1. Background
  2. U.S. Wars & Militarism

The Torture Report

Small steps are constantly being made in a long and difficult journey. We must learn from both the Torture Report and the recent Committee Against Torture review and admit responsibility. Only after acknowledging the full scope of U.S. torture can we heal and prevent these horrific mistakes from repeating themselves. 

In December 2014, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence finally released the executive summary of the Torture Report, an exhaustive report that highlights systematic failures from Gitmo and other sites across the world. Here’s what it told us:

The CIA tortured extensively and illegally.

The CIA used harsher practices than the general public has been led to believe. These so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” included water boarding, sleep deprivation, stress positions, humiliation, slamming detainees into walls, and more. The Torture Report exposes these "shocking" and unauthorized techniques that blatantly disregarded human rights.

The CIA held detainees at secret “black site” prisons overseas.

According to a report from the Open Society Justice Initiative, more than fifty countries participated in this program, which enabled the seizure of suspected terrorists to undergo harsh interrogations at undisclosed locations. These black sites, which were outside of U.S. territory, were thereby free from legal U.S. jurisdiction.

Torture was allowed to occur with little to no oversight.

Not only were these “mistakes, misdeeds and falsehoods…repeated over a period of years,” as Sen. Ron Wyden suggested, they escaped required approval and oversight. The CIA intentionally and consistently “evaded or impeded” its own headquarters, the Department of Justice, the White House, Congress and ultimately, the American public. Perhaps in an effort to conceal a paper trail or just due to sheer disorganization, the CIA also failed to keep records of all the people they captured. The report found that the CIA also held individuals that didn’t meet the necessary legal standards to be detained.

The CIA intentionally misled policymakers, the media and the public.

The CIA led us all not only to believe that its work was less harsh, but also that it was more effective than it truly was. The report found that the CIA purposefully and selectively leaked classified—and sometimes false—information to the media in order to continue its work.

Torture doesn’t work.

Aside from the deep moral and ethical issues with torture, the report found that the use of torture was largely ineffective for obtaining information.

Aside from the deep moral and ethical issues with torture, the report found that the use of torture was largely ineffective for obtaining information. Despite the CIA’s earlier claims to the contrary, the report reveals just how unsuccessful these interrogation techniques were, more often leading to false confessions than accurate information. The State Department found that the Torture Report “leaves no doubt that the harm caused by the use of these techniques outweighed any potential benefit.” Sen. Lindsay Graham added that in torturing, “Anything we gained, we lost more.” In fact, the report concludes that these techniques never led to notable counter-terrorism intelligence that couldn’t have been obtained through other means.

What else we now know about U.S. torture policies

Perhaps coincidentally, the release of the Torture Report coincided with the United Nations Committee Against Torture’s first review of the United States since 2006. In it, the committee cited numerous areas that the United Statesneeds to improve upon in order to be fully compliant with the Convention Against Torture. These areas include interrogation practices, solitary confinement, police brutality and history of torture under the Bush administration.

But we learned from the review that, when it comes to torture, we are moving forward. Despite this shameful evaluation, the convention was the first opportunity for the Obama administration to articulate to the committee its position on torture—and it could have gone badly. Early reports suggested that the administration was considering maintaining the wrongful views of the Bush administration that torture is only prohibited inside U.S. borders, and not in places such as Guantanamo or previously secret “black site” prisons.

But thanks to the work of many dedicated activists, including Friends across the country, the Obama administration kept its promises and repeatedly insisted that “torture is absolutely prohibited in all times in all places no matter what the circumstances.”

According to Sen. Feinstein, chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, “Anybody who reads this is going to never let this happen again.”

FCNL is working to ensure that Sen. Feinstein’s prediction proves itself true. May these findings continue to shake our nation’s foundations, and remind all Americans of the consequences when liberty and human rights are sacrificed for the false promise of security.