The struggle over the senate torture report

The spat between the Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA about what to do with the 6,300-page report on torture headed towards some kind of partial resolution with the committee voting 11-3 to declassify and release only about 500 pages, not the full report. This consists of just the Executive Summary and conclusions but the CIA opposes even this limited release and while president Obama has said in general terms that he supports declassification and release, in typical shifty fashion he has not yet made it clear what exactly he proposes to do and in fact has withheld documents in his possession that the committee wanted.

What is becoming clear is that the senate investigation has found that the CIA practiced torture in ways that were exceedingly cruel and that they continued to do them even though it resulted in no useful information. It seems to have been an almost pure exercise in vengeance and sadism, lashing out at perceived enemies without restraint, and then repeatedly lying about it to investigators.

The CIA seems to be fully aware that the release of the full report would be bad for them and they have sent out their attack dog, former CIA director Michael Hayden, to fight the move and he even made the extraordinary charge that committee chair senator Diane Feinstein, one of the most ardent supporters of the national security state, is too emotional over this. This is likely because she is, you know, a woman and women cannot be expected to exercise the same kind of cool level-headed judgment as men.

What has been learned so far through leaks is chilling

The report also cites cases in which officials at CIA headquarters demanded the continued use of harsh interrogation techniques even after analysts were convinced that prisoners had no more information to give.

One official said that almost all of the critical threat-related information from Abu Zubaida was obtained during the period when he was questioned by Soufan at a hospital in Pakistan, well before he was interrogated by the CIA and waterboarded 83 times.

At the secret prison, Baluchi endured a regime that included being dunked in a tub filled with ice water. CIA interrogators forcibly kept his head under the water while he struggled to breathe and beat him repeatedly, hitting him with a truncheon-like object and smashing his head against a wall, officials said.

Two other terrorism suspects, from Libya — Mohammed al-Shoroeiya and Khalid al-Sharif — endured similar treatment at Salt Pit, according to Human Rights Watch. One of the men said CIA interrogators “would pour buckets of very cold water over his nose and mouth to the point that he felt he would suffocate. Icy cold water was also poured over his body. He said it happened over and over again,” the report says. CIA doctors monitored the prisoners’ body temperatures so they wouldn’t suffer hypothermia.

Trevor Timm urges someone who has access to the full senate report to leak it as a further blow for transparency, like Edward Snowden did with the NSA documents.

Despite its inherent secrecy, the contours of the CIA report’s findings have slowly become public, thanks to a steady flow of leaks already coming from various government officials in the past seven days.

The Associated Press disclosed on Sunday that the report concludes torture “provided no key evidence in the hunt for Osama bin Laden”, despite statements to the contrary from former government officials like Dick Cheney.

The Washington Post published some more details on Monday, including that the CIA used FBI intelligence gained through humane interrogation – then laundered it through the torture program to justify torturing even more – and that officials continued to order torture on prisoners after they had no more information to give.

The next day, McClatchy reported that the investigation includes the horrid details of at least five suspects to die in CIA custody, including “the death of Gul Rahman, an Afghan who was shackled, doused with cold water and left in a cold cell partially clothed until he died of hypothermia”, and “Manadal al Jamadi, who reportedly died after he was hung in a crucifixion-like pose and his head had been covered with a plastic bag.”

But of course the vicious war waged by the Obama administration against whistleblowers is meant for precisely this type of contingency, to make sure that any person with thoughts of leaking will, with good reason, be extremely cautious because they know that the full weight of the government will be thrown at them. They will have to be willing, like Snowden, to sacrifice everything to do so.

If the Obama administration is caught in a bind now, it is their own fault. The reason we have this struggle over releasing the torture report is because Obama and the Democrats refused to investigate and prosecute torture by the Bush-Cheney administration, so now we have Dick Cheney and his fellow torture-lovers running around proudly defending what they did, instead of being in the dock answering charges. So for Nancy Pelosi to now complain about Cheney’s behavior is disingenuous because her party enabled it. Meanwhile a United Nations human rights committee has delivered a stinging critique of the US human rights record, singling out torture, drone strikes, Guantánamo, and of course the NSA’s activities.

What the US government seems to fear is that releasing the full report will make the US look bad, as if committing torture and then covering up the torture and protecting the torturers is not even worse.


  1. countryboy says

    As if the US Government could look much worse. Any American with the slightest bit of ethics or honesty can feel nothing but contempt and shame toward our Government regardless of party.

  2. doublereed says

    Really? They want to dance with Diane Feinstein? Mrs. Surveillance-Apologist herself? You’re going to piss her off?

    If Mr. Hayden really thought Feinstein was too ’emotional’ over this, then maybe he should’ve remembered that gender-based adage of “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

  3. badgersdaughter says

    I think it’s naive in the extreme to assume this has not been applied to at least one citizen, as well. It’s not that citizens are better than non-citizens in some intrinsic way, it’s that most people think “this could NEVER happen to me”. Think again, citizen. This is a picture of a government agency that thinks it is above any laws.

  4. Jockaira says


    …the CIA practiced torture in ways that were exceedingly cruel and that they continued to do them even though it resulted in no useful information. It seems to have been an almost pure exercise in vengeance and sadism, lashing out at perceived enemies without restraint, and then repeatedly lying about it to investigators.

    I doubt that sadism would have been the primary motivation in high level decisions to continue and even enhance interrogation techniques. More likely it would have been the perception of partial failure to achieve desired objectives along with the feeling that somehow success could be had with more stringent application of procedures that, previously unsuccessful, would show positive results.
    This is nothing more than “doubling down” as in a liar’s more fanciful creations when caught in inconsistencies, or the stronger application of a favored dogma as in the case of a failed tactic such as abstinence-only sex education campaigns.
    In other words, it wasn’t consciously evil, just stupidly so which does not make it all right or justify the perpetrators in their moral failings. This is what happens when faith and untested belief percolates into what should have been a clear-headed seeking of information.

  5. says

    In other words, it wasn’t consciously evil,

    Oh, puhleeze! They waterboarded KSM what was it, 180 times? At that point it’s because they were having fun – or someone was having fun – with the idea that he was suffering. And besides, the way they scrambled to hide it shows they know it was wrong all along.

  6. says

    We must remind ourselves that the senate oversight committee was supposed to, um, oversee exactly this sort kf thing, and they failed utterly. As signatories to international criminal court regarding torture, the US is violating international law as well as domestic by merely “overseeing” torture. Along with the Bush administration we should send the oversight committee to The Hague to sit in the defendant’s box. Which answers one question about what to do with all those dangerous people in Gitmo: send them to The Hague, too. They are witnesses.

  7. says

    I think it’s naive in the extreme to assume this has not been applied to at least one citizen, as well.

    Are you referring to Lindh or Manning? Probably not Awlaki because blowing someone to pieces is “mojo harsh interrogation” not torture.

  8. sailor1031 says

    “Are you referring to Lindh or Manning?”

    Let us not forget Jose Padillo who was rendered psychotic by his treatment.

    Two things appal particularly about this – the fact that telling all you know doesn’t make the torture stop and the fact that doctors were involved in gross and crass violation of every ethical and professional duty.

    The USA couldn’t look worse in this matter than it does right now. By coming clean something might be salvaged but only if there is full disclosure and revision of laws, with defined punishments, to effectively prevent this in future. Obama is fooling himself if he thinks for a moment that, as things stand, anybody believes that the USA has cleaned up its act and doesn’t do this anymore.

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