The CIA Laid Bare

On Dec. 9, the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee exposed the executive summary of a report on the detention and interrogation program developed and implemented by the Central Intelligence Agency during George W. Bush’s presidency, resulting from the attack on the twin towers in September 2001. The brutality of the methods used has shaken the international community.

After four years of investigations and more than $40 million invested, the Senate Democratic majority has made what some analysts consider to be the most severe criticism of the CIA in 40 years.

The Psychology of Torture

According to The Huffington Post, in an article published on Dec. 9, psychologists and former military personnel James Elmer Mitchell and Bruce Jessen received $81 million from the CIA to develop and monitor a detention and interrogation program for terrorist suspects. The methods were to be different from those traditionally used by the CIA and FBI. Strangely enough, the fact that Mitchell and Jessen had no knowledge on terrorism, al-Qaida, nor even the culture, region or language of those being interrogated, was considered by the CIA to be of added value.

The torture techniques developed by Mitchell and Jessen, which include simulated drowning, mock burials, sleep deprivation, confinement boxes with insects — depending on the interrogees’ phobias — among others, aimed at creating such a level of helplessness and defenselessness that the detainee would give up the desired information.

The methods are so cruel that according to journalist Jane Mayer, in the Dec. 22 edition of The New Yorker, the CIA interrogators would have sought to ensure that the detainees remained “incommunicado” for the rest of their lives, otherwise they would reveal the brutal torture that they had suffered. Perhaps, this explains why no detainees at Guantanamo Bay have been allowed a public trial.

Did This Serve Any Purpose?

It is important to remember that President George W. Bush stated on several occasions that the interrogation program was humane and legal, claiming that the information obtained had been instrumental in preventing further terrorist attacks and capturing al-Qaida leaders. Former Vice President Dick Cheney and other former CIA senior officials have claimed, for their part, that the information emanating from the interrogations was fundamental in finding Osama bin Laden.

The Senate report tells a very different story: The interrogees, subjected to brutal torture techniques, generally gave false information, in many cases involving innocent individuals with fatal consequences. The information that was obtained turned out to be of little value. This leads to the conclusion that torture played no role in preventing plots, capturing terrorists, or finding bin Laden. In other words, it served no purpose whatsoever.

Republican Fury

Former Vice President Dick Cheney has described the report as “full of crap”; Sen. Mitch McConnell – who will soon assume the position of Senate majority leader – has stated that it is an “ideologically motivated and distorted” document; and John Cornyn, the Senate’s second-highest ranking Republican, has said that we should not be criticizing the CIA, but thanking them. On top of that, Republicans who are loyal to George W. Bush, under whose presidency the torture program was developed, launched a webpage refuting the report’s main findings – see Mark Mazetti, The New York Times, Dec. 9, 2014.

Up to now, the 524-page-long executive summary that the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee allowed to be declassified is all that is known. In January 2015, the Republicans will assume the Senate majority, and there is a possibility that the remaining 6,000-odd pages in the report will forever remain unknown.

What Will Happen Next?

Ben Emmerson, United Nations special rapporteur on counterterrorism, stated that it is necessary to penalize those responsible. Yet, up to now, only one CIA official has been arrested, not for implementing the simulated drowning technique, but for disclosing related information to the press.

As Darious Rejali, specialist in the tension between democracy and torture, says – cited by Jane Mayer in The New Yorker – there is a five- to six-year window for any kind of accountability regarding atrocities committed. That window seems to be already closed. And as Rejali adds, “Nothing predicts future behavior as much as past impunity.”

And so, who will penalize those responsible for these violations?

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