10 Truly Terrible Things the CIA Did In Our Names, Because Freedom - Rolling Stone
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10 Truly Terrible Things the CIA Did In Our Names, Because Freedom

The dark shame of how we abused prisoners at secret prisons after 9/11


U.S. Navy guards escort a detainee at Camp 6 in the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Guantanamo, Cuba.

John Moore/Getty

The revelations from the Senate’s long-delayed report on CIA torture are every bit as horrifying as advertised.

What follows are 10 despicable things the Central Intelligence Agency perpetrated in our names in the aftermath of 9/11.

1) From the beginning, CIA lawyers dreamed up a novel defense for torturing people. 

On November 26, 2001, the CIA’s Office of General Counsel proposed a legal workaround to get away with “torture”. Note that the Orwellian term “enhanced interrogation” was not deployed in these early days to varnish the reality of the acts anticipated. (Italics original. Boldface added.)

“[I]t would, therefore, be a novel application of the necessity defense to avoid prosecution of U.S. officials who tortured to obtain information that saved many lives… A policy decision must be made with regard to U.S. use of torture in light of our obligations under international law, with consideration given to the circumstances and to international opinion on our current campaign against terrorism—states may be very unwilling to call the U.S. to task for torture when it resulted in saving thousands of lives.” [Executive Summary: Page 179]

2) The CIA ran a “dungeon” called COBALT. 

It was overseen by a rookie. And the agency’s chief of interrogations thought it was just aces.

“Conditions at CIA detention sites were poor, and were especially bleak early in the program. CIA detainees at the COBALT detention facility were kept in complete darkness and constantly shackled in isolated cells with loud noise or music and only a bucket to use for human waste.” [Findings and Conclusions: Page 4]

The CIA placed a junior officer with no relevant experience in charge of COBALT.” [Findings and Conclusions: Page 10]

“The chief of interrogations, told the CIA OIG that ‘[DETENTION SITE COBALT] is good for interrogations because it is the closest thing he has seen to a dungeon.'” [Executive Summary: Page 50] 


3) The conditions at COBALT were medieval and deadly.

“On November XX, 2002, a detainee who had been held partially nude and chained to a concrete floor died from suspected hypothermia at the facility.” [Findings and Conclusions: Page 10] 

Rahman was wearing only a sweatshirt, as [CIA OFFICER 1] had ordered that Rahman’s clothing be removed when he had been judged to be uncooperative during an earlier interrogation. The next day, the guards found Gul Rahman’s dead body.” [Executive Summary: Page 54]

4) Many of the CIA’s interrogators were known sadists.

“This group of officers included individuals who, among other issues, had engaged in inappropriate detainee interrogations, had workplace anger management issues, and had reportedly admitted to sexual assault.” [Executive Summary: Page 50]

5) CIA interrogators threatened to rape or kill the detainees’ mothers and to harm their children.

“CIA officers also threatened at least three detainees with harm to their families – to include threats to harm the children of a detainee, threats to sexually abuse the mother of a detainee, and a threat to ‘cut [a detainee’s] mother’s throat.'” [Findings and Conclusions: Page 4] 

6) The CIA intended to permanently disappear a detainee named Abu Zubaydah.

“The CIA lacked a plan for the eventual disposition of its detainees. After taking custody of Abu Zubaydah, CIA officers concluded that he ‘should remain incommunicado for the remainder of his life.'” [Findings and Conclusions: Page 9]

7) Zubaydah was nearly drowned on the waterboard, revived only with the Heimlich maneuver. 

“During a waterboard session, Abu Zubaydah “became completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.” He remained unresponsive after the waterboard was rotated upwards and only regained consciousness aifter receiving a “xyphoid thrust.” [Executive Summary: Page 495]

8) The CIA sexually assaulted detainees with brutal “rectal exams.”

“CIA leadership… was also alerted to allegations that rectal exams were conducted with “excessive force” on two detainees at DETENTION SITE COBALT…. CIA records indicate that one of the detainees, Mustafa al-Hawsawi, was later diagnosed with chronic hemorrhoids, an anal fissure, and symptomaticrectal prolapse.” [Executive Summary: Page 100] 


9) Detainees, including alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, were subject to, and threatened with, medically unnecessary “rectal rehydration.” 

“Chief of Interrogations| [REDACTED] also ordered the rectal rehydration of KSM  without a determination of medical need, a procedure that the chief of interrogations would later characterize as illustrative of the interrogator’s ‘total control over the detainee.'” [Executive Summary: Page 82]

“On March 5, 2003, KSM was also subjected to additional rectal rehydration, which [REDACTED] described as … effective in getting KSM to talk.” [Executive Summary: Page 83]

“CIA medical officers discussed rectal rehydration as a means of behavior control.” [Executive Summary: Page 100]

“The officer wrote that, ‘[W]hat I infer is that you get a tube up as far as you can, then open the IV wide.'” [Ibid]

10) CIA torture produced a bounty of fabrications – rather than useful intelligence.

“Throughout the period during which KSM was subjected to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques, KSM provided inaccurate information, much of which he would later acknowledge was fabricated and recant… In June 2003, KSM stated he fabricated the story because he was ‘under “enhanced measures” when he made these claims and simply told his interrogators what he thought they wanted to hear.'” [Executive Summary: Page 213-214]


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