Washington D.C., Dec 10, 2014 / 12:36 pm
Beatings. Sleep deprivation. Death by hypothermia. Isolation. A Senate report released Tuesday exposed a dark underbelly of the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program that oversaw 119 detainees between 2001 and 2009.
"The acts of torture described in the Senate Intelligence Committee's report violated the God-given human dignity inherent in all people and were unequivocally wrong," stated Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, head of the U.S. bishops' international justice and peace committee.
"The Catholic Church firmly believes that torture is an 'intrinsic evil' that cannot be justified under any circumstance," he added in a statement released by the National Religious Campaign against torture.
Bishop Cantu responded to a 500-page report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Dec. 9.
The report documented findings and conclusions of a much larger study that began in 2009 on the CIA program started at the outset of the War on Terror in 2001.
According to the report, the program saw extensive abuse of prisoners, lack of CIA oversight, and a wall of ignorance stretching all the way to the Oval Office as President George W. Bush was reportedly kept in the dark about the CIA's "enhanced interrogation techniques" until 2006.
Much of the information about the program – from the interrogation of prisoners to their conditions to the effectiveness of the program – was distorted, watered down, or kept secret from policymakers, members of the Bush administration, and the American public, according to the report.
"The interrogations of CIA detainees were brutal and far worse than the CIA represented to policymakers and others," one of the findings stated.
Among the myriad of listed abuses, treatment of prisoners included sleep deprivation, beatings, extended isolation, forced "rectal hydration," and psychological abuse including threats of death and sexual abuse to family members of detainees.
Some prisoners were kept awake for as many as 180 hours "usually standing or in stress positions." According to the report, "at least five detainees experienced disturbing hallucinations during prolonged sleep deprivation."
At one of the detention facilities, detainees "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." One of the prisoners died in November 2002 of "suspected hypothermia" after being "partially nude and chained to a concrete floor."
Some detainees were subjected to the practice of waterboarding, which resulted in "convulsions and vomiting" and in the case of 9/11 plot leader Khalid Shaykh Mohammed resulted in a "series of near drowning." Mohammed was waterboarded a reported 183 times.
Yet the abuses were due in part to a lack of oversight from the CIA itself, the report suggested. At one of the detention facilities, it found that "untrained CIA officers at the facility conducted frequent, unauthorized, and unsupervised interrogations of detainees using harsh physical interrogation techniques that were not – and never became – part of the CIA's formal 'enhanced' interrogation program."
At multiple detention sites, CIA personnel reported having "very little" information on prisoners at the sites. Persons with "no applicable experience or training" were given "senior detention and interrogation roles."
In addition, the agency outright deceived the Bush administration and the public about the program, giving "inaccurate information" to the Department of Justice, the National Security Council chiefs, and the White House, the report charged. Even President Bush was not briefed on the "enhanced interrogation techniques" practiced until 2006.
"According to CIA records, no CIA officer, up to and including CIA Directors George Tenet and Porter Goss, briefed the President on the specific CIA enhanced interrogation techniques before April 2006," the report stated. "By that time, 38 of the 39 detainees identified as having been subjected to the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques had already been subjected to the techniques."
Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, who previously headed the U.S. bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace, had supported Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Angus King (I-Maine) in their efforts to declassify the study in a letter back in April.
"It is time for the United States to take a clear stance against torture. Release of the full report on CIA interrogation practices will help our country strengthen its moral credibility," Bishop Pates said at the time.
U.S. President Barack Obama and members of Congress also expressed outrage and disappointment at the report's findings.
"The report documents a troubling program involving enhanced interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects in secret facilities outside the United States, and it reinforces my long-held view that these harsh methods were not only inconsistent with our values as nation, they did not serve our broader counterterrorism efforts or our national security interests," stated President Obama on Tuesday.
"Moreover, these techniques did significant damage to America's standing in the world and made it harder to pursue our interests with allies and partners. That is why I will continue to use my authority as President to make sure we never resort to those methods again."
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who was himself a victim of torture during his service in the Vietnam War, delivered a stinging rebuke of the practices on the Senate floor on Tuesday.
"I have long believed some of these practices amounted to torture, as a reasonable person would define it, especially, but not only the practice of waterboarding, which is a mock execution and an exquisite form of torture," he said.
"Most of all, I know the use of torture compromises that which most distinguishes us from our enemies, our belief that all people, even captured enemies, possess basic human rights, which are protected by international conventions the U.S. not only joined, but for the most part authored."