Revolution #175, September 6, 2009

New CIA Documents Reveal:

U.S. Torture—Depraved & Systemic

Threats to kill the children of a detainee… Threats to sexually abuse the female relatives of a detainee… Use of waterboarding in ways that greatly exceeded even the guidelines approved by Bush’s “Torture Memo” White House Office of Legal Counsel… These, and other new outrages are documented in a 2004 report from the CIA’s Office of Inspector General (IG). The report, along with other material, was made public on August 24, in response to lawsuits filed by the ACLU and Amnesty International.

The full implications of what is revealed (and what is covered up) in this report have yet to be fully identified. Large sections of the 109-page report are redacted (blacked-out by censors). But even from what is revealed in the report, it is clear that torture carried out under the so-called war on terror has been criminally inhuman; orchestrated, devised, supervised, and approved at the White House, the Justice Department, and in Congress; and deeply embedded in U.S. war-fighting doctrine.

And, the new revelations highlight with greater stakes and urgency the need for protest and resistance—to demand the prosecution of those responsible all the way to the top, at the White House.

New Light on the Depraved Nature of U.S. Torture

Reading the CIA report is like reading the cold, clinical reports from those who ran Nazi concentration camps. Depraved crimes against humanity are meticulously recorded in detail, along with rationalizations and legal justifications.

From the report:

“...debriefer, according to a [redacted] who was present, threatened Al-Nashiri by saying that if he did not talk, ‘We could get your mother in here,’ and, ‘We can bring your family in here.’ The [redacted] debriefer reported wanted Al-Nashiri to infer, for psychological reasons, that the debriefer might be [redacted] intelligence office based on his Arabic dialect, and that Al-Nashiri was in [redacted] custody because it was widely believed in Middle East circles that [redacted] interrogation technique involves sexually abusing female relatives in front of the detainee.”


“...debriefer entered the cell when Al-Nashiri sat shackled and racked the handgun once or twice close to Al-Nashiri’s head. On what was probably the same day, the debriefer used a power drill to frighten Al-Nashiri. With [redacted] consent, the debriefer entered the detainee’s cell and revved the drill while the detainee stood naked and hooded.”


“...the [redacted] interrogators said to Khalid Shaykh Muhammad that if anything else happens in the United States, ‘We’re going to kill your children.’”


The report also details threats to kill detainees, and at least one murder at the hands of CIA interrogators. In June 2003 a detainee who turned himself in voluntarily to the CIA for questioning in Afghanistan was, according to the report, “allegedly” beaten “with a large metal flashlight and kicked … during interrogation sessions,” killing him. And human rights researcher John Sifton has documented the deaths of some 100 detainees—including CIA-held detainees—some of whom are known to have been tortured to death (see “The suppressed fact: Deaths by U.S. torture,” by Glenn Greenwald,, June 30, 2009).

And to be clear, this report was not written as an exposé of the CIA. While it does raise issues about the illegal nature of many of the torture techniques used (and how each of these illegal activities was OK’d by the Bush White House and Justice Department), it overall presents the CIA’s treatment of detainees as providing “intelligence that has enabled the identification and apprehension of other terrorists and warned of terrorist plots planned for the United States and around the world.”

We will address the claims that these torture programs “save American lives” shortly, but before that, let’s examine the systemic nature of U.S. torture.

The Systemic Embrace of Torture by the U.S.

The torture incidents documented in the CIA report are not the actions of “rogue elements” in the CIA. They were—according to the report—carefully reported to and approved by top government officials. The CIA report cites as guidelines, and reprints as appendixes, the infamous “Torture Memos” produced by Bush’s Office of Legal Counsel.

But the report also identifies that even those guidelines that anyone but a moral cripple would be outraged by—that gave torturers a green light to use waterboarding and other inhuman torture—were exceeded. When the IG informed Attorney General John Ashcroft that one detainee had been waterboarded “in a manner inconsistent with” the Justice Department legal guidance, Ashcroft responded that he had no problem with waterboarding one detainee 119 times, that the “CIA is well within the scope of the DoJ [Department of Justice] opinion and the authority given to CIA by that opinion.”

When the CIA IG reported to Justice Department prosecutors that a detainee had been threatened with a power drill and a handgun, both unauthorized techniques for which he did not seek approval, the Justice Department announced a decision not to prosecute this CIA employee on September 11, 2003.

And it was not just the Bush White House that was in on, and approving of all this. Obama’s new head of the CIA, Leon Panetta, in the course of defending the CIA torturers announced that, “The CIA provided the complete, unredacted IG report to the Congress. It was made available to the leadership of the Congressional intelligence committees in 2004 and to the full committees in 2006. All of the material in the document has been subject to Congressional oversight and reviewed for legal accountability.” (“Panetta Defends CIA: Report Already Reviewed by Congress, DOJ,”, August 24, 2009)

Torture: Integral to “War on Terror”/War for Empire

One thing that emerges from this report is a more clearly defined picture of how the definition of legal torture has been continuously extended through the “war on terror”—now being rebranded (and extended) by the Obama administration. Historically, torture has been deeply embedded in U.S. war fighting and repression (for a history of the use of torture by the U.S., see “Torture Techniques at Guantánamo: ‘Communist Inspired’ ...or Developed, Refined, and Exported by the USA?,” Part 2. by Li Onesto, Revolution #138, August 3, 2009). But it has been carried out under wraps, in the form of secret “refuse to confirm or deny” actions of the CIA. Or by proxy, through puppet foreign dictators serving U.S. interests. The CIA report explicitly notes the change from public denunciations of opposition to torture, to overt legalization of torture.

The CIA report says that, “The EITs [so-called Enhanced Interrogation Techniques] used by the Agency under the CTC [Counterterrorism Center] Program are inconsistent with the public policy positions that the United States has taken regarding human rights.” [emphasis added]

The CIA IG report then goes on to identify that this program of so-called EITs “diverges sharply from previous Agency policy and practice, rules that govern interrogations by U.S. military and law enforcement officers, statements of U.S. policy by the Department of State, and public statements by very senior U.S. officials, including the President...”

In short, what emerges is that those at the head of the CIA were identifying explicitly, for the White House, for Congress, and for the ruling class as a whole, that major doctrinal changes were taking place through institutionalizing legalized torture. And documenting that the White House Office of Legal Counsel, and the Justice Department were approving these changes.

While an exploration of the strategic role of torture in U.S. military doctrine, in particular vis-à-vis the “war on terror” is beyond the scope of this article, it can be noted that torture and terror—massacres of innocent civilians as a conscious military tactic—are integral to the U.S. war fighting doctrine, and this is true in very extreme ways in the “war on terror.” And within the ruling class, there is a view—widespread at least—that old legal norms that have been considered foundational to the United States, like taking “public” positions in opposition to torture, have to be torn up and rewritten.

Unjust, Immoral, and Intolerable

In this light, it is unacceptable and intolerable that the parameters of the current torture “debate” in the mainstream media and politics, and—among the public at large—are defined by asking “does torture save American lives?” This completely obscures the real question.

The systematic torture that is central to the U.S. wars for empire has nothing to do with whether or not it “produces information that saves lives.” For the rulers of the U.S., the capitalist-imperialist ruling class, torture violently enforces a profoundly unequal, unjust world of exploitation and oppression, with them at the top. It is essentially a tool for beating the people of the world into submission, to preserve and expand their empire.

And, in the context of the current, very unfavorable polarization in the world, where reactionary Islamic fundamentalism is seen as the alternative oppositional pole in important parts of the world, U.S. torture, while aimed at Islamic fundamentalism, also serves to rally people around that banner which they perceive as standing up to the U.S. in some form.

But even if torture did “save American lives,”two things must be said. One, American lives are not more important than the lives of other people. And two, torture is immoral.

As we wrote previously in Revolution, “Let’s make it plain: torture is, literally and in essence, a crime against humanity. Like rape, it is a systematic attempt to violently degrade people and rob them of their very humanity. Any government which not only tolerates such things but which, from its highest offices, justifies and insists on them as ‘instruments of policy’… any government which does not, once this has been exposed, prosecute the perpetrators but instead provides them in advance with immunity...reveals itself as a system that requires such crimes, and such criminals, for its functioning.  Any people that does not resist such crimes, and demand prosecution of the torturers and, even more so, those who formulated the policy at the highest levels, reveals themselves to be complicit in those crimes. And in passively allowing the humanity of others to be degraded and attacked, they lose their own.” (“The Torture Memos … And the Need for Justice,” issue #164, May 17, 2009)

An Urgent Need to Resist

For the people of the world, including people in this country, this whole dynamic is not in our interests. And people in this country have a special and urgent responsibility to resist, to wage political protest against torture, and coverup of torture—including demanding that everyone involved in torture be prosecuted, especially all the way up to the top of the chain of command—those who devised and ordered the torture.

If those who set up, legitimized, and endorsed open torture simply walk away and go free, that is nothing other than a statement that torturers need not look over their shoulders in the future.”

On the other hand, if people in this country DO resist, if they DO demand that everyone who was part of torture, up to and including those in the White House who orchestrated it, be prosecuted, and wage a serious political struggle to make that happen, it can be the beginning of a struggle that can, among other things, lead to the beginnings and possibility of real justice—and not some phony, feel-good, ‘let’s-forget-about-the-past-and-move-on’ so-called redemption and/or “reconciliation” that only ultimately enables still more, and still worse, crimes by the bloody criminal enterprise known as America.

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