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Vol. 78/No. 47      December 29, 2014

CIA torture debate masks
bipartisan blows to rights
(front page)
New details about torture carried out by the CIA during the George W. Bush administration were made public in a 499-page executive summary report released by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Dec. 9. The torture revelations came to light as tens of thousands across the U.S. protested the killing of Eric Garner by New York cop Daniel Pantaleo in Staten Island and other police killings across the country.

The report itself, prepared largely by Democratic staff members of the committee after Republicans chose not to participate, is classified and secret and includes more than 6,000 pages.

The report’s release has kicked off a sharp debate among bourgeois politicians over the CIA’s past actions and future policies. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chair of the committee, said the report should “ensure coercive interrogation practices are not used by our government again.” This view was backed by former Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain.

Current CIA Director John Brennan — appointed by President Barack Obama — who had been involved in the so-called Enhanced Interrogation Techniques program under Bush; former Vice President Dick Cheney; and others backed what the CIA had done. Asked about some of the techniques used, Cheney said, “I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective.”

The report reflects the fact that the majority of the propertied rulers want to shed the image of U.S. imperialism as a power that stands on torture and brutality. At the same time, all the participants in the debate agree that the White House and its spy apparatus are justified in taking the steps necessary to “get” those they target.

Before taking over as CIA director, Brennan worked at the White House managing the “kill lists” for U.S. drone strikes.

The use of simulated drowning, known as waterboarding, at secret CIA prisons had already been made public. New revelations included that “at least five CIA detainees were subjected to ‘rectal rehydration’ or rectal feeding without documented medical necessity.”

The report documents the extensive use of “standing sleep deprivation,” with prisoners shackled for up to a week, often with their hands shackled above their heads One prisoner was left chained to the wall in a standing position for 17 days.

“At other times, naked detainees were hooded and dragged up and down corridors while being slapped and punched,” the report said.

In 2002 Gul Rahman died from suspected hypothermia after being shackled half-naked on a concrete floor in near-freezing conditions in a CIA prison in Afghanistan, known to the torturers as “the salt pit.”

Federal Bureau of Prisons officials saw nothing out of line when they visited that CIA center in 2002. “They were WOW’ed,” a CIA report said, because “they have never been in a facility where individuals are so sensory deprived, i.e. constant white noise, no talking, everyone in the dark … detainees constantly being shackled to the wall or floor.”

Though the facility also lacked heat and plumbing, with just a bucket in the cell for prisoners to relieve themselves, Prison Bureau officials said it “was sanitary” and detainees were not being mistreated.

The foremost finding in the Senate report is that torture failed to serve its purpose and “was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation,” implying that the brutal techniques would be fine if they got more results. It also highlights as a problem that CIA officials kept Congress and the White House in the dark about their activities.

Brennan responded that the prisoners who were tortured “did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists and save lives,” and that the “agency made mistakes,” but never misled government officials.

Some liberals have called for CIA operatives involved in the interrogations to be punished and that Brennan be discharged. But White House spokesperson Josh Earnest Dec. 10 told reporters, “The president is pleased that he is able to rely on the advice of a dedicated professional like John Brennan.”

Soon after taking office in 2009, Obama made clear he would not prosecute any CIA agent who acted within guidelines set out by the Bush administration. An investigation carried out by the Justice Department into two cases in which prisoners died in CIA custody ended in 2012 with no charges filed, much like the recent decisions by grand juries in New York and Missouri not to file charges against the cops who killed Eric Garner and Michael Brown.

Obama uses drones, assassinations
Obama issued a statement Dec. 9 saying that the Senate report should “help us leave these techniques where they belong, in the past.” His preferred techniques, as evidenced over the last six years, are the use of drone attacks and assassinations. The use of unmanned drones by the CIA and Pentagon to kill those deemed “terrorists” — and often any civilians nearby — greatly accelerated after Obama took office. The White House maintains a “kill list” of those targeted for assassination, including U.S. citizens. In 2011 he bragged about the cold-blooded killing of an unarmed, pajama-clad Osama bin Laden, saying, “Justice has been done.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, which Obama pledged to close in 2009, remains open. Prisoners there, many of whom have been held for years with no hope of getting a trial, have carried out hunger strikes and been subjected to brutal force-feeding.

The U.S. Navy is considering disciplinary action against a Navy nurse who earlier this year refused to continue carrying out forced feedings of hunger strikers at Guantánamo. “The ANA is adamant that the rights of registered nurses to conscientiously object to participating in the force-feeding of detainees be absolutely protected and exercised without retaliation,” American Nurses Association President Pamela Cipriano wrote to the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps Aug. 20.  
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