The new movie “The Report” is a powerful telling of the story of the Senate investigation into the horrors of the CIA’s torture program and the fight to allow the public to see what the government had done in its name.
Yet to this day, the full 6,700-page report produced by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence detailing the CIA’s post-Sept. 11 program of detention, torture, and other abuse of detainees remains secret after years of litigation.
The CIA called its methods “enhanced interrogation,” a euphemism for torture used to break minds and bodies to induce fear and despair. The techniques included waterboarding and other simulated drowning, physical violence, sleep deprivation from continuously blaring music, nudity, and forced standing in painful positions for hours. None of this is legal, but the CIA sought to justify its cruelty by claiming it resulted in accurate information. Our country then engaged in a debased debate about the effectiveness of torture, which the executive summary of the report subsequently put to rest. It concluded the program did not yield any meaningful intelligence.
The Obama administration succeeded in preventing the full report from being made public, but at least the executive summary was released in 2014.
Because of that disclosure, two survivors of torture and the family of a third torture victim were able to sue two psychologists who collaborated with the CIA on the torture program, resulting in a settlement. The case set an important precedent, showing that the courts can handle lawsuits challenging intelligence community abuses committed in the name of national security. Still, the stories of most other victims and survivors of torture — mainly Muslim black and brown men who bore the brunt of these government abuses of power — remain largely untold.
The public needs to see the full report to know the extent of the harms done, as well as the details of the CIA’s misrepresentations to Congress, the courts and the media about its abuses. The executive branch needs to have and read the report and learn its lessons, as Congress intended.
Full transparency is immensely important for public accountability and for torture victims and their families, who are still suffering. One man depicted in “The Report,” Gul Rahman, was tortured and killed in a CIA prison in Afghanistan in 2002. His family is suing the CIA, which is still refusing to reveal what it did with his body. Seventeen years after Gul Rahman was killed, his family yearns to give him a decent burial. As for other survivors and their families? The U.S. government has never provided an apology or official recognition of the physical and mental harm people endured, let alone reparations or rehabilitation services.
Many U.S. government torture architects, perpetrators, and proponents continue to shape policy and practice in the administration. Gina Haspel, who oversaw secret torture and detention sites, now heads the CIA. Marshall Billingslea, who advocated the use of torture in the Bush administration, is now assistant secretary for terrorist financing at the Treasury Department and a nominee for a crucial human rights position at the State Department.
And of course, there’s Donald Trump, who made a campaign pledge to bring back torture. He has not succeeded in reviving those practices, but has granted pardons to military service members accused or convicted of war crimes.
Congress must ensure full disclosure of the Senate investigation report and hold the perpetrators accountable, instead of confirming them to leadership positions in the administration. Impunity for government officials who commit crimes means this country’s oversight and justice systems will be further weakened and seen as inept.
The victims and survivors deserve recompense and rehabilitation for their shattered lives. How this story ends is a test for how we recover the moral and legal principles destroyed by the officials who created and supported the torture program.
Hina Shamsi is director of the ACLU’s National Security Project and a steering committee member of Open the Government.