09 Dec The Senate Torture Report
At long last, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has released the executive “summary” of its report into torture conducted by the CIA. The report is available here.
Here are some first reactions.
The nature and conditions of the interrogations are indeed horrendous. The report specifically concludes that the CIA interrogations were harsher than previously recognized and the report’s allegations certainly back up this finding. Not only did CIA officers use waterboarding more often than was generally known, but other techniques were brutal. I found it shocking that one detainee was shackled to the floor of a cold facility for so long that he died of hypothermia. The report describes the COBALT black site as a “dungeon.”
Some detainees were subject to “rectal rehydration or rectal feeding without documented medical necessity.” The report is hedging a bit by including the phrase “documented.” If the procedures were medically necessary that’s one thing. But if they were not necessary and performed without the consent of the detainee, then they constituted an assault and arguably a sexual assault.
Parts of the report could be used as an apology for the Office of the Legal Counsel in the Justice Department, which authored the torture memos. The report focuses on the fact that the CIA misled the White House and other executive agencies over the nature of the interrogations and the usefulness of the intelligence gleaned from these sessions. The OLC argued that the necessity defense could exculpate CIA officers accused of unlawfully committing torture because the torture was “necessary to save lives.” According to the Senate report, the torture program saved no lives whatsoever, so the OLC argument on necessity was essentially based on a lie. But the report seems to fault the CIA for this, since the OLC opinion was based on the information it received from the CIA. Although clearly the CIA should be criticized if they provided inaccurate information, the report makes it sound as if the OLC was duped by the CIA — which I find highly unlikely. In any event, there are plenty of problems with the OLC’s legal work even if you assume (which I don’t) that torture can yield actionable and reliable intelligence.
Finally, the report documents the use of trained psychologists who were called in to design and oversee aspects of the interrogation program. There has been a lot of scrutiny in the psychology profession over whether this type of work was appropriate for psychologists. The report documents that the design was based on the concept of “learned helplessness” or the idea that detainees would eventually become so compliant out of a sense of helplessness that they would start assisting their interrogators. This is a fiction and a fanciful one at that. It strikes me as pseudo-science (as applied to interrogational torture). The psychologists formed a corporation to provide these services to the CIA on an outsourced basis and were paid $81 million.