5 stunning revelations from Senate report exposing CIA torture

The official inquiry has not been published, but leaked details reveal systematic abuses of power and human rights

Published April 17, 2014 12:15PM (EDT)

  (AP/Evan Vucci)
(AP/Evan Vucci)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.


The controversy over a Senate investigation documenting the Central Intelligence Agency’s post-9/11 regime of global torture continues to generate headlines—even though the report has yet to be released.  The Senate report has sparked a bitter war between the CIA and senators like Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who accused the CIA of spying on those looking at CIA documents on torture.

But while the official inquiry has not been published, dogged journalists have published key—and disturbing—details of what is contained in it.

Based on CIA documents, senators on the powerful committee conducted a four-year long, $40 million inquiry into the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, which included torture tactics like the waterboarding of terrorism suspects, beatings and the smashing of suspects’ heads into walls. While the public may be aware of some of these practices due to past revelations, the information carries heavy weight because it is the Senate confirming many of those claims, which has oversight power over the agency.

The CIA’s torture program started soon after 9/11. The Bush administration signed off on what they called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” but which clearly constituted torture, a crime under U.S. and international law.

The American people may never see the full report. Earlier this month, the Senate committee voted to declassify the executive summary and conclusions of the report—480 pages out of 6,400. But the White House and CIA are now vetting the reportto determine what exactly gets declassified. That fact has prompted people like Trevor Timm, writing in theGuardian, to call on somebody to leak the full report.

Meanwhile, journalists like Al Jazeera America’s Jason Leopold, McClatchy’s Ali Watkins, Jonathan Landay and Marisa Taylor and others are busy digging up details they can confirm and publish for the public. Here are five important revelations from recent news reports on the Senate’s landmark report on CIA torture.

1. Black site at Guantanamo. It is well known that the Guantanamo Bay detention center is where hundreds of prisoners have been held without charge. But what wasn’t officially confirmed until recently is that Guantanamo was also the site of a CIA black site—a detention center the CIA did not acknowledge where they tortured suspects. The CIA operated such sites in a number of countries, and the Senate investigation reportedly says a black site was operated at the Guantanamo detention center.

On April 9, Jason Leopold wrote in Al Jazeera America that the Senate inquiry confirms the CIA used the Cuba prison as a black site. Leopold wrote that “top-secret agency documents reveal that at least 10 high-value targets were secretly held and interrogated at Guantánamo’s Camp Echo at various times from late 2003 to 2004.” The detainees were then taken to Morocco, and then officially sent back to Guantánamo in September 2006.

2. CIA used British-controlled islandLeopold also revealed that the Senate report confirms long-standing claims of high-level British collusion with the CIA.

Journalists and human rights advocates have claimed that a United Kingdom-controlled island called Diego Garcia, located in the Indian Ocean, was used to secretly detain suspects. The Senate report says the CIA used the island with the “full cooperation” of Britain.

These reports have sparked a debate in Britain. Human rights investigators are urging the government to come clean. The report seems to confirm the story of Abdel-Hakim Belhaj, who was rendered to Libya and was told by a Libyan security force member that he stopped at Diego Garcia.

Belhaj says he was tortured during his CIA-led rendition and during his incarceration in Libya.

The confirmation of the use of a British-controlled island is the latest reminder of high-level collusion between the UK and the U.S. in prosecuting the war on terror.

3. CIA handed over prisoners who are now dead.Yet another explosive detail in Leopold’s report is that 10 terror suspects eventually handed off to foreign governments are unaccounted for. U.S. officials told Leopold they are presumed dead.

Those 10 suspects were part of a larger group of 85 detainees that were deemed to be low-level enough to be taken to Guantanamo or given to foreign countries. Leopold writes that 24 of the men labeled “low-value” were “been wrongfully detained and rendered to other countries on the basis of intelligence obtained from CIA captives under torture and from information shared with CIA officials by other governments, both of which turned out to be false.”

4. CIA went beyond legal memo.In 2002, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel drafted a report authorizing CIA torture, saying that the use of waterboarding, sleep deprivation and stress positions were perfectly legal. It was written by Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo; Jay Bybee, then head of the office, signed off on it.

But even that memo attempting to legalize torture wasn’t enough for the CIA. On April 11,McClatchy reported that the CIA went beyond what it was authorized to do by the Bush administration.

In a phone interview with AlterNet, Leopold said this revelation casts a harsh light on the Obama administration’s arguments that those who relied on Department of Justice legal advice shouldn’t be prosecuted. “It literally demolishes any rationale that Obama and Holder had for not investigating, for not bringing criminal charges, or even launching a criminal inquiry, against people who were responsible for implementing this,” said Leopold.

Despite the fact that CIA operatives went beyond legal advice, the Senate report does not recommend that a criminal investigation be launched for the purposes of prosecuting people.

Another revelation in the report is that the Justice Department legal memo was based on CIA information the Senate report says was wrong. For instance, the CIA claimed that repeatedly waterboarding a suspect was not effective. But in fact, the CIA waterboarded terrorism suspects Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and Abu Zubaydah 183 and 83 times, respectively.

“If the CIA fundamentally misrepresented what it was doing and that was what led [Justice Department] lawyers to conclude that the conduct was legal, then the legal conclusions themselves were inaccurate,” Andrea Prasow, senior national security counsel for Human Rights Watch, told McClatchy.

5. CIA lied about number of prisoners. McClatchy’s reporters also revealed that the CIA lied about the number of prisoners it had in its custody in black sites around the world. The CIA’s claim that the torture program was “targeted” was “BS,” according to one former U.S. official.

In addition, the CIA held 26 people that did not meet the legal standard for detaining someone.

By Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a staff reporter at Mondoweiss and the World editor at AlterNet. His work has also appeared in The Daily Beast, the Electronic Intifada, Extra! and Common Dreams. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.


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