10 Craziest Things in the Senate Report on Torture
Capitol Hill yesterday provided America with a classic set piece of partisan performance art: a pair of sanctimonious legislative events, one for each chamber, the two parties blaming each other for high crimes.
On the House side, Republican Oversight Chief Darrell Issa emceed a Fox News reality show in which Obamacare advisor Jonathan Gruber was metaphorically burned at the stake. Issa had finally captured alive the most reviled demon of the Republican myth: a bespectacled coastal intellectual who not only collected millions ($5.9 million, to be exact) from the government helping institute redistributionist policies, but also snickered in his down time about how ordinary Americans are too dumb to govern themselves. If there’s such a thing as conservative snuff porn, this was it.
Meanwhile, on the Senate side, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chair Dianne Feinstein released a controversial study about perhaps the worst chapter in the history of the Bush administration: the “Enhanced Interrogation” program, which the Senate in its last days of Democratic control has decided finally to call “torture” (see page 4 of the report).
Because of the way our media works, there will be a lot of hemming and hawing about the political implications of yesterday’s events, while less attention will be focused on the fine print. Who can guess at the motive behind the release of the Feinstein report, but one clear objective is to place the end of the American “torture” regime in January of 2009. That was when Barack Obama came to office and signed Executive Order 13491, restricting interrogations to the techniques outlined in the Army Field Manual.
I’m not sure I’m buying that the U.S. government suddenly got religion about mistreatment of terror suspects once Obama took office, particularly since this government massively accelerated a drone-assassination program that years from now, when some Senate Republican releases a Feinstein-like report on that chapter of our history, will probably make the Bush torture regime look like pretty weak beer. (This is despite the hilarious protests from mainstream press commentators like this one claiming that having robots murder people from the sky is somehow more humane, and less of a moral and religious outrage, than torture).
Still, the end result of what may or may not be a deceptively partisan effort to lay America’s torture legacy solely at the feet of people like George Bush and Dick Cheney is that we get a rare chunk of actual facts to examine. No matter who is to blame for all of this, no matter when people like Nancy Pelosi and Jay Rockefeller knew about it, and no matter when exactly it all ended, the stuff in this report appears really to have happened. And after a quick read-through overnight, it’s pretty clear that we approved behaviors far worse, and far weirder, than was ever admitted to previously.
In no particular order, here are the 10 craziest things I found in the Feinstein report:
1) “Rectal Feeding.”
Two phrases leap out at you in the very first pages of the report. Feinstein’s authors drop the terms “rectal feeding” and “rectal hydration” on page four, in an early summary of abuses, and then simply move on without explaining:
At least five CIA detainees were subjected to “rectal rehydration” or rectal feeding without documented medical necessity. The CIA placed detainees in ice water “baths…”
As a reader I was really distracted by the use of quotation marks around the term “rectal rehydration” while there was no punctuation at all around rectal feeding. Was I supposed to know what the one was, and not the other?
Reading on, one at first thinks that these are just fancy terms for simple enemas and force-feedings – techniques the interrogators used to try to circumvent the attempts of terror suspects like Khalid-Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah to resist the intake of food and water. In some places, the shoving of water and sustenance up the terror-suspect’s backside is described as merely more efficient than IV methods, quoting CIA operatives:
[W]hile IV infusion is safe and effective, we were impressed with the ancillary effectiveness of rectal infusion in ending water refusal in another case…
But as you read on, you start to sense a kind of fondness for the rectal procedures that is frankly a little creepy. Sounding like a man describing with satisfaction how well his new remote-control garage-door opener works, one officer reported:
Regarding the rectal tube, if you place it and open up the IV tubing, the flow will self regulate, sloshing up the large intestines… What I infer is that you get a tube up as far as you can, then open the IV wide. No need to squeeze the bag – let gravity do the work.
Then, later, you find out that the “rectal hydration” procedures were not only executed to fill resisting suspects with fluid and sustenance. They were also used to put them in a talking mood. The report talks of how “rectal hydration” of KSM was ordered “without a determination of medical need,” which the chief interrogator explained was indicative of the questioner’s “total control over the detainee.”
In the case of KSM, they used the technique as a means to “clear a person’s head,” and believed it was helpful in getting him to talk. The report explains that KSM fabricated information during this period, leading to the capture and CIA detention of “two innocent individuals.”
Then, in a classic case of “force drift” – the phenomenon in which the use of one permitted interrogation technique inexorably moves toward harsher and weirder behaviors – the CIA interrogators got downright bizarre with a suspect named Majid Khan:
Majid Khan’s “lunch tray,” consisting of hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts, and raisins, was “pureed” and rectally infused.
So my tax dollars were used to shove raisins, pasta, hummus and nuts up someone’s rectum. Awesome! What else did we do?