On Torture, How Much Proof is Enough?

The heavily redacted synopsis of the 6,800 page Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA and torture came out on December 9, 2014. It’s available for everyone to read. It’s important to note what we are learning that’s new.

  • We already knew that Gul Rahman froze to death in the “The Salt Pit,” referred to as “Cobalt” in the report; we didn’t know that the man who ordered him chained naked to the floor and left there received a $2,500 bonus for his “superior work.”
  • We already knew that the CIA waterboarded Khalid Sheik Mohamed (KSM) 183 times; we didn’t know that his torturer could snap his fingers and KSM would “come like a dog” to be waterboarded.
  • We already knew that the CIA tortured innocent people; we didn’t know they tortured two of their own informants.
  • We already knew that we forced prisoners to defecate on themselves, or into a container; we didn’t know there was actual behavior they could exhibit to “earn the bucket.”
  • We already knew what “enhanced interrogation techniques” were (the government has provided helpful lists); we didn’t know one was anal rape.

It is these small details in the report that perform the greatest public service. They grab us in the most fearsome part of our imagination. The cumulative depravity of the CIA’s treatment of unnamed prisoners in unnamed places points us towards a larger set of now indisputable truths.

We tortured people; we lied about it.

We tortured people we thought were innocent; we lied about the numbers of people we tortured and the way in which we tortured them.

The CIA lied to congress. President Bush, when he said “we don’t torture,” lied to us.

Most importantly of all, we’ve been lying to ourselves for 14 years about America’s sad descent into torture.

It seems it doesn’t matter how many facts are revealed. It’s just not enough.

So what exactly would be the proofiest proof about our use of torture ? What exactly would do the trick?

Would it be the Red Cross reports released to Mark Danner, award-winning writer for The New York Review of Books, in 2009? The Senate Armed Services Committee Report on the military and torture released in 2008? The FBI reports from Guantanamo, first published in 2006? Government documents from the Office of Legal Council and the Pentagon, first released in 2004 by (again) Mark Danner in his book Torture and Truth?

Are the 6 million internal CIA documents used to compile the Senate Intelligence Committee report sufficient?

Maybe the 93 tapes of prisoner interrogations destroyed by CIA’s Jose Rodriguez in 2005 would have been enough proof. Were the photographs of broken Iraqi men in U.S. custody at Abu Ghraib Prison in 2004 not sufficient? Maybe the tapes of force-feeding in Guantanamo, still, at this point, successfully withheld by the Obama administration will be enough.

Documentation is not the issue here and it hasn’t been for a long time. We don’t need additional facts to convince us that we have tortured people brutally, illegally and immorally.

There has been an endless amount of evidence accumulating in big and little fetid piles for years.

We don’t need the answers about our use of torture. We have them. We just can’t handle the proof.

[Cross-posted at The Washington Spectator]

Bonnie Tamres-Moore

Bonnie Tamres-Moore is an anti-torture activist working with Interfaith Action for Human Rights.