On this week’s episode of Unauthorized Disclosure Kevin Gosztola and I spoke with Reprieve’s Alka Pradhan about the Senate intelligence committee’s explosive report on the CIA’s worldwide network of torture dungeons. (Download the episode here or subscribe for free on iTunes here).
The Senate intelligence committee finally released the summary of its report on the CIA’s rendition, detention and interrogation program this past week. It detailed a criminal conspiracy involving the torture the CIA used against detainees in the global “war on terrorism” and the lengths to which CIA officials and interrogators had gone to cover up and conceal their actions from the Justice Department, Congress, the press and citizens.
Senate intelligence committee staff, which put together the report over a period of three and a half years, reviewed the detention and treatment of at least 119 individuals. At least thirty-nine of them were subjected to what the CIA termed “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
This week’s episode of “Unauthorized Disclosure” features an interview with Alka Pradhan, who is a DC counsel for Reprieve US and primarily represents prisoners who remain in indefinite detention at Guantanamo Bay. The organization has represented a number of detainees who were once in CIA custody and tortured.
Pradhan shares her reactions to reading the torture report summary and what details stunned her. She breaks down some of the broader aspects of the report and outlines what effect the new information might have on new efforts to achieve justice for torture victims. She also describes how President Barack Obama’s administration still tortures, especially because he issued an executive order in his first year as president that included a loophole permitting rendition.
The interview is counter-programming to the torture defenders who appeared on all the Sunday morning news programs today—like former Vice President Dick Cheney; former Director of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service Jose Rodriguez, former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, who crafted “legal” arguments so the Bush administration could argue torture was permissible, CIA Director John Brennan, and former CIA Director Michael Hayden.
Later in the podcast, Rania Khalek and I continue to dig into what was learned about CIA torture this past week. We confront the grotesque use of “rectal rehydration” on detainees.
We also recorded an additional twenty minutes of material to talk about a USAID contractor trying to help the US government topple the Cuban government by co-opting the hip-hop underground scene. Palestinian American organizer Rasmea Odeh’s release from jail until her sentencing is highlighted as well.
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“I’ve been working on these issues of rendition and CIA treatment of detainees for a long time,” Pradhan shared. “My colleagues and I thought we had a pretty good handle on how the program worked, how organized it was, etc. But I think what really jumps out when you start to read the summary is how chaotic it actually was. You get a picture of a CIA that has no idea what it is doing,” which was essentially confirmed by CIA director John Brennan in his press conference on December 11.
“The CIA has never been an interrogation or detention agency. It’s not trained to do those things. For them to suddenly setup from scratch prisons in those countries, what you see is them really making it up as they go along.”
Pradhan also asserted that the question for the CIA was not getting permission to torture detainees. “It was really the CIA beginning to use torture and then saying, you know what, we should use these techniques on everyone we detain. Let’s go get legal cover. And then they went to the Department of Justice to get legal authorization for the techniques. It wasn’t the other way around.”
“I was surprised really by a lot of those details. I knew the bare bones, but I was shocked at how disorganized it was, how few people even within the CIA were adequately briefed on it and when you get down to it the brutality of the techniques,” she said.
“People like Dick Cheney, his deputy, David Addington, Michael Hayden, George Tenet, they knew. They knew everything that was going on. They knew that there were secret prisons. Dick Cheney was apparently not briefed on where those prisons were, but they knew that we had prisons and they knew that we were using torture and they approved us using torture,” Pradhan stated.
It is very difficult to believe President George W. Bush didn’t ask the CIA to come into the Oval Office and explain what was happening when rumors started to swirl from 2003-2005.
If it is really true that Bush did not know anything about what the CIA was doing, Pradhan added, “I find that [to be] just a shocking abdication of responsibility for him to now stand up, now that the CIA has admitted that it use these techniques and that at least some members of the White House knew about it” and suggest he knew nothing.
On the CIA’s propaganda campaign to sell the public torture by manipulating media and avoiding Congress, “I think the media is hesitant to use this word, but there’s no other word for it. They lied over and over again.”
President Barack Obama has not ended torture. The practices, according to Pradhan, have just “changed shape.” They have not “changed substance.”
“The administration continues rendition, and it’s actually expanded the tools in their belt through these series of executive orders and through their expanded use of secrecy, both at Guantanamo Bay and with the drones program.”
“This administration, in the past six years, has continued to pick up people abroad and render them to secret prisons that are not administered by the CIA but rather by allies in say Kenya, Somalia, on US naval ships and we find out weeks or months later when they show up in New York City and say guess what? We’re gonna prosecute these guys,” Pradhan said.
Pradhan also explained, “If you look at the procedures for force-feeding today at Guantanamo Bay and what they describe as rectal rehydration in those documents, the only difference is—and I am sorry to be crass about it—the only difference is where that nutrition is going, like which place it is being administered.”
“It is forcibly done, it is extremely painful and it is predicated, preceded by a number of techniques that are absolutely not sanctioned by any medical practice.”
Pradhan said she felt most sorry for men like Maher Arar and Binyam Mohamed, a former Reprieve client, who were victims of the rendition program but not held in CIA-run secret prisons.
Reacting to the roles James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, architects of the torture program who are now indemnified to the tune of tens of millions of dollars by the CIA, Pradhan argued, “You expect bad behavior from the CIA at this point. You really do. You don’t expect this level of criminality from medical providers.
“These were two psychologists who had no knowledge of interrogation, no knowledge of al Qaeda, literally no subject matter knowledge whatsoever. They were the only two people with any bearing, any medical training whatsoever who the CIA could find to sort of sign off so that they could say this is doctor-approved.”
According to Pradhan, the public should expect new lawsuits in the United States and more lawsuits in Europe, particularly with regard to secret prisons that were setup in Eastern Europe. The public should also expect some effects on the military commissions proceedings at Guantanamo because of what was revealed about how Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other high-profile detainees were tortured.