The report on torture, referred to as “enhanced interrogation techniques”, released by a US Senate Committee on 3 December is a damning indictment of the CIA and its role in the “war on terror”.
A substantial section of the report spells out how the US spy agency used kidnappings and torture, pointing to an organised and deliberate strategy of terror against anyone who fell into CIA hands.
Details about so-called “waterboarding”, where victims are subject to repeat drowning, terrifying periods of sleep deprivation (for 180 hours), beatings and sexual humiliation, have been well documented since the first images of abuse emerged out of Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2004.
The Senate report does not shed any new light on these. But it is, in many ways, far more damaging. It is accusing the CIA of lying to Congress and senior politicians about the results of this torture.
Many people in the US were prepared to stomach the idea of “enhanced techniques” on the basis that, however despicable it is, the methods yielded “valuable information” about “terror plots” and saved the lives of countless people.
The report says that while under torture, “Detainees provided fabricated information on critical intelligence issues, including the terrorist threats which the CIA identified as its highest priorities.”
This torture was also “brutal and far worse than the CIA represented to policymakers and others”.
In other words, people faced with torture said what they thought interogators needed to know in order to end their suffering. The information they provided was useless. The committee found that the CIA lied about this information, lied about disrupting any real “terror plots”, and then covered up these lies.
For the Senate the most damning part of the report is that the CIA collaborated with George Bush’s White House to deliberately lie about the value of this intelligence. Under the direction of the White House, “the CIA misrepresented the views of members of Congress on a number of occasions” and “repeatedly provided incomplete and inaccurate information”.
The top CIA bugbear was the then US foreign secretary Colin Powell who was considered a “moderate” by the neocons. Powell, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the 1991 Gulf War, was at odds with the rest of the administration over US strategy in the Middle East. He was eventually pushed aside in November 2004.
An internal CIA email from July 2003 noted that “the White House is extremely concerned Powell would blow his stack if he were to be briefed on what’s been going on”. They also used fabricated stories to pull the wool over the eyes of the media.
In one remarkable passage the CIA’s deputy director wrote to a colleague, “We either get out [and] sell [the lie], or we get hammered, which has implications beyond the media. Congress reads it, cuts our authorities, messes up our budget...we either put out our story or we get eaten. There is no middle ground.”
The release of the report points to the deep divisions inside the US government on the methods of the “war on terror”. The timing of the release — it was published before the US Congress comes under Republican Party control — is a settling of old scores that arose out of the neocon disasters in Afghanistan and Iraq.
With no need to face a new election, US president Barack Obama is taking his chance to ride roughshod over the right wing, as well as push through a series of major changes to US policies — including relaxing immigration laws for undocumented workers, normalising relations with Cuba and negotiating with Iran over its nuclear programme.
The Senate report raises questions about Britain’s complicity in this torture — references to “friendly countries” are redacted (blacked out) from the final version. It also raises questions about the veracity of “terror plots” our government claims to have foiled, as well as British participation in torture and which of our government ministers have lied.