The latest report about kidnappings, rendition, ‘black sites’ and torture is a remarkable piece of investigative work. It provides us with nothing less than a litany of shocking evidence and testimony and at 403 pages it makes for truly grim reading. This article is made up of a very brief set of extracts from the just-released CIA Torture Unredacted report. It presents the findings from a four-year joint investigation by The Rendition Project and The Bureau of Investigative Journalism into the use of rendition, secret detention and torture by the CIA and its partners in the ‘War on Terror’.
Attempts to hold UK authorities to account for their role in the rendition (kidnapping and/or movement of suspects) and torture programme have been thwarted at every turn. Successive governments have repeatedly denied any involvement of UK security service or military personnel in torture or CIDT. Even as credible evidence mounted, officials were slow to fully investigate, were reticent about holding anyone to account, and have done very little to offer meaningful redress. In 2010, the incoming UK Coalition government led by David Cameron finally launched a judge-led inquiry chaired by Peter Gibson, which was closed down before witnesses were even called, in part because of the considerable constraints placed on the Inquiry by government. Indeed, successive UK governments have gone to great lengths to suppress vital evidence, including passing legislation precisely for this purpose and continue to this day to resist repeated calls for a new inquiry.
Between 2001 and 2009, the CIA established a global network of secret prisons (‘black sites’) for the purpose of detaining terrorism suspects, in secret and indefinitely, and interrogating them through the use of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The abuses which took place were severe, sustained, and in clear violation of domestic and international law. The perpetrators have never been held to account. The Rendition Project’s website (www.therenditionproject.org.uk), provide the most detailed public account to date of the CIA torture programme.
Information about CIA torture programme prisoners had to be prised out of the US military’s unwilling bureaucracy. But already at that time, there were rumours of an even more secretive programme, run in parallel by the Central Intelligence Agency outside the Pentagon’s chain of command. Press stories spoke of people abducted in the middle of the night, manhandled onto planes and never heard of again.The torture programme was a highly secret endeavour, with the CIA and its partners going out of their way to hide the existence of a secret prison network dedicated to the indefinite detention and torture of terror suspects. It has taken years of investigation, by journalists, lawyers, parliamentarians and human rights investigators, for the broad contours of the programme to be revealed.
A pioneering combination of sophisticated analysis techniques and detailed open-source research, the report unveils crucial data which the CIA tried to hide in its censorship of the torture report. This data paints an unprecedented picture of the inside details of the black site programme.
State officials have gone on to deny the impact of, or even the existence of, CIA torture, including through the use of euphemistic language. This was not a programme of ‘enhanced interrogation’; this was torture.
Many prisoners, it turned out, were there on the basis of malicious, false or inaccurate information, had been handed over by bounty hunters, or had been imprisoned because they wore a certain type of Casio watch. These were the people the Bush administration called ‘the worst of the worst’
Prisoners were drugged, shackled, hooded and strapped to stretchers by rendition teams dressed entirely in black and communicating only in sign language. Some were placed in coffins during the flight; others were beaten repeatedly during their transfer. This procedure was designed, in the words of one memo, to create ‘significant apprehension in the detainee because of the enormity and suddenness of the change in the environment, the uncertainty about what will happen next, and the potential dread they might have of US custody.
Some prisoners were then subjected to mock execution, electro-torture, genital mutilation, mock burials, rape, and stress positions so severe that, in one case, observers were concerned that the prisoner’s arms would dislocate from his shoulders. Suspects detained in these prisons were subjected to an interrogation regime designed, in the words of one interrogator, to take them ‘to the verge of death and back again
One man had been waterboarded – drowned to the point of convulsions, vomiting and unconsciousness – 183 times in one month. Others had been placed for hours in boxes so small they had to crouch, or deprived of sleep for weeks at a time. One had been killed – through a combination of neglect, ill-treatment and avoidable hypothermia. This wasn’t ‘enhanced interrogation’. This was torture….