Release of the 'Holy Grail' of Torture Reports Delayed Again

Today was supposed to be the day that the Justice Department --
after two delays -- released an unclassified version of the CIA
Inspector General's 2004 Report into the interrogations of "high-value
detainees" in the "War on Terror," which Democrat Congressional
staffers described as the "holy grail," according to Greg Sargent of
the Plum Line,
writing in May, "because it is expected to detail torture in
unprecedented detail and to cast doubt on the claim that torture

Sargent was following up on an article in the Washington Post,
"Hill Panel Reviewing CIA Tactics," which described how Senate
Intelligence Committee investigators were interviewing those involved
in the interrogations, "examining hundreds of CIA e-mails and reviewing
a classified 2005 study by the agency's lawyers of dozens of
interrogation videotapes" (which were later destroyed), and also
examining the CIA Inspector General's Report.

The Post explained that "government officials familiar with
the CIA's early interrogations" said that the "top secret" CIA report,
"based on more than 100 interviews, a review of the videotapes and
38,000 pages of documents," contained "the most powerful evidence of
apparent excesses," and added that the officials indicated that,
although the report remained "closely held," White House officials had
told political allies that they intended to "declassify it for public
release when the debate quiets over last month's release of the Justice
Department's interrogation memos." These four memos, issued by the
Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel in 2002 and 2005, and released in April, provided a companion piece to the notorious "torture memo" of August 2002 (leaked in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal),
and, notoriously, involved lawyers in one of the DoJ's most prestigious
departments -- charged with interpreting the law as it applies to the
Executive branch -- seeking to rewrite the rules on torture so that it
could be used in the CIA's "high-value detainee" program.

According to the Post, officials familiar with the contents
of the report said that it "concluded that some of the techniques
appeared to violate the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel,
Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, ratified by the United
States in 1994." The Post also added that, according to
excerpts included in the OLC memos, the report "concluded that
interrogators initially used harsh techniques against some detainees
who were not withholding information."

This was a fair precis of the "excerpts" from the report that were
included as footnotes in the three memos from May 2005, written by the
OLC's Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Steven G. Bradbury,
but as I explained in an article at the time, when analyzed in the context of the memos, the "excerpts" were even more alarming.

To establish the context, the footnotes followed Bradbury's lame
attempts to explain why it was "necessary to use the waterboard 'at
least 83 times during August 2002,'" on Abu Zubaydah, and "183 times during March 2003" on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. This apparently involved an appraisal that "other ... methods are unlikely to elicit this information within the perceived time limit for preventing [an] attack"
(in other words, the fictional ticking time-bomb scenario), but I was
obliged to conclude that these "mind-boggling figures" seemed to reveal
"not that each horrific round of near-drowning and panic, repeated over
and over again, defused a single ticking time-bomb, but, instead, that
it became a macabre compulsion on the part of the torturers, which led
only to the countless false alarms reported by CIA and FBI officials who spoke to David Rose for Vanity Fair last December."

What amazed me, however, was that, while filling his memos with
largely implausible justifications for the use of torture, Bradbury
cited from the Inspector General's Report, even though it was so
clearly critical of the manner in which interrogations had been
conducted. These are the key passages from my article at the time:

One sign that this was indeed the case [in other words,
that the CIA overreacted] comes in a disturbing footnote, in which
Bradbury noted, "This is not to say that the interrogation program has
worked perfectly. According to the IG Report, the CIA, at least
initially, could not always distinguish detainees who had information
but were successfully resisting interrogation from those who did not
actually have the information ... on at least one occasion, this may
have resulted in what might be deemed in retrospect to have been the
unnecessary use of enhanced techniques. On that occasion, although the
on-scene interrogation team judged Zubaydah to be compliant, elements
within CIA Headquarters still believed he was withholding information
[passage redacted]. At the direction of CIA headquarters, interrogators
therefore used the waterboard one more time on Zubaydah [passage

Furthermore, as another revealing footnote makes clear, the
IG Report also noted that, "in some cases the waterboard was used with
far greater frequency than initially indicated," and also that it was
"used in a different manner" than the technique described in the DoJ
opinion and used in SERE training [the torture techniques taught in US
military schools to enable US personnel to resist interrogation, which
were reverse engineered for use in the "War on Terror"]. As the report
explained, "The difference was in the manner in which the detainees'
breathing was obstructed. At the SERE school and in the DoJ opinion,
the subject's airflow is disrupted by the firm application of a damp
cloth over the air passages; the interrogator applies a small amount of
water to the cloth in a controlled manner. By contrast, the Agency
interrogator ... applied large volumes of water to a cloth that covered
the detainee's mouth and nose. One of the psychiatrist / interrogators
acknowledged that the Agency's use of the technique is different from
that used in SERE training because it is 'for real' and is more
poignant and convincing."

In addition, the IG Report noted that the OMS, the CIA's
Office of Medical Services, contended that "the experience of the SERE
psychologist / interrogators on the waterboard was probably
misrepresented at the time, as the SERE waterboard experience is so
different from the subsequent Agency usage as to make it almost
irrelevant." Chillingly, the report continued, "Consequently, according
to OMS, there was no a priori reason to believe that applying the
waterboard with the frequency and intensity with which it was used by
the psychologist/interrogators was either efficacious or medically

I'm not surprised that the release of the report -- delayed for a
week from June 19, at the CIA's request, and again from June 26 to July
1 -- has been delayed again, as it clearly contains information that is
vital to those of who believe that President Obama cannot "restore
America's moral stature in the world" (as he pledged in November) without holding to account
those who authorized the use of torture by US personnel. However, every
delay only increases the fear that, on arrival, the report will be
barely less comprehensively redacted than the laughably censored
version that was released to the ACLU in May 2008 (PDF).

In order to keep the debate about torture alive, I therefore recommend a visit to the ACLU's "Accountability for Torture"
project, which has been running for the last few weeks, and which
states, "We can't sweep the abuses of the last eight years under the
rug. Accountability for torture is a legal, political, and moral
imperative." I also recommend a number of articles from the last few
days, as part of what blogger and psychologist Jeff Kaye has described
as "a mini-blog storm on behalf of the ACLU's Accountability Project,"
looking at how the Bush administration's torture program was not just
reserved for the waterboarding of three "high-value detainees"
in the custody of the CIA, but was a poisonous virus that also infected
the US military, and that led to over a hundred deaths in US custody in
Iraq and Afghanistan.

First up is Glenn Greenwald's article for his blog at Salon,
"The suppressed fact: Deaths by US torture," in which he states, "Those
arguing against investigations and prosecutions -- that we "Look to the
Future, not the Past" -- are literally advocating that numerous people
get away with murder." Then there are articles by Marcy Wheeler, bmaz and Jeff Kaye at Firedoglake, by Digby, and by drational and mcjoan at Daily Kos, and there's also my article, "When Torture Kills: Ten Murders In US Prisons In Afghanistan," which draws largely on passages in my book The Guantanamo Files, but also on testimony by former Guantanamo prisoner Omar Deghayes, and researcher John Sifton, and which, I believe, exposes three murders at the US prison at Bagram airbase that have never been investigated.

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.