Richard Jackson

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Richard Jackson moved to Australia from Northern Ireland. He likes it here but detests that parking meters often don't supply change.

Long Read: Torture in CIA detention

Incensed by the recently released US Senate Intelligence Committee report into the CIA’s use of torture during the Bush administration, Richard Jackson has written his own “Long Read of the Week.”


(This is a follow up to a piece that mainly focused on the Constitution Report, a non-partisan examination of the treatment of detainees by the USA.)


Hummus shoved up an ass, threats of sexual violence, beatings, torture, death and lies upon lies.

These are just some of the revelations from the recently released US Senate Intelligence Committee report into the CIA’s use of torture during the Bush administration between 2001 and 2009. Much of the report remains classified; out of total of 6,700 pages only 525 pages of the executive summary have been made public, much of it redacted.

The enquiry was launched in 2009 with the revelation that in 2005 Jose Rodriguez, the CIA’s then Deputy Director for Operations and head of NCS, had ordered the destruction of nearly 100 waterboarding videotapes of Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the later “intimately involved” in the USS Cole bombing of 2000.

He described the destruction as, “Just getting rid of some ugly visuals.”

This report was the subject of fierce fighting and debate between different branches of government, including the White House, the Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA, who, it later turned out, had actually spied on the Senate Committee, by hacking into their computers and searching their emails.

Senator Diane Finestein, lead author of the report, decided not to fully declassify the report, believing the “Executive Summary includes enough information to adequately describe the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program.” Amongst the brutality, there are 20 conclusions that the committee came to, essentially finding that the CIA’s use of torture was not effective at gathering intelligence; agents used methods not approved by either the Department of Justice (DOJ) or CIA Headquarters; they exaggerated claims of its effectiveness; and it was more brutal than they let on.

They also “actively avoided or impeded congressional oversight of the program,” providing inaccurate information to the DOJ, and they impeded White House oversight.

The specific details of the interrogations make for hard reading.

Arguably the most infamous form of interrogation was waterboarding, or as the report labels it, a “series of near drownings,” borrowing a phrase from the doctor monitoring the interrogation of Khalid Shaykh Muhammad (KSM), while Abu Zubaydah was described as becoming “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.”

Stress positions were also a common technique used by interrogators. In one instance in 2003, four detainees with injuries, two with a broken foot, one with a sprained ankle and one with a prosthetic leg, were shackled in the standing position until assessed by a medical professional they couldn’t continue.

The Senate report:

“The two detainees that each had a broken foot were also subjected to walling (being thrown against walls), stress positions, and cramped confinement…” (Page 101)

Sex is a weapon of war and interrogators used it as a threat. During the interrogation of al-Nashiri, between being “slapped to the back of the head”; having a forced bath “with a stiff brush”; having a pistol placed to his head; being put in improvised stress positions causing cuts and bruises, and intervention by the medical officer concerned that his shoulders would dislocate, the interrogators threatened to bring his mother in front of him and sexually abuse her.

That was despite the fact that while in the custody of a foreign country, al-Nashiri had already provided information on “plotting in the Persian Gulf.” Interrogators at the black site judged him to be “cooperative and truthful” and that “employing enhanced measures will accomplish nothing except show that he will be punished whether he cooperates or not, thus eroding any remaining desire to continue cooperating.” CIA headquarters disagreed, which is when the intensity was stepped up.

The hummus up the ass was part of a process called rectal feeding, a method to “feed” detainees unwilling to eat, but tellingly as the Senate report states, it was used as a threat against other detainees and lauded as a means of behaviour control.

Allen Keller, director of the Bellevue/New York University Program for Survivors of Torture said: “Given the circumstances, this is sodomy with the intention of humiliation under the guise of medical treatment.” In the aforementioned case, “Majid Khan’s ‘lunch tray,’ consisting of hummus, pasta with sauce, buts and raisins was ‘pureed’ and rectally infused.”

It is important to reiterate, arguably the most important point revealed in the document is that torture is ineffective. This is what is being reiterated by apologists of the program, like former Vice-President Dick Cheney and ex-CIA officials, who have even gone so far to establish the website, arguing that not only did the program work but it saved lives.

The Senate report:

“According to CIA records, seven of the 39 CIA detainees known to have been subjected to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques produced no intelligence while in CIA custody.”


KSM was subjected to pretty much a smorgasbord of torture tactics: being physically hit; stress positions; sleep deprivation, on occasion of up to 180 hours; nudity; water dowsing; and then rectal rehydration, which the chief of interrogations later characterised as illustrative of “total control over the detainee.”

These techniques led to KSM fabricating information on an individual leading to the capture and detention of two men – that all came before the waterboarding, which he was subjected to at least 183 times.


The Senate report confirms that torture did not lead to the raid on Osama bin Laden’s private compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan and to his death. This is documented in a letter by Senator Diane Feinstein, and in the 2013 Constitution report, written without access to CIA documents. The writers point to the fact that they have no evidence to suggest “enhanced interrogation” worked, because the CIA has never made any evidence available for scrutiny. We now know this is because there isn’t any.

In order for this program to be implemented, America needed the assistance of international partners. 54 countries played a role in the torture program, and while the names of these countries have been redacted from the Senate report, it is known that Australia helped with the transfer of detainees. They even issued compensation to a victim, although the details remain confidential.

However, despite the revelations, despite breaking international treaties, despite the permanent damage to the reputation of the CIA and the legacy of the Bush administration: they won. Despite calls for prosecution from groups like Amnesty International, no action will be brought at any level of government, partially because Obama has no desire to:

Rather than another reason to refight old arguments, I hope that today’s report can help us leave these techniques where they belong – in the past.

The CIA had a hand in redacting this report; they got to help decide the evidence used in their public trial. That is more than their victims got, who remain silent – many still in Guantanamo. Some have been described as broken. They weren’t interviewed for this report, so the horrors they continue to suffer haven’t been put on government record, seeing as this was an examination of internal documents.

Gul Ruhman died of exposure having been left in a stress position; where is his justice?

I will leave you with the words of Fox News talking head Andre Tantaros discussing the publication of the report:

The United States of America is awesome. We are awesome, but we’ve had this discussion .

The reason want to have this discussion is not to show how awesome we are. This administration wants to have this discussion to show us how we’re not awesome.

Hummus up arses?



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