.S. government. These actors and their superiors should be held responsible.

The report released today will undoubtedly ignite controversy and lengthy discussion about the use of torture by the U.S., as it very well should. In the coming days and weeks, as the contents of the report scrutinized, I’d encourage us to remember the following,

If this report were released about Russia’s interrogation practices, the U.S. government would be “outraged.”
If this report were released about North Korean interrogation practices, the U.S. government would “condemn such actions in the strongest possible terms.”
If this report were released about German interrogation practices, such actions would be “unacceptable and unbecoming of an ally.”

The contents and implications of this report do not change because someone says, “it’s all in the name of U.S. national security.”


Abigail R. Hall is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and an Associate Professor of Economics at Sykes College of Business at the University of Tampa.
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