The Real Story on the Senate Torture Report

No One is Going to Jail


(An example of just how redacted the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA detention and torture is. And don’t forget it was the CIA itself who redacted the report, even though they are the ones who are the subject of the report).

While the corporate press focuses on what they perceive to be today’s big story—that the Senate Intelligence Committee finally released a heavily-redacted, 525-page version of their original 6,700-page report on CIA detention and torture post-9/11—I’d rather talk about the real story: that not a single person will face accountability or punishment for any of the CIA’s illegal & reprehensible actions. As I wrote about recently, what good is the report’s release if it (a) tells us what we already know and (b) won’t call for anyone to be held accountable? Answer: the report’s release comes with plenty of sound & fury—but it’s all bark, no bite.

The key story from today isn’t that the (censored) report was released, it’s that no one will ever be punished for horrific acts of violence that contravene international human rights law and US domestic law. As we think about today’s report, we should keep front and center the fact that no one will ever suffer any consequences for these truly macabre acts—and that should be a source of real outrage.

CIA Torture

(An example of the CIA’s handiwork).

Just to give you a flavor of what I’m talking about, here’s a sampling of the CIA’s activities post-9/11 that no one will ever go to jail for (all excerpts below are from the redacted report released today, all internal citations have been omitted, and all emphasis is mine):

“The waterboarding technique was physically harmful, inducing convulsions and vomiting. Abu Zubaydah, for example, became ‘completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.’”

“CIA officers also threatened at least three detainees with harm to their families—to include threats to harm the children of a detainee, threats to sexually abuse the mother of a detainee, and a threat to “cut [a detainee’s] mother’s throat.”

“CIA detainees at the COBALT detention facility 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 detained man “included an ‘intellectually challenged’ man whose CIA detention was used solely as leverage to get a family member to provide information”

And that’s only scratching the surface of the CIA’s handiwork. The more one reads of the report, the more it’s clear that being in CIA custody is like being in a house of horrors—except worse. And as the report makes clear, the CIA had “historical experience using coercive forms of interrogation” stretching back to at least 1963. In short, the CIA has had over fifty years to perfect its “coercive forms of interrogation” to get to where it did post-9/11, when its agents placed a pistol near a detainee’s head and operated a drill near the detainee’s body in an attempt to extract information. And we are supposed to believe that the American government is committed the “rule of law”? Give me a break.

If the Bush and Obama Administrations were interested in upholding the rule of law, they would have either not sanctioned these activities or they would have prosecuted those responsible. They did neither. Instead, many years after the activities in question, the Senate committee releases a heavily-redacted report and, in the words of Senator Dianne Feinstein at the report’s outset: “It is my sincere and deep hope that …. U.S. policy will never again allow for secret indefinite detention and the use of coercive interrogations.”

CIA History

(The CIA has a long history in “coercive forms of interrogation”).

Ha! Feinstein’s “sincere and deep hope” is nothing more than wishful thinking that is both ahistorical and naive. And her use of “secret indefinite detention” allows for some curious ambiguity. Would she be OK with known indefinite detention, because that’s what we have currently going on at the American detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, but Feinstein doesn’t seem too bothered by that. Anyone who is seriously committed to the rule of law should be opposed to indefinite detention of any kind.

Which brings me to the point I wrote about yesterday: this report’s release is meaningless. The activities described in the report are violent in the extreme and illegal under both US and international law, but the fact remains that not a single person will suffer the consequences. All we have to go forward on, judging from the report, is Feinstein’s misplaced hope that these things will simply not happen again. But I’m not holding my breath. As the report itself states: “prior to the attacks of September 2001, the CIA itself determined from its own experience with coercive interrogations, that such techniques ‘do not produce intelligence,’ ‘will probably result in false answers,’ and had historically proven to be ineffective. Yet these conclusions were ignored” (emphasis mine).

What does that tell us? The CIA knew damn well these techniques would not yield much in the way of actionable intelligence—after all, we know that when you torture someone, they are likely to confess to anything to end the pain—but they did it anyway.

And still no one will be held accountable. That should be the major story today, but unfortunately our corporate media see it another way. From their perspective, the report’s release is the story, and it’s almost an afterthought that everyone who engaged in widespread detention & torture will get off scot-free.

Thus, Mark Mazzetti at the New York Times writes that the report is “scathing,” Spencer Ackerman at the Guardian tells us the report is a “milestone,” and Aleksander Chan at Gawker calls it a “bombshell.” All these journalists work on behalf of for-profit media organizations, and they all missed the point. We already know the CIA has engaged in—and very likely continues to engage in—brutal methods of detention and torture. I don’t need the Senate report to know that.

What I need, however, is for someone to tell me why it is that not a single person will be held accountable for these actions. Not a single person. That should be today’s story, but unfortunately it is not. For all those who care about the rule of law, who care about human rights norms, who care about accountability and transparency, today should not be a day of celebration but rather a day of mourning.

We won nothing with this report’s release. We would have won something had those responsible been prosecuted or held accountable in some meaningful way, but that remains a dream deferred.

Winston Alpha is a a young American who has been independently writing on many social justice issues. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Winston, or visit Winston's website.