The last refuge of torture apologists

The Senate torture report executive summary released yesterday has revealed some new and horrifying details of what was done to the people taken into custody by the US. Just look at some examples of the incredible sadism on display and the callousness of everyone from George W. Bush downwards to these actions.

CIA operatives subjected at least five detainees to what they called “rectal rehydration and feeding”.

One CIA cable released in the report reveals that detainee Majid Khan was administered by enema his “‘lunch tray’ consisting of hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts and raisins was ‘pureed and rectally infused’”.

Risks of rectal feeding and rehydration include damage to the rectum and colon, triggering bowels to empty, food rotting inside the recipient’s digestive tract, and an inflamed or prolapsed rectum from carless insertion of the feeding tube. The report found that CIA leadership was notified that rectal exams may have been conducted with “Excessive force”, and that one of the detainees, Mustafa al-Hawsawi, suffered from an anal fissure, chronic hemorrhoids and symptomatic rectal prolapse.

The CIA’s chief of interrogations characterized rectal rehydration as a method of “total control” over detainees, and an unnamed person said the procedure helped to “clear a person’s head”.

One CIA interrogator at COBALT reported that “‘literally, a detainee could go for days or weeks without anyone looking at him’, and that his team found one detainee who ‘as far as we could determine’, had been chained to a wall in a standing position for 17 days’.’ Some prisoners were said to be like dogs in kennels: “When the doors to their cells were pened, ‘they cowered.’”

Few dispute that what was done to people as described in the senate torture report was torture and brutal and disgusting. The senate also says that at least 26 of those people who were tortured were captured without any justification and against whom no charges were ever brought against them. They were brutalized for no reason, a monstrous crime. Even the staunchest supporters of torture cannot plausibly deny that.

The only hope for defenders of torture is to make a ‘the end justifies the means’ argument and say that it was a necessary evil and doing so saved lives. This is why the deniers have come out in great force to challenge the report’s conclusion that torture did not produce any useful information, and they will defend it to the end while at the same time throwing out wild charges that the release of this information is somehow the wrong thing. As Dan Froomkin writes;

And so, when the tragically predictable sequence of events began to unfold – and torture, as it always has, produced false confessions and little to no intelligence of value – admitting that it had failed was not even an option.

Instead, those involved made up stories of success.

Senate investigators, who had access to millions of pages of original CIA cables and other source material, used most of the 499 pages in Tuesday’s release documenting example after example of CIA officials doing gruesome things, then telling convenient falsehoods to each other, to their bosses, to the White House, to anyone who questioned them, and to Congress – all to prove to everyone that torture worked.

By mid-2003, the CIA’s constant mantra was that “enhanced interrogation tactics” had “saved lives,” “thwarted plots,” and “captured terrorists.” Saying otherwise was like blasphemy.

The end result was that when President George W. Bush and other top government officials finally told the public about the program, they trafficked in almost nothing but misinformation.

Should we call these lies? The Senate report doesn’t. (Then again, it also doesn’t call what happened “torture”.)

The people who actually knew the facts certainly lied, obliging the requests from their superiors for examples of effective torture.

Froomkin points out that Michael Hayden lied when he was head of the CIA and that the current head John Brennan is lying now. Outgoing senator Mark Udall, a member of the Senate intelligence committee and thus someone who knows what the full report that has yet not been disclosed contains, said flatly in a blistering speech that the CIA is still lying and calls for Brennan to resign and for president Obama to take at least some action.

As he spoke, Udall continued to give a blistering and detailed account of what he portrayed as the CIA leadership’s refusal to come clean with the American people about its now-defunct interrogation program. Udall accused the CIA of outright lying to the committee during its investigation.

“Torture just didn’t happen, after all,” Udall said. “Real, actual people engaged in torture. Some of these people are still employed by the CIA.”

Udall said it was bad enough not to prosecute these officials, but to reward or promote them, he said, was incomprehensible. Udall called on Obama “to purge” his administration of anyone who was engaged in torturing prisoners.

“He needs to force a cultural change at the CIA,” Udall said.

And, Udall said, the institutional problems are far from over. “CIA was knowingly providing inaccurate information to the committee in the present day,” he said

But one has to also seriously question the claims by senior members of Congress and the administration that they were totally in the dark about what was going on. As Sharon Weinberger says:

In [a former senior CIA officer’s] view, torture is worse than killing people, because it doesn’t work, which was obvious before the release of the Senate report and further confirmed by it. A person being tortured will tell you anything you want to hear, even if it’s all lies, and a lot of the victims had to lie because they didn’t have valuable information to begin with.

“It doesn’t matter what tactics you use, you’re not going to get information if people don’t know anything and most of these Gomers didn’t know shit,” he said. “Who in the leadership was stupid enough to think they would? Why would these guys have detailed knowledge about plans and targeting? Even if they were hard-core jihadis who took part in operations, that doesn’t mean they would have knowledge of upcoming attacks.”

“Once the U.S. went into “the business of interrogation,” U.S. allies in the “war on terror” were encouraged to hand over suspects — and they did, no matter how flimsy the evidence. Lots of others were turned in by bounty hunters. And of course we know that a lot of people falsely dimed out their personal enemies or political rivals.

At the same time, he said Senate Democrats are being totally disingenuous about their own role in tacitly condoning torture. They gave Bush a blank check when it was politically convenient and now they’re pretending to be shocked about what happened: “I’m familiar with congressional oversight and there’s no way people on the intelligence committees and in the leadership didn’t generally know what was going on. There’s no conceivable circumstances under which they wouldn’t have known. It’s like that scene from Casablanca, they had no idea. They’re lying.”

The report reveals systematic lying by everyone to everyone, especially to the public, so that we would not know the extent of the horrors being committed in the name of fighting terrorism and preserving freedoms. What I hope is that all those people who were involved in torture and lying about it now will turn on each other in their efforts to evade culpability. The only time that we the public get to hear the truth is when these criminals break their code of silence. That process would be hastened if they feared prosecution which is why president Obama’s refusal to do so is a sign that he is also part of the criminal group.

So to sum up: The US government approved torture at the highest levels, carried out extremely brutal torture practices on innocent people, hid all these practices for years and lied about them repeatedly and continues to lie, falsely claims that the methods prevented other attacks (which is not a justification for torture even if true), and refuses to take action against the guilty parties and in fact shields and even praises them.

Yet another shameful chapter in its history.


  1. Mobius says

    The things that were done disgust me.

    The rhetoric of the torture apologists disgusts me just as much if not more. These people have no shame, and no sense of morals.

  2. bmiller says

    sailor1031: People suck. It’s not just a change in culture in the Congress and the White House. “Maybe it’s not the politicians. Maybe it’s the people. The people suck. How’s that for a political slogan?”- George Carlin

    America is founded in blood and slavery (as our all nations, basically)

  3. smrnda says

    I agree with the line from Carlin -- a problem is enough Usians enjoy a little brutality being done on their behalf, even if it’s useless, since it makes them feel big and powerful to know their CIA is shoving something up someone’s ass.

  4. Dave Huntsman says

    Without prosecutorial investigations, culture will not change. That’s why it is mandatory that a special prosecutor be appointed; and, s/he has to be a Republican of high integrity, to avoid any hint of partisanship. That’s the only act Obama has to do on this one; if he continues to refuse to do it, he’s complicit in the overall torture scenario, no ifs, ands, or buts.

  5. doublereed says

    I thought the implication is that the Senate Democrats did know, but couldn’t talk about it (and still can’t talk about it), and the Congressional Oversight idea is mostly a sham. They have no real power to change it.

  6. Pierce R. Butler says

    Dave Huntsman @ # 6: … s/he has to be a Republican of high integrity…

    Slight problem here. Anyone matching that description surely left that party during one or the other Bush administrations, if not Nixon’s.

    C’mon, name one -- one now alive and capable of handling such a job. I’ll go cue the crickets.

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