US senate report on CIA reveals widespread use of torture

Emir Nader
8 Min Read

A United States’ senate report into the “enhanced interrogation” techniques practiced by the CIA after the 9/11 attacks has confirmed widespread use of severe and illegal torture methods on detainees.

The 500-page executive summary of the full report, which remains classified, also references cooperation with foreign nations, including Egypt.

The report states that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) deliberately misled US congress on the procedures and efficiency of the “enhanced techniques” and the numbers of detainees subject to the methods.

The report states that the CIA held at least 119 suspects in secret overseas interrogation facilities during the Bush administration’s “War on Terror” programme. At least 26 of these detainees were found to be “wrongfully held”, according to the report.

Detainees were subject to regular beatings, simulated drowning (“waterboarding”), and “rectal feedings”, in which hunger striking detainees were kept alive by a violent and medically unsound procedure that involved injecting food through the anus.

Some detainees were forced to stand on broken limbs and were routinely deprived of sleep for extended periods – up to 180 hours in some cases. One detainee died of hypothermia and others were told that their family members would have their throats cut or be sexually abused, in attempt to obtain information.

The report reveals that Khalid Sheikh Mohamed, an alleged Al-Qaeda member, was waterboarded 180 times during March 2003.

The report was ordered by the Senate Intelligence Committee. Following the summary’s release, the committee’s chairperson Senator Dianne Feinstein stated that “the CIA’s actions are a stain on our values and on our history,” and she made it clear that the abuses “in some cases amount[ed] to torture”.

US President Barack Obama echoed the moral implications of the findings, stating: “[The abuses are] contrary to our values…I will continue to use my authority as president to make sure we never resort to those methods again.”

Whilst President Obama has so far attempted to draw a line under the programme and move on, in a Tuesday statement Ben Emmerson, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights, called for the prosecution of US officials involved.

Emmerson stated that “the individuals responsible for the criminal conspiracy revealed in today’s report must be brought to justice, and must face criminal penalties commensurate with the gravity of their crimes,” and he continued that this would include not just the perpetrators but should also include the senior officials that authorised the techniques.

The CIA has responded to the document’s release by maintaining that methods of the programme were necessary for national security.

“[The programme] did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists and save lives,” CIA Director John Brennan said in a statement on Tuesday.

However, running throughout the report is that information produced through the interrogations was of very little value in stopping plots against the US or its allies. Indeed, Kenneth Roth of Director of Human Rights Watch commented on the “blatantly illegal” methods saying: “We now know that the Bush administration’s claim that the torture was useful, that it protected us, was false.”

The report also refers to the foreign nations who worked in cooperation with the CIA on the programme. Whilst the names of countries involved have been redacted, Egypt is widely known to have been one of the key partners in the “extraordinary renditions” in which terrorist suspects were flown to foreign nations to be interrogated and tortured.

Indeed, the new report corroborates previous claims about the detention of Ibn Al-Sheikh Al-Libi, one of the most infamous cases of rendition. In 2002, Al-Libi was rendered to Egypt from Afghanistan by the CIA, whereupon he was subject to waterboarding and a mock-burial.

Al-Libi was tortured into false confessions that Iraq was cooperating with Al-Qaeda in producing chemical and biological weapons, claims which were used by then-Secretary of State Colin Powell when he sought approval at the UN Security Council for the 2003 US Invasion of Iraq.

Such was the notoriety of torture in Egypt that British activist and former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg stated that during his detention the “CIA threatened to send me to Mubarak’s Egypt or Assad’s Syria for failing to cooperate with them in Bagram prison 2003”.

In 2005 then-Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazief told the Chicago Tribune that they had been delivered “60 to 70” suspected terrorists from all over the world by the CIA.

Last week, ahead of the report’s release, the US embassy in Cairo sent a security message to ex-pat Americans in Egypt, warning them of “heightened tensions” and to take extra care in their movements. Another security warning was released Wednesday, the day after the report’s release.

Egypt, an important strategic ally of the United States and the second largest recipient of foreign aid after Israel, became involved in extraordinary renditions in 1995, during the Clinton administration. According to a report issued by the Open Society Foundations, one of Egypt’s motives for collaborating with the programme was to gain access to Al-Qaeda operatives, some of whom were Egyptian citizens.

Diana Eltahawy, Director of the Criminal Justice department at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) told Daily News Egypt that part of the problem in establishing the degree of interrogation in detention in Egypt is a lack of unreliable information.

“There’s very little transparency on numbers, when the government does issue figures about detainees they often are way below the estimates NGOs are working with,” she said.

Eltahawy said that whilst she did not have any information about current cooperation between the US and Egypt, the level of torture in Egypt is as bad now as it ever was, if not worse.

“We have lots of cases of men, particularly from rural Sinai, being abducted by men without uniforms,” she said. “They are taken to unofficial prison sites where they are subject to beatings and electric shocks, amongst other forms of abuse, for periods up to months.”

Whilst President Obama is keen to draw a line under the actions of the US during the 2000s, Sinai has become the battleground for Egypt’s own “War on Terror”. The senate report indicates some degree of transparency in the US. However, Egypt’s mounting campaign against Islamist militants in the peninsula is a largely undocumented exercise, conducted outside of public scrutiny.

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