CIA detainees were ‘tortured’, damning report says

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) logo in the lobby of CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Picture: Getty

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) logo in the lobby of CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Picture: Getty

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THE US Senate has delivered a damning indictment of CIA practices, accusing the spy agency of inflicting pain and suffering on prisoners beyond legal limits and deceiving the nation that its interrogation techniques saved lives.

Treatment in secret prisons a decade ago was worse than the government told Congress or the public, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report found.

Five hundred pages were released, representing the executive summary and conclusions of a still-classified 6,700-page full investigation.

“Under any common meaning of the term, CIA detainees were tortured,” Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat and the committee chairman, said.

Tactics included weeks of sleep deprivation, slapping and slamming of detainees against walls, confining them to small boxes, keeping them isolated for prolonged periods and threatening them with death. Three detainees faced the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding. Many developed psychological problems.

But the “enhanced interrogation techniques” didn’t produce the results that really mattered, according to the report.

It cites CIA cables, emails and interview transcripts to rebut claims that the torture thwarted terror plots and saved American lives.

Report findings

The report, released after months of negotiations with the administration about what should be censored, was issued amid concerns of an anti-American backlash overseas. American embassies and military sites worldwide were taking extra precautions.

Earlier this year, Senator Feinstein accused the CIA of infiltrating Senate computer systems in a dispute over documents as relations between the investigators and the spy agency deteriorated, the issue still sensitive years after President Barack Obama halted the interrogation practices upon taking office.

Former CIA officials disputed the report’s findings. So did Senate Republicans, whose written dissent accuses Democrats of inaccuracies, sloppy analysis and cherry-picking evidence to reach a predetermined conclusion. CIA officials prepared their own response acknowledging serious mistakes, but saying they gained vital intelligence that still guides counter-terrorism efforts.

“The programme led to the capture of al Qaida leaders and took them off the battlefield,” said George Tenet, CIA director when the September 11, 2001, attacks occurred. He said it saved “thousands of American lives”.

President George W Bush approved the programme through a covert finding in 2002, but he was not briefed by the CIA about the details until 2006. At that time Bush expressed some discomfort. Bush said in his 2010 memoirs that he discussed the programme with CIA director George Tenet, but Tenet told the CIA inspector general that never happened.

After al Qaida operative Abu Zubaydah was arrested in Pakistan, the CIA received permission to use waterboarding, sleep deprivation, close confinement and other techniques. Agency officials added unauthorised methods into the mix, the report says.

Torture techniques

Other torture methods approved by the CIA included the use of insects placed in a confinement box.

Another technique was the attention grasp, which involves grasping an individual with both hands on each side of a collar opening; walling, which is when an individual is pushed against a wall quickly; and stress positions.

In the report, which is a 480-page executive summary of the more than 6,000-page original, chair of the Committee Senator Dianne Feinstein said: “The major lesson of this report is that regardless of the pressures and the need to act, the intelligence community’s actions must always reflect who we are as a nation, and adhere to our laws and standards.”

The Committee concludes that the CIA’s use of interrogation techniques was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining co-operation from detainees.

It also found that the CIA’s justification for the use of these torture methods “rested on inaccurate claims of their effectiveness”.

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Among cases cited were a number of UK-linked plots or arrests, which the CIA said were assisted by its interrogation programme.

One is the case of convicted terrorist Barot, who was sentenced at Woolwich Crown Court in 2006 to life, with a minimum term of 30 years, for planning to plant radioactive, chemical or toxic gas bombs and pack limousines with nails and explosives in the UK and America.

Over a number of years, the CIA used the capture of the north London schoolboy and thwarting of his plots as evidence for the “effectiveness” of enhanced interrogation techniques.

The report concluded their claims were “inaccurate”.

It said: “The operation that resulted in... Dhiren Barot’s arrest, and the thwarting of his plotting, resulted from the investigative activities of UK government authorities.”

The CIA also claimed that the smashing of a plot hatched by suspected 9/11 mastermind Mohammed to fly hijacked planes into Heathrow Airport and Canary Wharf as evidence for the “effectiveness” of their interrogation tactics.

After the Twin Towers atrocity, Mohammed was said to have “sought to target the United Kingdom using hijacked aircraft and surmised that Heathrow Airport and a building in Canary Wharf, a major business district in London, were powerful economic symbols”.

It went on: “The initial plan was for al Qaida operatives to hijack multiple airplanes departing Heathrow Airport, turn them around, and crash them into the airport itself.

“Security was assessed to be too tight at Heathrow Airport and the plan was altered to focus on aircrafts departing from mainly Eastern European airports to conduct attacks against Heathrow Airport. Al-Qaida was unable to locate pilots to conduct these attacks.”

The purported disruption of a plot against Heathrow and Canary Wharf was one of the eight most frequently cited examples used by the CIA to justify its interrogation activities, but again the Committee said the claims were “inaccurate”.

It said: “The CIA represented that its enhanced interrogation techniques were effective and produced critical, otherwise unavailable intelligence, which thwarted plots and saved lives.

“Over a period of years, the CIA provided the identification and thwarting of the Heathrow Airport plot as evidence for the effectiveness of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques.

“These representations were inaccurate. A review of records indicates that the Heathrow Airport and Canary Wharf plotting had not progressed beyond the initial planning stages when the operation was fully disrupted.”

Over a period of years, the CIA also flagged the identification, discovery, capture and arrest of Badat to support its controversial practices.

Badat was jailed in 2005 after he admitted plotting to explode a shoebomb on a transatlantic flight in December 2001 at the same time as fellow shoebomber Richard Reid, but changed his mind and decided not to go through with it.

Again, the CIA representations were inaccurate, the report added: “UK domestic investigative efforts, reporting from foreign intelligence services, international law enforcement efforts, and US military reporting resulted in the identification and arrest of Saajid Badat.”

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