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America’s Shame: What’s in the Senate Torture Report? - John Cassidy

The executive summary of the long-awaited Senate report on C.I.A. torture during the Bush Administration obviously raises many questions, some of which my colleague Amy Davidson touches on in her recent post. From earlier reports, including Seymour Hersh’s pieces on Abu Ghraib in this magazine, we are familiar with some of what happened in Iraq and other places where the C.I.A. was holding detainees suspected of having links to Al Qaeda. But the details contained in the executive summary still have the capacity to shock and outrage. Here, in no particular order, are some of them:

Waterboarding: Contrary to what the C.I.A. told the Justice Department, the report says, this interrogation technique “was physically harmful, inducing convulsions and vomiting. During one session, Abu Zubaydah”—a Saudi Arabian who is still being held at Guantánamo Bay—”became ‘completely unresponsive with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.’ Internal CIA records describe the waterboarding of Khalid Shaykh Mohammad as evolving into a ‘series of near drownings.’ ” The report also says that the C.I.A. may have waterboarded more detainees than previously disclosed. For example, the Senate committee’s researchers turned up a photograph of a waterboard and buckets of water at a site where the agency had said that it wasn’t waterboarding. “In meetings between Committee Staff and the CIA in the summer of 2013,” the report notes dryly, “the CIA was unable to explain … the waterboard’s presence at COBALT.”

Other interrogation practices: In addition to waterboarding, the report says, the C.I.A. used a variety of aggressive techniques on its prisoners, including isolating them, depriving them of sleep, stripping them of their clothes and keeping them naked, subjecting them to loud music, and pinning their arms above their heads. The report also says that the C.I.A. “placed detainees in ice water ‘baths.’ The CIA led several detainees to believe they would never be allowed to leave CIA custody alive, suggesting to one detainee that he would only leave in a coffin-shaped box. One interrogator told another detainee that he would never go to court, because, ‘we can never let the world know what I have done to you.’ CIA officers also threatened at least three detainees with harm to their families.”

According to the report, one prisoner, Ridha al-Najjar, identified as a former bodyguard for Osama bin Laden, was “left hanging—which involved handcuffing one or both wrists to an overhead bar which would not allow him to lower his arms—for 22 hours each day for two consecutive days, in order to ‘break’ his resistance.” Zubaydah, for his part, was “kept naked, fed a ‘bare bones’ liquid diet, and subjected to the non-stop use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques.” He had a bullet wound, but “the CIA instructed personnel that the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah would take ‘precedence’ over his medical care.”

The report also provides new details about the treatment of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi detainee who was alleged to have been behind the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole. (He’s currently on trial at Guantánamo.) At one C.I.A. detention site, in late 2002, al-Nashiri was waterboarded at least three times, the report says. Then he was transferred to another site, where his interrogation continued despite the fact that C.I.A. agents there believed he wasn’t hiding anything. C.I.A. headquarters told them to keep questioning him. In fact, the agency dispatched an interrogator, described in the report as “untrained,” who placed al-Nashiri in a “standing stress position,” with his hands above his head, for two and a half days. “Later, during the course of al-Nashiri’s debriefings, while he was blindfolded, [CIA OFFICER 2] placed a pistol near al-Nashiri’s head and operated a cordless drill near al-Nashiri’s body,” the report says. “Al-Nashiri did not provide any additional threat information during, or after, these interrogations.”

“Rectal feeding”: The report says that ”at least five CIA detainees were subjected to ‘rectal hydration’ or rectal feeding,” which involved putting a tube up their rectums and pumping in fluids. In a redacted C.I.A. document included in the summary, a C.I.A. officer explains: ”Regarding the rectal tube, if you place it and open up the IV tubing, the flow will self regulate, sloshing up the large intestines…What I infer is that you get a tube up as far you can, then open the IV wide. No need to squeeze the bag—let gravity do the work.” The documents indicate that the detainees who received this treatment included Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, and Majid Khan, who were all suspected of being senior figures in Al Qaeda. Evidently, the technique was used to hydrate prisoners who had refused liquids, and also to influence their behavior. One C.I.A. officer wrote, “While IV infusion is safe and effective, we were impressed by the ancillary effectiveness of rectal infusion on ending the water refusal in a similar case.”

Read more: America’s Shame: What’s in the Senate Torture Report? - The New Yorker

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