On the CIA Torture Program


Gul Rahman

I’m rather late weighing in on this, but the United States has tortured at least one person to death in the course of its ‘War on Terror.’ Gul Rahman died of hypothermia during “enhanced interrogation” at COBALT, a secret CIA prison probably located in Afghanistan, while chained half-naked to the concrete floor of his cell.

This is according to the recently-released, 528-page executive summary of the Senate’s investigation into the CIA’s torture program. The full, 6,700-page report remains classified.

Other impressively inhumane revelations from the summary include:

  • So-called “rectal feeding/rectal rehydration” of prisoners. Since this is not actually a medical procedure (despite former CIA director Michael Hayden’s insistence to the contrary) this would more accurately be described as “sexual assault,” which in the context of the ‘War on Terror’ is a war crime.
  • Shackling prisoners in standing-positions and then literally forgetting about them for days or weeks.
  • More than a fifth of the prisoners did not meet the CIA’s own standards for detention (i.e. were effectively innocent).
  • The torture program did not get any actionable intelligence, despite the CIA’s loud and long protestations to the contrary. Instead, the program “complicated, and in some cases impeded…national security.”

The Guardian has a horror-roundup here, on which I’ve leaned heavily, and the New York Review of Books has a thoughtful interview with longtime torture reporter Mark Danner here. If you need help getting through the grisly details (there’s no shame in a weak stomach), the satirical podcast the Bugle has a wonderfully dark summary, and On the Media’s coverage of press coverage of the report is as incisive as one would hope. The Washington Post covers Americans’ collective apathy toward the report here, which reporter Aaron Blake attributes to the widespread belief that torture works.

It’s worth emphasizing that the CIA’s torture program was nothing new. Pretty much since its inception, the agency has been in the business of interrogation by torture. One example is the infamous MKUltra program, which tested hallucinogens as a potential tool of interrogation and/or mind control. (For instance, seven prisoners at a Kentucky prison continuously tripped on LSD for 77 days.)

But while the drugs were novel, MKUltra itself was just a ramping-up of an older “overseas interrogation” project. From the CIA history Legacy of Ashes:

In [the Panama Canal Zone’s] cells, the agency was conducting secret experiments in harsh interrogation, using techniques on the edge of torture, drug-induced mind control, and brainwashing.

“Special interrogation techniques” inside these secret prisons probably continued throughout the 1950s, though it’s impossible to say with certainty because the agency destroyed most documentation of the program.


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