The newly declassified revelations that Central Intelligence Agency interrogators sexually assaulted a detainee in ways not previously detailed publicly should come as no surprise. The methods — videotaping the detainee naked, repeatedly touching or pouring ice water on his genitals — may be news, but the use of sexual violence by CIA interrogators is well documented in the summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA detention and interrogation released six months ago.
The Senate torture report is a graphic testament to official deception and brutality. It provides stark evidence that CIA interrogators threatened a number of detainees with sexual assault and actually raped others.
According to the Senate report, CIA personnel subjected at least five detainees to “rectal feeding,” described in one case as pureeing of the contents of a lunch tray and infusing the mash into the detainee’s rectum via medical tube. Other detainees “were threatened” with the procedure.
Federal law defines rape as including penetration by any object with an intent to “abuse, humiliate, harass, degrade, or arouse” either through the use of force or by threatening the person with grievous bodily harm. Under the official definition, the threat of rape is a form of sexual assault.
The CIA claims to have used rectal feeding rehydration in response to detainees’ refusal to eat, but the Senate report is clear that the procedure was performed “without evidence of medical necessity.” Even if it were lawful to force-feed detainees who voluntarily refuse food, the Senate report rejects this claim, citing the case of Majid Khan — the source of the most recent sexual assault revelations — a detainee who had cooperated with gastric feeding but was nonetheless later rectally rehydrated.
As a medical procedure, rectal rehydration or feeding is outdated and unnecessary. Medical experts make clear that there is “no clinical indication to use rectal rehydration and feeding over oral or intravenous administration of fluids and nutrients.”
A footnote in the report gives a better sense of the CIA’s intent: “CIA medical officers discussed rectal rehydration as a means of behavior control.” And someone from the CIA’s Office of Medical Services described the rectal rehydration of the alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as helping to “clear a person’s head” and effective in getting him to talk.
“We used the largest … tube we had,” one CIA officer wrote in an email quoted in the Senate report. “No need to squeeze the bag — let gravity do the work,” another CIA officer wrote. And it wasn’t just rectal rehydration: The report makes clear that the CIA leadership knew that two detainees had undergone rectal exams conducted with “excessive force.”
The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) was passed by Congress unanimously and signed by President George W. Bush in 2003. It defines prison rape as the rape of an inmate under the control of prison officials, in “any confinement facility” run by the federal government, and as involving “the use of any hand, finger, object, or other instrument to penetrate, however slightly, the genital or anal opening of the body of another person,” regardless of intent.
Tellingly, Frank Wolf, a Republican congressman and original sponsor of PREA, drew an explicit link in 2002 between prison rape and torture. “Prison rape, like all other forms of sexual assault, is torture — the infliction of severe emotional and physical pain as punishment and coercion.”
The punishments for such abuses have been severe. In 1997, Justin Volpe, a New York City police officer, sexually assaulted Abner Louima after arresting him, sodomizing him with a broomstick handle. Volpe was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison, and the city paid Louima $8.7 million. In 2007, Anthony Townes, a prison guard at the Camino Nuevo Correctional Center in New Mexico raped four inmates and is now serving 18 years in prison — a federal jury awarded the women more than $3 million in damages.
In the past week, Congress has been considering an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act introduced by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) that would require all U.S. agencies, including the CIA, to use only those techniques listed in the Army Field Manual when interrogating detainees. Though sexual abuse and assault are clearly prohibited under U.S. law, this requirement would more specifically restrain the physical action U.S. interrogators could take. The Army Field Manual generally prohibits cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees, and specifically prohibits forcing detainees “to be naked, perform sexual acts, or pose in a sexual manner.” This proposed legislation represents a helpful step looking forward.
The United States, however, still needs to tackle the abuses in the past. There is no statute of limitations on rape under federal law. Yet no one implicated in CIA torture, including the rape and sexual assault of detainees, is under criminal investigation, let alone being prosecuted.
There’s no getting around this: Touching a detainees’ genitals is abusive sexual contact. Rectal feeding is rape. The Department of Justice would not abide the use of rape by prison guards as a form of behavior control in a U.S. prison. Why should it here?