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The Missing Photos From the Senate Report on CIA Torture

A complete report on torture must include military prisons and the release of 2,000 photos that show the full spectrum of abuse.

January, 2007: Demonstrators gather In black hoods and orange jumpsuits to protest Guantanamo Bay's continued operation. (Photo: Takomabibelot)

A slender but welcome ray of light has been shone on the darkened chambers of CIA torture with the December 9, 2014, release of a report on the agency’s detention and interrogation programs by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence chaired by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California).

However, the 528-page “summary version” of the report’s “Findings and Conclusions” has, by the admission of Feinstein herself, been heavily redacted and is focused only on CIA torture. It reports only one prisoner death and does not include more damning information and photographic evidence on US torture and prisons operated by the US Army, US Navy and other Department of Defense (DOD) agencies.

For example, in March 2005, CBS’s “60 Minutes” reported that 108 prisoners had already died in US custody in Iraq and Afghanistan prisons. A July 5, 2005, follow-up review of government documents on torture from multiple DOD agencies and the CIA, including the results of criminal investigations by the US Army and Navy, was conducted by Steven H. Miles, M.D., under the joint auspices of the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), National Library of Medicine (NLM) and National Institutes of Health (NIH). Under the heading, “How Many Detainees Died of Homicide by Torture?” the Miles review said:

In March 2005, the US Armed Forces said that it suspected that 26 deaths were due to criminal homicides. However, it did not clarify whether these deaths occurred on the battlefield or in its prisons. The . . . US Department of Defense enumeration of “Substantiated” criminal homicides of detainees is certainly too low. There are cases in which a homicidal cause of death was not medically recognized and other cases in which the investigation of the death was insufficient to establish whether trauma was inflicted or accidental. Prisoners died of torture at Asadadad, Bagram, and Gardez in Afghanistan and at Abu Ghraib, Camp Whitehorse, Basra, Mosul, Tikrit, Bucca, and an unidentified facility in Iraq (see Table). These cases do not include deaths due to medical neglect, mortar attacks on prisons, or the shootings of rioting prisoners. Such cases will be considered after reviewing US Department of Defense forensic medical procedures.

The availability of this investigative data as early as 2005, showing widespread deaths in US custody, with DOD investigations concluding there were more than two dozen homicides, makes it clear that the Senate report on CIA torture is just a start on the long road to full disclosure. More than 100,000 prisoners have been detained, and many of them tortured, at the US network of prisons across Central Asia since the war on terror began in 2002.

As Truthout reported in October 2014, a pending American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit seeks the release of more than 2,000 photos from the US Army that document an estimated 400 cases of abuse at Abu Ghraib and six other prisons between 2001 and 2005, including sexual assaults using “a truncheon, wire and a phosphorescent tube.”

Major General Antonio Taguba, who was appointed to investigate torture and prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib in 2004, and later accused the Bush administration of war crimes, says of the 2,000 unreleased photos: “These pictures show torture, abuse, rape and every indecency.”

On August 27, 2014, the ACLU won a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit in federal district court, in which Judge Alvin Hellerstein ordered the DOD and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to hand over the photos unless they could conclusively prove that American lives would be put at risk by their release. The DOJ was given until December 2014, to provide proof. As The Guardian reported in October 2014:

By 12 December, Justice Department attorneys will have to list, photograph by photograph, the government’s rationale for keeping redacted versions of the photos unseen by the public, Judge Alvin Hellerstein instructed lawyers. But any actual release of the photographs will come after Hellerstein reviews the government’s reasoning and issues another ruling in the protracted transparency case.

President Obama opposes release of these photos and has publicly stated they would inflame anti-US sentiment. But what signal does the United States send to its own citizens and the world by continuing to suppress and deny the widespread violation of our most fundamental values and the conscious contravention of the Geneva Conventions on torture and human rights?

Civil rights groups from Amnesty International to Human Rights Watch are calling for the prosecution of those responsible for the extra-legal human rights violations documented in the Feinstein Senate report on CIA torture. Yet the full spectrum of US torture, secret prisons and even covert airlines to transfer prisoners in secret from one prison to another needs to be exposed in order to know how far up the chain of command responsibility goes.

Human Rights Watch has previously documented the machinations of the Bush administration, including then White House legal counsel Alberto Gonzales and the DOJ, in the months after the attacks of September 11, 2001, to consciously circumvent the Geneva Conventions on torture. The internal decision-making process and operational rationale inside the White House during this crucial time is almost certain to have played a major role in establishing the direction of post-9/11 US torture programs. It clearly needs to be fully understood.

The ultimate goal of full disclosure has to remain full accountability, wherever that may lead. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report exposing CIA deceit and prisoner human rights violations is just a beginning, not an end point.

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