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Nancy Talanian Headshot

Don't Expect Justice From CIA Torture Report's Summary Release

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Thursday the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) voted in favor of making public a 400-page summary of its classified 6,300-page report on the CIA's "enhanced interrogation" or torture program. Statements from SSCI chair Dianne Feinstein indicate that the report provides ample evidence that the CIA misled Congress, the executive branch, and the American public about the timing, extent, and success rate of its torture program.

Don't hold your breath to read the summary anytime soon, or to access the full report: It's gonna be a wild ride, as President Obama's staff works with the CIA to determine which portions of the summary may be declassified without harming "national security." And don't expect anyone to be punished as a result of the outrageous wrongdoing that may be revealed. As Marcy Wheeler recently wrote, the CIA's own public records reveal serious lies to Congress about their torture program, yet no one in the CIA has ever been punished as a result of that knowledge.

On the contrary, past and current CIA officials have been leading the charge to dismiss the report preemptively as rubbish. Remember Jose Rodriguez, who was responsible for the CIA's destruction of 92 videotapes of interrogations, including "waterboarding," in 2005, in defiance of a judge's order NOT to destroy the tapes? He calls the Senate investigation of the CIA "an attempt to rewrite history." That is exactly what he did by destroying the tapes AND writing a New York Times bestseller about his actions (Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives).

What information we get is likely to be far too limited to provide justice to the torture victims, who include not only the men who were tortured, but the many others who have been wrongly held and mistreated for a decade or more on the basis false evidence, which is a key product of torture.

These false confessions have caused many innocent men to be picked up, rendered, and tortured in Guantánamo Bay, Bagram, and secret prisons for years and possibly more than a decade. Not only are all the data about individuals extracted during torture suspect, but torture's taint affects what the victim says after the torture has stopped, as the torture victim continues to agree with whatever he or she is told to say, to prevent the resumption of torture. This was the conclusion of Judge Gladys Kessler's 81-page ruling on the habeas petition of Guantánamo prisoner Farhi Seed bin Mohammed, an Algerian who had been held in Guantánamo for eight years on the basis of assertions by CIA torture victim Binyam Mohamed.

To uncover and begin to right the wrongs caused by a reliance on torture would require a detailed accounting of the treatment and testimony of every individual held by the CIA and by the U.S. military and contractors, which was not part of the SSCI investigation. That is unlikely to happen. Our best hope is that the SSCI report will help end the glorification of torture as a necessary tool for national security.