Latest News: Posts Tagged ‘torture report’

Gina Haspel, the CIA, and THE TORTURE REPORT

Wednesday, May 9th, 2018

Black Sites, Lies, and Videotape

Gina Haspel, President’s nominee to lead the CIA, will testify in front of Congress today about her supervision of a black site in Thailand where detainees are known to have been tortured. Hers is a role the CIA—which at the time had no organizational background or experience running detention facilities—has deliberately obscured. Below, from Larry Siems’ 2011 book The Torture Report, is an account of the torture of a number of detainees in Thailand, as well as a look into the site’s administration around the time of Haspel’s tenure.

redacted document from the torture report

Inventory of 92 videotapes of the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah in the CIA black site in Thailand, available at


On November 20, 2002, a suspected Afghan military in his early thirties named Gul Rahman was doused with water, shackled naked to the floor, and left overnight in a frigid cell in a CIA black site known as “The Salt Pit” on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan. He died of hypothermia. The supervisor of the facility, an agent with no experience as an interrogator or a jailer, ordered him buried in an unmarked grave.

As this was happening, the CIA was dispatching one of its lawyers to the black site in Thailand to review the videotapes of the Abu Zubaydah interrogation. For weeks the agency had been discussing destroying the tapes; a cable sent from the secret prison to headquarters in August, the month Zubaydah was waterboarded eighty-three times, discussed “the security risks of videotape retention” and suggested “new procedures for videotape retention and disposal.” A September 6, 2002 email between CIA attorneys has as its subject “Destruction proposal on disposition of videotapes at fi eld,” and an email two months later “from a CIA officer to CIA officers and attorneys” dated November 6 follows up with the “proper procedures for destruction of the interrogation videotapes.”

But Langley had decided it wanted a “random independent review” of the tapes first, and so in late November, an attorney from the CIA General Counsel’s office was sent to verify that Abu Zubaydah’s torment had followed the approved script. With his assurances that it had, the discussion resumed: on November 27, a cable was sent from the black site “requesting approval for destruction of the interrogation tapes,” and on December 3, 2002, headquarters responded with a cable with the subject line “Closing of facility and destruction of classified information” and an email “outlining the destruction plan for the videotapes.”

In the midst of this exchange, back in Afghanistan, CIA agents delivered a young mullah named Habibulah into the hands of army interrogators at Bagram Collection Point, a converted hangar at the former Soviet airbase about fifty kilometers north of Kabul. Within a week, an Armed Services Medical Examiner reported, “the remains” were “presented for autopsy clothed in a disposable diaper. No additional clothing or personal effects accompan[ied] the body.”

Habibulah had been “found unresponsive, restrained in his cell”—handcuffed to the wire mesh ceiling of the plywood-walled isolation cell, that is—at 12:15 a.m. on December 4, 2002. The military first claimed he had died of natural causes. The Medical Examiner, however, concluded the cause of death was “pulmonary embolism due to blunt force injuries”; the Manner of Death, “homicide.”

The day Habibulah was killed, the CIA switched off the video cameras and closed down its black site in Thailand. In addition to the torture of Abu Zubaydah, they had for the previous two weeks been recording the interrogation of a second “high value detainee,” Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, whose arrest the administration trumpeted on November 21, 2002. Th e alleged chief of Al Qaeda operations in the Persian Gulf and the suspected organizer of the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, al-Nashiri was captured in Dubai in October and held for a time at the Salt Pit in Afghanistan before being flown to Thailand on November 15—where, as the CIA’s Inspector General observes blandly, “The interrogation proceeded after [redacted] the necessary authorization.”

“Psychologist/interrogators began Al-Nashiri’s interrogations using EITs immediately upon his arrival,” the Inspector General reported. A largely redacted documented headed “Summary,” “CTC’s interrogation efforts” [redacted] “with the interrogation of Al-Nashiri” dated November 20, 2002 records that “Al-Nashiri has undergone [redacted] interrogation with the HVT interrogators using [redacted]” and “Al-Nashiri is becoming more compliant and is providing actionable intelligence.” Even so, Mitchell’s team kept climbing the force continuum. The Inspector General found that although al-Nashiri “provided lead information on other terrorists during his first day of interrogation,” the use of EITs continued for eleven more days, and on the twelfth day, “psychologist/interrogators administered two applications of the waterboard to Al-Nashiri during two separate interrogation sessions.”

They didn’t stop there. Th e cameras were switched off on December 4th; that day, al-Nashiri and Zubaydah were bundled onto a CIA-leased jet and flown to Dubai and on to a new secret CIA detention facility located near the airport in Szymany, Poland. The plane, a leased twenty two-seat Gulfstream jet carrying the two detainees and the six-person CIA rendition team, landed in Poland on December 5th; al-Nashiri’s “enhanced interrogation” resumed immediately and continued for two more weeks, at which time his interrogators “assessed him to be ‘compliant.’”

THE TORTURE REPORT author LARRY SIEMS pens op-ed with Jameel Jaffer for the LA Times

Friday, August 15th, 2014

After more than a decade of denial and concealment on the part of our government, President Obama’s recent acknowledgment that “we tortured some folks” felt like a milestone. Even in its spare, reductive phrasing, the president’s statement opened up the possibility, finally, of national reflection, contrition and accountability.

But the president moved quickly to limit that conversation, painting those who authorized torture as “patriots” who were making difficult decisions under enormous pressure and urging the public not to feel “sanctimonious” because our military and intelligence leaders have “tough jobs.”

Read the full op-ed at the Los Angeles Times.

Francine Prose recommends THE TORTURE REPORT in the New York Times Sunday Book Review

Monday, January 7th, 2013

If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?

“The Torture Report: What the Documents Say About America’s Post-9/11 Torture Program,” by Larry Siems, head of PEN American Center’s Freedom to Write Program. But since the president probably already knows what’s in it, I’d suggest he read “The Complete Stories of Anton Chekhov.” Chekhov helps you imagine what it’s like to be someone else, a useful skill for a political leader.

Read the full interview in the New York Times Sunday Book Review

The Nation reviews THE TORTURE REPORT

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

On October 7, 2003, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a Freedom of Information Act request for all documents related to post-9/11 detention and interrogation practices. The request was filed simultaneously with the Defense Department, the State Department, the Justice Department and the Central Intelligence Agency. By the following May, no response had been issued, so the ACLU filed a second request, and in June took the government to court in hopes of forcing it to comply. Three months later the ACLU prevailed, and by the end of 2004 the documents were beginning to flow. Since then, well over 130,000 pages have been released and posted to a searchable database on the ACLU website.

The database contains, of course, the now infamous “torture memos”: the arguments, crafted by George W. Bush’s closest legal advisers, that waterboarding and the like were neither torturous nor illegal—and that such considerations didn’t apply to US presidents (or indeed anyone else in government, so long as the infliction of pain was not provably his or her “specific intent”). But these were only a small handful of documents among thousands: interrogation and torture logs, prison administration memos, courtroom transcripts and minutes from policy meetings. Several such documents known to exist have still not been released: in regard to one, the government has argued that not only is its existence classified but so too is the font in which it may or may not be written. Other records have been destroyed, including at least ninety-two videos of CIA interrogations. Of the material that has been released, much has been significantly redacted.

Read the full review in The Nation

Scott Cohen calls THE TORTURE REPORT “epic” in The Atlantic

Monday, February 6th, 2012

On February 7, 2002—ten years ago to the day, tomorrow—President George W. Bush signed a brief memorandum titled “Humane Treatment of Taliban and al Qaeda Detainees.” The caption was a cruel irony, an Orwellian bit of business, because what the memo authorized and directed was the formal abandonment of America’s commitment to key provisions of the Geneva Convention. This was the day, a milestone on the road to Abu Ghraib: that marked our descent into torture—the day, many would still say, that we lost part of our soul.

Drafted by men like John Yoo, and pushed along by White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, the February 7 memo was sent to all of the key players of the Bush Administration involved in the early days of the War on Terror. All the architects and functionaries who would play a role in one of the darker moments in American legal history were in on it. Vice President Dick Cheney. Attorney General John Aschroft. Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld. CIA Director George Tenet. David Addington. They all got the note. And then they acted upon it.

When we talk today of the “torture memos,” most of us think about the later memoranda, like the infamous “Bybee Memo” of August 1, 2002, which authorized the use of torture against terror law detainees. But those later pronouncements of policy, in one way or another, were all based upon the perversion of law and logic contained in the February 7 memo. Once America crossed the line 10 years ago, the memoranda that followed, to a large extent, were merely evidence of the grinding gears of bureaucracy trying to justify itself.

Read the full article in The Atlantic

ACLU Studios’ podcast features THE TORTURE REPORT with author Larry Siems

Monday, January 9th, 2012

Sometimes the truth is buried in front of us. That is the case with more than 140,000 pages of government documents relating to the abuse of prisoners by U.S. forces during the “war on terror,” brought to light by the ACLU.

Since 2004, the ACLU has requested and received thousands of documents on the Bush administration’s torture program. The task of extracting a narrative from this intimidating pile of documents was left to Larry Siems, Director of Freedom to Write at the PEN American Center.

First started as an ongoing online report (, Siems’ new book — The Torture Report: What the Documents say about America’s Post 9/11 Torture Program — isnow available in print and online. The book presents an array of eyewitness and first-person reports — by victims, perpetrators, dissenters, and investigators — of the CIA’s White House-orchestrated interrogations in illegal, secret prisons around the world, and of the Pentagon’s “special projects” in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to tell the story of the Bush administration’s torture program.

Read more and listen to the podcast on the ACLU blog.

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