After five years, the US Senate Intelligence Committee has finally released a 500-odd-page declassified summary of its report on the detention and interrogation methods used by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) post 9/11. It makes for difficult reading, graphically detailing the horror of the CIA’s brutal torture of detainees on a systematic basis. Over a hundred people held by the US between 2002 and 2008 were subjected to what are euphemistically referred to as “enhanced interrogation techniques”, including waterboarding, extreme sleep deprivation, shackling in stress positions, hooding and rectal rehydration. The report also finds that this consistent recourse to torture yielded no evidence that was critical to averting terrorist attacks, or nabbing Osama bin Laden.
Troubling questions are raised, too, by the report’s conclusions that the CIA deliberately impeded Congress’s efforts at oversight, and that it misrepresented its actions to the White House. The George W. Bush administration allowed the programme, justified it in its vigorous pursuit of the so-called war on terror, and oversaw it. Yet it seems that key members, like Colin Powell, were kept out of the loop, and Bush himself may have been in the dark about the extent of the programme. Certainly, this does not absolve the former US president, but it does highlight how much work remains to be done to make any state’s intelligence agencies fully accountable to its elected leadership. Also, despite its excruciating detail, the report has significant lacunae. No torture victims were interviewed, for instance, and neither were the interrogators. Many passages are incomprehensible because of redactions. The US government’s collaborations with foreign states in the CIA’s rendition programmes also go unexplored.
Yet, in laying out state crimes committed in the name of national security, the torture report is a remarkable and landmark document. Even in its moment of shame, the American system deserves credit for confronting and facing up to its darkest deeds and excesses. The question now is if those responsible for these grave and serial violations of due process will be punished.