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‘We can never let the world know’: CIA torture finally laid bare

Senate committee report details sleep deprivation of 180 hours, waterboarding and forceful rectal exams

At some point during his lengthy detention and torture, Riduan Isamuddin — known more commonly by his nom de guerre, Hambali — was told by a CIA interrogator that he would never see the inside of a courtroom. The United States could not let his case go to trial, Hambali's interrogator told him, because "we can never let the world know what I have done to you."

Hambali was among detainees subjected to sleep deprivation, which in some cases lasted for more than seven consecutive days and caused those subjected to the technique to experience terrifying hallucinations. 

It is one of the few details regarding Hambali’s treatment at the hands of interrogators that can be gleaned from reading the 499-page summary of a damning report from the Senate Select Intelligence Committee.

Other aspects of what he endured may not have been included in the summary — it is redacted and only represents a fraction of the entire document seen by members of Congress.

It is for example unknown whether he, like others named in the report, received force-feeding anally or rectal exams conducted with "excessive force."

What is known is that, in some ways, Hambali was relatively fortunate: He was not waterboarded — a fate that befell Zain Abidin Mohammed Husain Abu Zubaydah.

Nor did he die — indeed, the former head of extremist group Jemaah Islamiyah, which terrorized Southeast Asia culminating in 2002’s Bali bombing, remains behind bars in Guantanamo Bay.

Others did perish under interrogation. One unnamed detainee died from exposure to the cold in an unheated cell.

The fate of that nameless inmate, along with the details of Hambali and Abu Zubaydah's torture, formed part of a disturbing narrative threaded through the near 500-page report Tuesday — the product of more than six years of research into the CIA's torture practices during the Bush administration.

The report examines what the CIA and other government agencies euphemistically called "enhanced interrogation techniques" used on 119 detainees at various black sites around the world. Researchers from the Senate committee say they found a legacy of systematic brutality and little in the way of useful intelligence to show for it.

By reviewing the CIA's own interrogation records, committee researchers determined that the methods used by its agents were "not an effective means of obtaining accurate information or gaining detainee cooperation." It was far more effective at breaking minds and bodies. As a result of CIA torture, many detainees were found to suffer from "hallucinations, paranoia, insomnia and attempts at self-harm and self-mutilation."

Senate Select Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., described the CIA's practices as “absolutely brutal” in a Tuesday speech on the Senate floor. The practices employed at black sites ­—secret CIA prisons located around the world — were "far worse than the CIA represented them to policymakers and others," she said

While the CIA tormented detainees abroad, the Senate committee says it misled Congress at home. In one case cited by the report, the agency did not respond to a series of questions from Sen. Bob Graham, then the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, while "noting in its own internal communications that he would be leaving the committee in January 2003."

CIA director John Brennan acknowledged in a statement that the agency had "made mistakes," but he avoided using the word torture, and he denied that the CIA had misled Congress. He also disagreed with the Senate committee's conclusion that the CIA program had yielded little useful information. "The intelligence gained from the program was critical to our understanding of Al-Qaeda and continues to inform our counterterrorism efforts to this day," he said.

Other administration officials denounced the practices outlined in the report but also stopped short of describing them as torture. President Barack Obama described them as "enhanced interrogation,” apparently backtracking from August when he acknowledged in a televised news conference that the U.S. had “tortured some folks.”

In a statement, Obama expressed his hope that the committee’s report would not serve as "another reason to refight old arguments."

Secretary of State John Kerry emphasized in a statement: "It's important that this period not define the intelligence community in anyone's minds."

"Every single day, the State Department and our diplomats and their families are safer because of the men and women of the CIA and the Intelligence Community," he said.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney, who has publicly acknowledged his role in approving CIA interrogation tactics, dismissed the report's findings before they had even been publicly released. "What I keep hearing out there is they portray this as a rogue operation and the agency was way out of bounds and then they lied about it,” Cheney told The New York Times. “I think that’s all a bunch of hooey. The program was authorized. The agency did not want to proceed without authorization, and it was also reviewed legally by the Justice Department before they undertook the program."

The report notes that CIA officials drafted a letter in 2002 asking for Justice Department review for the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, saying that the agency needed to use "more aggressive methods" while conceding that these methods, in the words of the report, "would otherwise be prohibited by the torture statute." However, the report notes, there is no evidence the letter was actually sent to the Justice Department.

American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony Romero is among those demanding more answers. He called the Senate report "shocking" in a statement and urged the Department of Justice to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate. "This should be the beginning of the process, not the end," he said, adding that the report should "shock" Obama and Congress into action.

"We submit this study on behalf of the committee to the public in the belief that it will stand the test of the time," said Feinstein. "And with it the report will carry the message, 'Never again.'"

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CIA, Torture
George W. Bush

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George W. Bush

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