International Affairs

CIA and Torture

“They tortured the corpse

until dawn broke down

When the tortures were finally tired

And took a break,

The corpse moved its little finger,

opened its wounded eyes,

and muttered something.

Was it asking for water?

Did it perhaps ask for bread?

Was it cursing them or asking them for more?”

                              -“The Corpse” Sargon Boulus

                                    (translated from Arabic by Sinan Antoon)


On the eve of international Human Rights Day, the United States’ Select Committee on Intelligence released the 600-page executive summary of the committee’s 6,700 page Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Detention and Interrogation Programme. The summary was astonishing.  There are vivid descriptions of tortures which were inflicted on the CIA detainees. The U.S government, under George W. Bush, called these tortures “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EIT)”.

The reaction to the report has been along the partisan lines. Veterans of the Bush administration, who authorised these tortures, vehemently denounced the report. The report has also generated fierce rebuttal from the CIA. John Brennan, its current director, has admitted that the CIA “has not lived up to the standards that we set for ourselves”[i]. However, he insisted that the failings took place for a short span of time, just after the 9/11 attacks.  At this time, the agency was under intense pressure from the politicians and citizens, and believed that an event of that scale would not occur again. In an interview with Politico, Michael Hayden, a former CIA director, called the investigations “analytically offensive”[ii].

Gul Rahman was tortured by the CIA in the Salt Pit, an abandoned brick factory north of Kabul. He suffered from 48 hours of sleep deprivation, with loud music playing throughout in total darkness. When the CIA officers got angry with Gul Rahman, they ordered that he be shackled to the wall. The next day his dead body was found by the guards. The autopsy suggested that Rahman died due to hypothermia, partially because he was forced to sit on the floor without pants. Others did not deserve to be in CIA custody. Someone with a vendetta against Arsala Khan sold him to the CIA as the person who helped Osama Bin Laden escape from Tora Bora. After a month of torture and four years of incarceration, Khan was released. He was considered to be lucky. The report also shows that the CIA went to waterboard Khalid Sheikh Mohammad (KSM), the self-styled architect of the 9/11 attacks. Waterboarding is a series of near drowning. KSM was waterboarded fifteen times. Waterboarding, first used by the U.S military in the war against the Philippines is recognized as a form of torture by the U.S. military and even the U.S State Department believes that submersion in water is a form of torture.

Was the torture effective?

The second half of the report has asked a simple question; was the torture effective? The answer in the report is a clear no. The Bush administration and the CIA said that the torture had “saved American lives”. The Senate report has talked about eight significant plots that CIA prevented by the use of torture.  The forensic analysis suggests that the representations made by the CIA are inaccurate and unsupported by its own records. For instance, the Indonesian militant Hanabali admitted that he had provided the CIA interrogator with false information in order to ward off the pressure on him and to give an account of what was consistent with what the interrogators wanted to hear.

Human Rights Watch’s Andrea Prasow said that “sometimes torture could produce accurate information and sometimes it could not”.

Will there be accountability?

The Senate report affirms that countries in Europe and Asia collaborated with the U.S to create “black sites” for the torture. The countries implicated but not named are Afghanistan, Lithuania. Poland, Romania and Thailand. These allies, of the US, have been embarrassed by the report. The former prime minster of the Poland Lezek Miller had to admit that they allowed the CIA to run “black sites” on the Polish soil but they had never approved the American torture techniques.

In January, the republicans will take over the Senate; they are in no mood to curb the CIA. Many Republicans have stated that the report has put the lives of Americans in danger.

USA’s own government agency has suggested that its officials have committed acts of torture. Therefore, it is obligatory to investigate further and bring charges against the perpetrators.

About the Author

IMG_0603Diva Choudhary 

Diva is presently pursuing first year, B.A.LL.B at Symbiosis Law School, Pune. She is an avid reader and a dog lover. She loves photography, travelling and creative writing. She is also a staunch feminist.



[i] The Economist, (December 13- 19),  p.32

[ii] The Economist( December 13  19) , p.32

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