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Hypothermia, Broken Limbs, and Rectal Feeding: Details from the CIA Torture Report

A new report from the Senate Intelligence Committee finds that the CIA deliberately misled Congress and the White House about Bush-era interrogation techniques.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons

One prisoner at a CIA black site froze to death. Others were forced to stand on broken feet, threatened sexually with broomsticks, or subjected to "rectal feeding" for no apparent medical reason. The Senate Intelligence Committee released those details and more Tuesday in the 500-page executive summary of its report on the CIA's Bush-era "enhanced interrogation" program.

Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein unveiled the long-awaited, long-delayed report by the Senate Intelligence Committee on the CIA's now-discontinued "Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation" program this morning, calling it a "stain on our country and our values."


The controversial 6,700-page report describes, among other things, detainees being kept in a dark, freezing, dungeon-like prison, being kept awake for up to 180 hours at a time, and being subjected to "near-drowning" over and over. The three-year Senate investigation concluded the "brutal interrogation techniques in violation of US law, treaty obligations, and our values" were not effective in prying intelligence from detainees.

The report also found that the CIA misled the public, the White House and Congress on both the brutality of the program and its effectiveness.

"The waterboarding technique was physically harmful, inducing convulsions and vomiting," the report states. "Abu Zubaydah, for example, became 'completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.' Internal CIA records describe the waterboarding of Khalid Shaykh Mohammad as evolving in to a 'series of near drownings.'"

CIA interrogators threatened detainees with broomsticks and power drills and threatened to rape and kill detainees' mothers. Other detainees with broken feet and legs were subjected to stress positions for extended periods of time.

"The two detainees that each had a broken foot were also subjected to walling, stress positions, and cramped confinement, despite the note in their interrogation plans that these specific enhanced interrogation techniques were not requested because of the medical condition of the detainees," the report states. "CIA Headquarters did not react to the site's use of these CIA enhanced interrogation techniques despite the lack of approval."


The Senate report also describes a photograph of a "well worn" waterboard, at a site where the CIA said it had never previously used the practice.

The results of the "enhanced interrogation techniques," especially at the dungeon-like CIA site known as "Cobalt" in the report, led to noticeable mental health deterioration among detainees, the report found. At least one detainee at the Cobalt site died of hypothermia.

"Throughout the program, multiple CIA detainees who were subjected to the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques and extended isolation exhibited psychological and behavioral issues, including hallucinations, paranoia, insomnia, and attempts at self-harm and self-mutilation," the report states. "Multiple psychologists identified the lack of human contact experienced by detainees as a cause of psychiatric problems."

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday that President Obama supported releasing the report "so that people around the world and people here at home understand exactly what transpired." However, more hawkish members of Congress, the intelligence community, and its allies said the report would inflame anger against the U.S. and its key allies and endanger American personnel abroad.

"We are concerned that this release could endanger the lives of Americans overseas, jeopardize U.S. relations with foreign partners, potentially incite violence, create political problems for our allies, and be used as a recruitment tool for our enemies," Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Jim Risch said in a statement on Monday.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper confirmed in a meeting with members of the Intelligence Committee over the weekend that the administration was concerned that the report could incite violence against Americans overseas, but said that he nevertheless supported its release. The US has been beefing up security at embassies, and administration officials have said that the Pentagon has strengthened protections for US forces in Afghanistan.

In the lead up to the report's release, defenders of the CIA's interrogation techniques launched an aggressive media campaign—a "prebuttal," one of Washington's more obnoxious neologisms—against the findings. Former Vice President Dick Cheney called the report's findings "a bunch of hooey" in the New York Times, and former CIA lawyer John Rizzo said on FOX News that the report is "absolutely unfair and preposterous." Former CIA officials even built a website,, to hit back at the report's findings.

"It's a one-stop shopping place for the other side," Bill Harlow, a top CIA spokesman during the Bush administration, told Foreign Policy. "With the website … we'll be able to put out newly declassified documents, documents that were previously released but not well read, and host a repository for op-eds and media appearances by various officials."

Feinstein called the pushback "a campaign of mistaken statements and press articles."