CIA Torture Unredacted: New Report Fills in Crucial Gaps in 2014 Senate Torture Report

16.7.19

The front cover of “CIA Torture Unredacted”, a 400-page report by Sam Raphael, Crofton Black and Ruth Blakeley, published in London on July 10, 2019.

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I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

Congratulations to Sam Raphael and Ruth Blakeley of The Rendition Project, Crofton Black of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, and all those who worked with them, for the publication of “CIA Torture Unredacted,” their 400-page report on the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program, which was launched in London last Wednesday, and is available online, in its entirety, here — and see here for a chapter by chapter breakdown.

The report is the culmination of nine years’ work, which began in 2010 with funding from the UK-based Economic and Social Research Council, and which led, in May 2013, to the launch of The Rendition Project website, which, as Ian Cobain and James Ball explained for the Guardian, “mapped the US government’s global kidnap and secret detention programme, shedding unprecedented light on one of the most controversial secret operations of recent years.”

At the time of its initial launch in 2013, The Rendition Project drew on previous work conducted by researchers for a variety of NGOs and international bodies, which included an influential report for the Council of Europe about secret prisons and rendition in Europe, published by Swiss Senator Dick Marty in 2007, a detailed analysis of the secret detention programme for a UN study in 2010, for which I was the lead author, and in which, as I described it in an Al-Jazeera article in 2014, “I sought to ascertain the identities of the 94 ‘ghost prisoners’ in CIA custody — including 28 subjected to ‘enhanced interrogation’ — who were referred to in a memo from 2005 by [US government] lawyer Steven G. Bradbury that was released by the Obama administration in April 2009. Another major report, by the Constitution Project, was published in 2013.

The next step in the long road to the truth about the CIA torture program — and one day, we hope, accountability for those who organized and ran it — came in December 2014, with the publication of the 500-page executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report about the CIA torture program.

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s full report — 6,700 pages in total, which cost $40m and involved an analysis of more than six million pages of classified documents — has never been released, but the executive summary was — and remains — a devastatingly powerful criticism of the brutality and pointlessness of the program.

In it, the committee made clear, as I explained in the Al-Jazeera article mentioned above, that “torture was ‘not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees,’ that the CIA made ‘inaccurate claims’ about the ‘effectiveness’ of the programme in an attempt to justify it and that it led to friction with other agencies that endangered national security, as well as providing false statements that led to costly and worthless wild goose chases.”

I also pointed out that the committee concluded that the interrogations “were brutal and far worse than the CIA represented to policymakers and others,” that “non-approved techniques were used widely,” that “[a]t least 17 detainees were subjected to CIA enhanced interrogation techniques without authorization from CIA headquarters,” and that “multiple detainees were subjected to techniques that were applied in ways that diverged from the specific authorization, or were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques by interrogators who had not been authorized to use them.”

The committee, as I also pointed out, was also critical of the central role played by two contract psychologists — James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen — from the US military’s SERE program, which taught US military personnel how to resist torture in enemy hands. Mitchell and Jessen were paid $81m to implement the program, even though neither of them “had any experience as an interrogator, nor did either have specialized knowledge of Al-Qaeda, a background in counterterrorism, or any relevant cultural or linguistic expertise.”

Significantly, for those researching the victims of the torture program, the report also confirmed that Steven Bradbury’s figures were wrong, and that the CIA “detained at least 119 individuals, of whom at least 39 were subjected to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques.” Moreover, of these 119 “at least 26 were wrongfully held and did not meet the detention standard” in the secret Bush administration memorandum that established the program in September 2001, shortly after the 9/11 attacks.

It was at this point that Sam Raphael, Crofton Black and Ruth Blakeley reconvened, using the list of the 119 individuals as the basis for their work over the last four years, in which they sought, in particular, to “unredact” the many redactions in the executive summary of the torture report that, as Black explained this week in an article for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, “could identify specific times and places where abuses had occurred,” and which the committee was “compelled by the Obama administration, and by the CIA itself, to censor.”

“This is important,” he added, “because without being able to tie illegal activities to specific times and places, the quest for redress is hamstrung, and meaningful accountability — legal, public, historical — remains a mirage.”

Black explained how the CIA’s prisoner list had “a date of custody (redacted) and a record of how many days they were held (also partly redacted),” and that their work over the last four years involved “reconstructing this list to reveal the hidden dates,” some of which, as Sam Raphael noted at Wednesday’s launch, was easier than anyone would have imagined, because the CIA didn’t use justified text, and so it was relatively easy to work out how many letters or numbers had been blacked-out.

However, most of the work involved cross-referencing with other sources. As Black explained, “Figuring out a date often meant that we could match it to a flight record; matching to a flight record meant that we could determine where a prisoner was brought from or sent to. As we cross-correlated thousands of data points — from declassified government documents, footnotes in the Senate report, aviation data, records of corporate outsourcing of rendition flights, legal cases, media reporting and NGO investigations — the contours of the CIA’s programme of secret detention and torture began to emerge more clearly. Rather than just understanding certain individual histories, we could begin to discern the entire scope of the programme’s development.”

Black also explained:

When the Senate Committee released their report, fewer than half the names on the list of prisoners were known. We reported in 2015 that only 36 of those held by the CIA had been taken on to Guantánamo Bay, while the fate of many of the others remained a mystery. Seized in secret, held in secret, they were then disposed of in secret — some back to their homes, some into continued custody in other countries, again often in secret.

Since then, we’ve been able to establish the histories — at least to some extent — of around 100 prisoners. We’ve traced over 60 operations to transport them to and from prison sites. We’ve uncovered who was held in Afghanistan, and revealed more fully than before who was sent to the European black sites, in Poland, Romania and Lithuania. We’ve also brought to light further details of how deeply implicated the UK was in the overall running of the CIA’s torture network.

Last year, some of our findings were cited in two judgments at the European Court of Human Rights, which held that Romania and Lithuania had assisted the US in illegally holding prisoners incommunicado on their territory. Elsewhere, our work has assisted legal teams, police inquiries and citizen accountability projects.

“CIA Torture Unredacted” is the most comprehensive public account of one of the most disturbing elements of the ‘War on Terror’: a global programme of systematic disappearance and torture, carried out by the world’s most powerful liberal democratic states in contravention of laws which they purport to uphold. In the face of continued obstruction and denial by the governments involved, we hope that it will stand as a central reference point for all those interested in accountability, truth and the rule of law.

I hope so too.

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from seven years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of a new documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, and the trees were cut down on February 27, 2019, the resistance continues.

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22 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    In my latest article, cross-posted from http://www.closeguantanamo​.org, I report on the launch last week of an important new publication, “CIA Torture Unredacted,” by Sam Raphael, Crofton Black and Ruth Blakeley, the culmination of nine years’ work researching the CIA’s post-9/11 program of extraordinary rendition, “black sites” and torture. Their report includes the fruits of the last four years that they have spent “unredacting” key details from the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report about the torture program, released in December 2014.

    As Crofton explains, the process of “unredacting,” which enabled the researchers to “identify specific times and places where abuses had occurred,” and which the committee was “compelled by the Obama administration, and by the CIA itself, to censor,” is “important, because without being able to tie illegal activities to specific times and places, the quest for redress is hamstrung, and meaningful accountability — legal, public, historical — remains a mirage.”

    I hope you have time to look at the report, and, over the coming weeks, I hope to write a few follow-up articles looking at its findings in greater detail.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Valerie Jeans wrote:

    Thank you for your good works, Andy.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    And thanks, as ever, for your interest, Valerie.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Asiya Muhammad wrote:

    Interesting use of military language in this report, which once again insinuates some kind of “guilt”
    They were not “terrorism suspects” but simply guilty of being “foreigners” and were sold to the US for bounty payments, only because they were foreigners.

    They were not “captured” they were kidnapped.

    As for redress, every single court case bought in the US despite solid evidence of private companies directly receiving payments for “rendition” aka kidnapping people and transporting them to be tortured by proxy, has been shut down.

    In the Uk all cases have been deemed shut, and government forced people to sign an agreement to prevent anyone being prosecuted for these atrocities. Those who were totally exonerated of any wrong doing, and were proven to be innocent, remain to this day stateless, after being promised British citizenship. It’s a farce, will we ever see justice, I doubt it.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Interesting analysis, Asiya. I don’t think the authors would agree that they were using military language that insinuates some kind of “guilt.” I know them all, and can vouch for the fact that they’re not supportive in the slightest of the crimes committed by the US in its program of kidnap and torture; in fact, they all hope that their work will one day help to lead to accountability – and, as Crofton explained in his article last week, “Last year, some of our findings were cited in two judgments at the European Court of Human Rights, which held that Romania and Lithuania had assisted the U.S. in illegally holding prisoners incommunicado on their territory. Elsewhere, our work has assisted legal teams, police inquiries and citizen accountability projects.”

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Asiya Muhammad wrote:

    The authors aren’t the ones whose lives are still marred by these labels like “terror suspect” Ours are, and perhaps that’s why they don’t understand the implications of using this kind of language.

    I wasn’t implying they were supportive of what was done. It’s upsetting to see those who are fighting for justice, use terms that dehumanise the survivors. These terminologies are what allowed and still allow, these horrors to happen.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    It sounds like it would have made sense for the report to have included some sort of disclaimer, Asiya – mentioning that abduction by the CIA didn’t necessarily imply any sort of guilt.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Asiya Muhammad wrote:

    Andy, disclaimers are like apologies. They don’t undo the damage.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    A good Twitter thread here from Crofton Black: https://twitter.com/cr0ft0n/status/1149250126289997824

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Jeanine Molloff wrote:

    Thanks Andy!

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    You’re welcome, Jeanine. Thanks for your interest!

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Saleyha Ahsan wrote:

    Thank you Andy – your work is incredible, relentless and committed. X

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Well, I will accept that compliment, Saleyha, primarily because it comes from someone who knows all about tenacity and commitment! I hope you’re well. We haven’t met for too long.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Cortney Busch wrote:

    Thank you Andy and Crofton for your relentless work to bring these evils to light. Beyond proud of you both. Saving the report now to read in full.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    I’ll accept some thanks, Cortney, but on this I’m little more than a town crier. Kudos to Crofton, Sam and Ruth for their dedication.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Natalia R Scott wrote:

    I will surely read it, Andy. Very interesting and having your insight and opinion enriches it immensely.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    And yet no mainstream media outlet, in the US or elsewhere, has even mentioned the report, Natalia. I was talking to Sam about it, and of course, as the mainstream media see it, there’s no hook. The story was back in December 2014, with the publication of the executive summary of the torture report. It’s a really slack “been there, done that” mentality that, at Guantanamo, led to a lack of interest in the deaths that followed the three deaths in June 2006. When the next prisoner died – Abdul Rahman al-Amri, in May 2007 – the response of the media was, essentially, that they’d already done a “death at Guantanamo” story.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan Strain wrote:

    Great story and a resource that should be a “must read” for all citizens of the US.

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    If only your fellow citizens got to see it, Jan, but while my efforts will get some circulation amongst those who are already interested, most Americans won’t even know about it, given the 100% indifference of the mainstream media.

  20. Tom says...

    Once you’re tortured, the pain never goes away. Since I was tortured, I’ve never had a day free of trauma pain (roughly 40 years and counting).

  21. PBC News & Comment: Trump Stokes Mob Chanting “Send Her Back”, Now Claims He Disapproves – Peter B. Collins says...

    […] –new report lifts many redactions from 2014 Senate torture report, as Andy Worthington reports […]

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    I am so sorry to hear that, Tom.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer (The State of London).
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