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US Senate report: CIA's use of torture was brutal and ineffective

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One of the early sites was located in Thailand

The way in which the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) tortured Al-Qaeda suspects was far more brutal than acknowledged.

But the methods used did not yield useful intelligence and was so poorly managed that the agency lost track of detainees, a scathing US Senate report revealed yesterday (Dec 9). 

The CIA also misled the White House and Congress with inaccurate claims about the program’s usefulness in thwarting attacks, the Senate Intelligence Committee said.

Its graphic report revived the debate over how effective interrogation techniques such as waterboarding are.

President Barack Obama admitted some of the tactics detailed in the explosive report’s 500-page declassified summary were “brutal.”

In an interview with Telemundo, he said:

“There are a lot of folks who worked very hard after 9/11 to keep us safe, during a very hazardous situation and a time when people were unsure of what was taking place.
“But what was also true is that we took some steps that were contrary to who we are, contrary to our values.”

Among the findings: A CIA operative used “Russian Roulette” to intimidate a prisoner and another – untrained in interrogation techniques – threatened to use a power drill.

Detainees were humiliated through the painful use of medically unnecessary “rectal feeding” and “rectal rehydration.”

One died of hypothermia while shackled, some suffered broken limbs.


Graphics: Reuters


One of the most lengthy sections describes the interrogation of the CIA’s first prisoner, Abu Zubaida, detained in Pakistan in March 2002.

Zubaida, badly injured when he was captured, was largely co-operative when jointly questioned by the CIA and FBI but was then subjected to confusing and increasingly violent interrogation as the agency assumed control.

After being transferred to a site in Thailand, Zubaida was placed in isolation for 47 days, a period during which the presumably important source on al-Qaida faced no questions.

Then on the morning of Aug 4 that year, the CIA launched a round-the-clock interrogation assault.

This involved slamming Zubaida against walls, stuffing him into a coffin-size box and waterboarding him until he coughed, vomited and had “involuntary spasms of the torso and extremities.”

The treatment continued for 17 days. At one point, the waterboarding left Zubaida “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.”

Methods used left staff distraught 

CIA memos described employees who were distraught and concerned about the legality of what they had witnessed - until “two, perhaps three (people)” were “likely to elect transfer”.

CIA director John Brennan defended his agency’s adoption of tough tactics under president George W. Bush in the aftermath of the 9-11 Al-Qaeda attacks on US cities in 2001.

While mistakes were made, he insisted that brutal techniques “did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists and save lives".

(L) Handout photo obtained in 2003 of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, alleged organiser of the September 11, 2001 attacks. 

(R) Handout photo (from ABC World New Tonight) of Abd al-Rashim al-Nashiri, al-Qaeda's chief of operations for the Gulf and suspected mastermind of the USS Cole bombing in Yemen. Credit: AFP 


US embassies were on alert for reprisals as committee chair Senator Dianne Feinstein pushed ahead with publication of the report, despite Secretary of State John Kerry warning it could provoke anger around the world.

The extensive detailing of the CIA’s interrogation of Al-Qaeda suspects followed Obama’s admission in August that “we tortured some folks.” 

Feinstein told the Senate at least 119 detainees were held under the program, with many subjected to “coercive interrogation techniques, in some cases amounting to torture.”

The detainees were rounded up by US operatives beginning in 2001 after Al-Qaeda destroyed New York’s World Trade Center and through to 2009.

‘Naked and shackled’ 

They were interrogated either at CIA-run secret prisons in allied nations or at the US detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Feinstein said some around the world “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.’”

While heavily redacted, the report is still damning.

Here's a sample of what it said: 

“The interrogations of CIA detainees were brutal and far worse than the CIA represented to policymakers and others.

"Conditions were particularly ghastly at a so-called black site nicknamed Cobalt, in an undisclosed country, where “at times detainees there were walked around naked and shackled with their hands above their head."

Management of the program deteriorated so poorly in one country “that the CIA remains unable to determine the number and identity of the individuals it detained.”

The review of 6.3 million pages of documents concluded that use of the techniques “was not an effective means of obtaining accurate information or gaining detainee cooperation.”

Seven of 39 detainees known to have been subjected to so-called enhanced interrogations “produced no intelligence while in CIA custody”.

Others “provided significant accurate intelligence prior to, or without having been subjected to these techniques”.

And in several cases, “the CIA inaccurately claimed that specific, otherwise unavailable information was acquired from a CIA detainee” as a direct result of the harsh interrogations.

Full 528 page report 

Sources: Reuters, Washington Post

CIA torture report