Although the corporate and progressive press alike focused public attention on the Senate Intelligence Committee’s December 2014 report on the CIA’s secret program of abductions, “brutal” interrogations, and torture of terrorism suspects, Nafeez Ahmed reported that this coverage has “whitewashed the extent to which torture has always been an integral and systematic intelligence practice since the second World War.” Despite President Barack Obama’s claims that he officially banned torture in 2009, these practices continue today, “under the careful recalibration of Obama and his senior military intelligence officials,” serving to legitimize the existence and expansion of the national security apparatus, Ahmed wrote.
President Obama did not ban torture in 2009, Ahmed reported, and now his administration is “exploiting the new Senate report to convince the world that the intelligence community’s systematic embroilment in torture was merely a Bush-era aberration that is now safely in the past.”
In fact, Obama’s 2009 executive order rehabilitated torture. That order required that interrogation techniques fit the US Army Field Manual, which complies with the Geneva Convention prohibitions against torture that date back to 1956. However, in 2006, revisions to the manual added nineteen different methods of interrogation that “went far beyond the original Geneva-inspired restrictions” of the original field manual. At the time, Obama’s director of national intelligence, Admiral Dennis Blair, advised the Senate Intelligence Committee that the Army Field Manual revisions allowing new forms of harsh interrogation would remain classified.
“What we are seeing now,” Ahmed wrote, “is not the Obama administration putting an end to torture, but rather putting an end to the open acknowledgement of the use of torture as a routine intelligence practice.”
The Senate’s complete report ran to 6,700 pages, yet after White House objections only a 499-page summary was published in December 2014, with significant details redacted. As the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported, less than one quarter of the 119 detainees named in the Senate report on the CIA’s secret torture program are actually housed at the Guantánamo Bay military prison. The Bureau’s investigation has produced a database providing details of what occurred to each of the 119 individuals.
Research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism documented that only thirty-six individuals of the 119 were sent to Guantánamo after CIA interrogation. Of these, twenty-nine remained as of January 2015. Seven of the thirty-six were released between March 2007 and January 2010, with six moved abroad and one sent to a maximum-security prison on the US mainland.
As Crofton Black reported, the Bureau’s research “opens fresh possibilities” for accountability and legal redress, according to lawyers who have worked on some of these cases.
“This project to restore information blacked out in the Senate report reveals important data about former detainees’ time in the CIA’s detention system,” said Meg Satterthwaite, director of the Global Justice Clinic at New York University School of Law. “This kind of careful analysis is crucially important for those working to understand the US extraordinary rendition and torture program.”
Steven Watt, senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, similarly remarked, “This research, confirming the dates and duration of the men’s confinement, is important not just for transparency purposes but also for the men themselves.”
In April 2015, Amnesty International issued a report criticizing the Obama administration’s lack of action in response to the Senate’s report. “Four months after the declassification of the report summary, the U.S. administration has yet to take any meaningful steps toward ending the impunity associated with this secret detention program. Instead, they have effectively buried the Senate report, leaving the door open for similar programs in the future.” The Amnesty International report characterized the lack of government response to the Senate torture report as amounting to “de facto amnesty” for those responsible for CIA torture.
Nafeez Ahmed, “America Is Committing Brutal Acts of Torture Right Now,” December 11, 2014, AlterNet, http://www.alternet.org/civil-liberties/america-committing-brutal-acts-torture-right-now.
Crofton Black, “Revealed: Only 29 Detainees from Secret CIA Torture Program Remain in Guantánamo Bay,” Bureau of Investigative Journalism, January 15, 2015, http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2015/01/15/28-detainees-secret-cia-torture-program-guantanamo-bay/.
Student Researchers: Brooks Brorsen (Sonoma State University) and Alison Gorrell (Florida Atlantic University)
Faculty Evaluators: Peter Phillips (Sonoma State University) and James F. Tracy (Florida Atlantic University)