The horror is in the details. Like the way his CIA torturers subjected Majid Khan to "rectal feeding." He was tied face down, with his head lower than his feet. And then, says a CIA cable, his "lunch tray, consisting of hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts and raisins was pureed and rectally infused."
Or the way that Abu Zubaydah was so crushed by torture, including waterboarding, that all his interrogator had to do was raise his eyebrows, and Mr. Zubaydah would meekly walk over to the "water table." When the interrogator snapped his fingers twice, Mr. Zubaydah would lie down and wait to be waterboarded. He was described as at times "distressed to the level that he was unable effectively to communicate."
Or consider the conditions at a Central Intelligence Agency secret prison in Afghanistan, known as COBALT. The CIA's chief of interrogations described it as a "dungeon." The cells were pitch black, detainees were kept in complete darkness, shackled, loud music constantly playing, with a bucket to relieve themselves.
Or the way Gul Rahman died at COBALT, in 2002. He was subjected to "48 hours of sleep deprivation, auditory overload, total darkness, isolation, a cold shower and rough treatment." Then, naked from the waist down, he was chained to a concrete floor. He apparently froze to death.
Or the way that, not long after this incident, the manager of COBALT was recommended for a bonus of $2,500 for "consistently superior work."
Or the way that two psychologists the CIA brought in to advise on and help run its interrogation and torture program got rich. By the time their company's contractual relationship with the CIA ended in 2009, it had been paid $81 million.
The report released yesterday by the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, a five-year inquiry into the CIA's post-9/11 program of detention and interrogation, offers many new details such as this; snapshots of mundane brutality and day-to-day degradation. But the main outlines of the story were long ago made public and published in the media, even if contested by the U.S. intelligence establishment, and denied by the Fox News end of the political spectrum. This report into who the CIA tortured, and when, where and how, is more confirmation than revelation.
After 9/11, U.S. intelligence agencies and sometimes the U.S. military got into the business of, as former Vice-President Dick Cheney put it, taking the gloves off. They mistreated prisoners. They ignored international and U.S. law. And they tortured. The purposes were often fuzzy – winning the War on Terror, bringing peace to Afghanistan, maintaining order in Iraq – and the methods were often slapdash. At COBALT, for example, some prisoners were simply thrown into darkness and ignored, including one man who was found chained to a wall, standing, for 17 days.
The Senate report says that for years, the CIA didn't even properly account for who it was holding, interrogating and torturing. One gets the sense that the agency may have deliberately avoided keeping good records on this and many other things, as a means of hiding information.
The Senate investigators looked at only one small part of what went wrong during the War on Terror, namely the CIA's role in detaining and torturing. The horror is not only in what they found – all of which is apparently in the past. (As of 2008, the CIA no longer holds anyone). They also documented how often and how extensively the CIA lied to elected officials. Even more disturbing are the ongoing efforts by the CIA, the White House and large parts of the Republican Party to block the Senate investigation and prevent it from seeing the light of day.
Tuesday's report is partly redacted – that is to say, parts of it are blacked out. Intelligence documents are sometimes censored before public release, and that's understandable. But in this case, the committee report itself, created by one of the elected branches of the U.S. government, has been partly censored. And what was released on Tuesday is only part of the report, namely the Findings & Conclusions and Executive Summary sections. The main report? It is still blocked from public release. And the incomplete report had to be made public now or never. In January, the incoming Republican-dominated Senate intended to suppress it.
Torture wasn't just immoral and illegal. It was also ineffective. It didn't work. Senator John McCain, who was himself tortured while a prisoner of the North Vietnamese, said yesterday, "the world already knows we waterboarded, tortured, and used black sites. It has known this for a decade." But "what people may not know is how little torture did to aid in the fight against terror."
The idea that America or any other law-abiding country can only fight terror by abandoning its humanity and its ideals is dead wrong. Torture, said Sen. McCain, "isn't necessary, and it isn't even helpful." The Senate report confirms it.