The Most Gruesome Moments in the CIA ‘Torture Report’

The CIA’s rendition, interrogation, and detention programs were even more nightmarish than you could imagine.

12.09.14 3:59 PM ET

Interrogations that lasted for days on end. Detainees forced to stand on broken legs, or go 180 hours in a row without sleep. A prison so cold, one suspect essentially froze to death. The Senate Intelligence Committee is finally releasing its review of the CIA’s detention and interrogation programs. And it is brutal.

Here are some of the most gruesome moments of detainee abuse from a summary of the report, obtained by The Daily Beast:

Well Worn Waterboards

The CIA has previously said that only three detainees were ever waterboarded: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, and Abd Al Rahim al-Nashiri. But records uncovered by the Senate Intelligence Committee suggest there may have been more than three subjects. The Senate report describes a photograph of a “well worn” waterboard, surrounded by buckets of water, at a detention site where the CIA has claimed it never subjected a detainee to this procedure. In a meeting with the CIA in 2013, the agency was not able to explain the presence of this waterboard.

Near Drowning

Contrary to CIA’s description to the Department of Justice, the Senate report says that the waterboarding was physically harmful, leading to convulsions and vomiting. During one session, detainee Abu Zubaydah became “completely unresponsive with bubbles rising through his open full mouth.” Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded at least 183 times, which the Senate report describes as escalating into a “series of near drownings.”

The Dungeon-Like Salt Pit 

Opened in Sept. 2002, this “poorly managed” detention facility was the second site opened by the CIA after the 9/11 attacks. The Senate report refers to it by the pseudonym Cobalt, but details of what happened there indicate that it’s a notorious “black site” in Afghanistan known as the Salt Pit. Although the facility kept few formal records, the committee concluded that untrained CIA operatives conducted unauthorized, unsupervised interrogation there.

A Senate aide who briefed reporters on the condition that he not be identified said that the Cobalt site was run by a junior officer with no relevant experience, and that this person had “issues” in his background that should have disqualified him from working for the CIA at all. The aide didn’t specify what those issues were, but suggested that the CIA should have flagged them. The committee found that some employees at the site lacked proper training and had “histories of violence and mistreatment of others.”

Standing on Broken Legs

In November 2002, a detainee who had been held partially nude and chained to the floor died, apparently from hypothermia. This case appears similar to the that of Gul Rahman, who died of similarly explained causes at an Afghan site known as the “Salt Pit,” also in November 2002. The site was also called “The Dark Prison” by former captives.

The aide said that the Cobalt site was was dark, like a dungeon, and that experts who visited the site said they’d never seen an American prison where people were kept in such conditions. The facility was so dark in some places that guard had to wear head lamps, while other rooms were flooded with bright lights and white noise to disorient detainees.

At the Cobalt facility, the CIA also forced some detainees who had broken feet or legs to stand in stress-inducing positions, despite having earlier pledged that they wouldn’t subject those wounded individuals to treatment that might exacerbate their injuries.

Non-stop Interrogation

Starting with Abu Zubaydah, and following with other detainees, the CIA deployed the harshest techniques from the beginning without trying to first elicit information in an “open, non-threatening manner,” the committee found. The torture continued nearly non-stop, for days or weeks at a time.

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The CIA instructed personnel at the site that the interrogation of Zubaydah, who’d been shot during his capture, should take “precedence over his medical care,” the committee found, leading to an infection in a bullet wound incurred during his capture. Zubaydah lost his left eye while in custody. The CIA’s instructions also ran contrary to how it told the Justice Department the prisoner would be treated.

Forced Rectal Feeding and Worse

At least five detainees were subjected to “rectal feeding” or “rectal hydration,” without any documented medical need. “While IV infusion is safe and effective,” one officer wrote, rectal hydration could be used as a form of behavior control.

Others were deprived of sleep, which could involve staying awake for as long as 180 hours—sometimes standing, sometimes with their hands shackled above their heads.

Some detainees were forced to walk around naked, or shackled with their hands above their heads. In other instances, naked detainees were hooded and dragged up and down corridors while subject to physical abuse.

At one facility, detainees were kept in total darkness and shackled in cells with loud noise or music, and only a bucket to use for waste.

Lost Detainees

While the CIA has said publicly that it held about 100 detainees, the committee found that at least 119 people were in the agency’s custody.

“The fact is they lost track and they didn’t really know who they were holding,” the Senate aide said, noting that investigators found emails in which CIA personnel were “surprised” to find some people in their custody. The CIA also determined that at least 26 of its detainees were wrongfully held. Due to the agency’s poor record-keeping, it may never be known precisely how many detainees were held, and how they were treated in custody, the committee found.

No Blockbuster Intelligence

The report will conclude that the CIA’s interrogation techniques never yielded any intelligence about imminent terrorist attacks. Investigators didn’t conclude that no information came from the program at all. Rather, the committee rejects the CIA’s contention that information came from the program that couldn’t have been obtained through other means.

“When you put detainees through these [torture sessions] they will say whatever they can say to get the interrogations to stop,” the Senate aide said. 

The Senate Intelligence Committee reviewed 20 cited examples of intelligence “successes” that the CIA identified from the interrogation program and found that there was no relationship between a cited counterterrorism success and the techniques used. Furthermore, the information gleaned during torture sessions merely corroborated information already available to the intelligence community from other sources, including reports, communications intercepts, and information from law-enforcement agencies, the committee found. The CIA had told policymakers and the Department of Justice that the information from torture was unique or “otherwise unavailable.” Such information comes from the “kind of good national-security tradecraft that we rely on to stop terrorist plots at all times,” the Senate aide said.

In developing the enhanced interrogation techniques, the report said, the CIA failed to review the historical use of coercive interrogations. The resulting techniques were described as “discredited coercive interrogation techniques such as those used by torturous regimes during the Cold War to elicit false confessions,” according to the committee. The CIA acknowledged that it never properly reviewed the effectiveness of these techniques, despite the urging of the CIA inspector general, congressional leadership, and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

Contractors and Shrinks

The CIA relied on two outside contractors who were psychologists with experience at the Air Force’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape school to help develop, run, and assess the interrogation program. Neither had experience as an interrogator, nor any specialized knowledge of al Qaeda, counterterrorism, or relevant linguistic expertise, the committee found. In 2005, these two psychologists formed a company, and following this the CIA outsourced virtually all aspects of the interrogation program to them. The company was paid more than $80 million by the CIA.

Lies to the President

An internal report by the CIA, known as the Panetta Review, found that there were numerous inaccuracies in the way the agency represented the effectiveness of interrogation techniques—and that the CIA misled the president about this. The CIA’s records also contradict the evidence the agency provided of some “thwarted” terrorist attacks and the capture of suspects, which the CIA linked to the use of these enhanced techniques. The Senate’s report also concludes that there were cases in which White House questions were not answered truthfully or completely.


In the early days of the program, CIA officials briefed the leadership of the House Intelligence Committee. Few records of that session remain, but Senate investigators found a draft summary of the meeting, written by a CIA lawyers, that notes lawmakers “questioned the legality of these techniques.” But the lawyer deleted that line from the final version of the summary. The Senate investigators found that Jose Rodriguez, once the CIA’s top spy and a fierce defender of the interrogation program, made a note on the draft approving of the deletion: “Short and sweet,” Rodriguez wrote of the newly revised summary that failed to mention lawmakers’ concerns about the legality of the program.

Threats to Mothers

CIA officers threatened to harm detainees’ children, sexually abuse their mothers, and “cut [a detainee’s] mother’s throat.” In addition, several detainees were led to believe they would die in custody, with one told he would leave in a coffin-shaped box.

Detainees wouldn’t see their day in court because “we can never let the world know what I have done to you,” one interrogator said.

Sexual Assault by Interrogators 

Officers in the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program included individuals who the committee said, “among other things, had engaged in inappropriate detainee interrogations, had workplace anger management issues, and had reportedly admitted to sexual assault.”